Part 8 – 34 Weeks: Obstetric Cholestasis and Influenza A

I write this in the early hours of the morning. I’ve had at least a solid three hours sleep, which is not enough, but also quite an achievement for me. Every pause in typing I scratch intensely at the palms of my hands. Last week I was diagnosed with Obstetric Cholestasis. I only know about this condition because my sister also had it during her twin pregnancy. The main symptom – itchiness, and not the sort you can scratch a few times and be done with it. This itching starts from the inside, the skin crawls with little sensors begging to be itched. I lie there trying to ignore it, trying not to initiate that first scratch, then I find my nails inadvertently reaching to relieve that awful crawling feel on my arm, feet, legs, hands, back, neck. And there I am in full blown scratch mode finding relief in the moment but it doesn’t stop, and after two hours I’m tired, close to tears and desperate. I’ve tried ice blocks, cold flannels, moisturiser – more relief in the moment, but sleep comes only at the point of exhaustion.

Obstetric Cholestasis is a liver disorder, it’s diagnosed through a blood test that measures bile acids and usually requires delivery by 37 weeks. Thankfully the itching generally resolves itself after birth.

I’ve had some relief from night itching, but it came in the form of influenza A. As the previous week progressed, each family member began to drop. Our house became one big contagion zone, but I had been vaccinated, I thought I was safe despite having an awful head cold through the week. Then by Saturday morning I knew something was not right, my body and emotions were not holding up and I could barely speak. Too exhausted to itch! I ended up overnight in hospital, despite my vaccination I had contracted the influenza virus. I’m home now, with a cache of drugs: Ursodeoxycholic acid, Tamiflu, Ondansetron, Phenergan, Ranitidine. As I’m someone who tries to avoid medication H thinks it’s hilarious.

As the sun begins to rise on a new week I can reflect gratefully on the valley we just walked through. Good friends delivered meals, my mother in law delivered a box of fruit, took our laundry and watched our children, and I received excellent care at the hands of a free public health system. Perhaps even more delightful to me, in the darkest moment trying desperately to find sleep in that hospital room when I wished I could crawl outside of my body and find rest, I reached out to friends for prayer, and I found the courage again to sing and declare truth over myself. In self pity I had given up my own agency to seek God through the week, but as I whispered a tentative song to the silent hospital room I found him right there, waiting for me.

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