Kate Middleton’s pregnancy illness has been a bizarre and grueling look into the sideshow that often surrounds the Royal Family, as the Duchess of Cambridge’s rare complication has set off a domino effect of sad events, including the suicide of an attending nurse who was pranked by Australian DJs during the royal’s hospitalization.
But Hyperemesis Gravidarum — frequently abbreviated as HG — is a serious illness for sufferers like Kate Middleton (star Holly Madison was also recently hospitalized for symptoms of the condition), and if the media attention is any indication, few understand the gravity of HG.
Molly Atkins is a longtime internet friend of mine as well as prominent and vocal advocate for women who are afflicted with Hyperemesis Gravidarum during their pregnancies. Her extensive research and experience with HG prompted her to start a blog titled Knocked Up, Knocked Over, with the hopes of reaching out to women who have discovered they have the condition and struggle to find resources and support while battling its devastating and potentially life-threatening effects.
Molly agreed to answer some questions about her experiences with the disease brought into the spotlight by Kate Middleton’s sudden hospitalization, as well as explain what Hyperemesis Gravidarum is like from the perspective of a sufferer — medically, professionally, and personally.
While many assume HG is “just morning sickness” — singer Morrissey recently commented about the Duchess’ hospitalization and indicated as such — Molly explains that the extremes of the condition are far more dangerous and life-altering than garden-variety pregnancy nausea. (Which, as all moms know, is no walk in the park.)
Below are some questions we asked Molly about her HG struggle and her answers.
Inquisitr: What is HG and how does it differ from morning sickness?
While it is technically true that HG is an extreme form of morning sickness, comparing the two is like saying that a tsunami is an extreme form of ripples in a pond. For women with HG, the vomiting becomes so severe that they lose significant weight, can vomit bile and even blood from tears in the esophagus and stomach lining, and worse, experience malnutrition and dehydration that can threaten their lives. [Author's note: Death can also result, and Charlotte Bronte is believed to have died from HG complications at the age of 38.]
The Hyperemesis Education and Research Center has a great page that really defines, in medical terms, what doctors should use to determine whether a patient has HG.
Inquisitr: Don’t most women cope with it without medical help? Does pregnancy nausea really warrant a hospital trip?
I am really glad you asked that. Most women with morning sickness cope just fine without medical help. Ginger tea, acupuncture, and nibbling crackers can really help with morning sickness, but the important thing to remember is that morning sickness is often simply a normal part of pregnancy. Hyperemesis is not a normal part of pregnancy, and because of how serious it can get if left untreated, it’s important to treat it aggressively to prevent harm to the mother and baby.
Another point I would like to make is that many women with HG carry a tremendous amount of guilt for their illness. I remember when I was sick [during my first pregnancy], apologizing to everyone for being such a bother. I felt so guilty for how sick I was that I delayed seeking treatment and tride to hide just how sick I was.
I didn’t realize at the time that I had HG, and I told myself that all women get sick when they’re pregnant. I scolded myself for not being able to tough it out like everyone else. Because I delayed in seeking more aggressive treatment, my illness became so bad that I began to contemplate suicide. I will forever be thankful for the home health nurse that knew to watch for signs of depression. They immediately switched my medication and admitted me to the hospital, and I am certain that their quick action saved my life.
Inquisitr: What effect does Hyperemesis Gravidarum have on a woman’s life?
You know, there are so many aspects of HG that impact a woman’s life because of how debilitating it is. Aside from suddenly finding themselves unable to work, unable to care for other children, and unable to participate in their normal daily activities, it can be shocking to have to deal with the reality of the illness itself.
I remember feeling completely overwhelmed when I was suddenly expected to have to manage my IV lines and know how to handle my PICC line. I’m not a doctor, so I made mistakes. I remember having to do a saline flush one night on my IV and suddenly realizing that I had forgotten to push the air out of my syringe before starting the flush. I remember sitting there looking at that tube, seeing 3 inches of air in there and thinking, “What do I do now? Doesn’t air in an IV kill you?”
When I tried to fix the mistake by just pulling the air out with the syringe, the line filled up with blood. I had to drop everything and go back into the ER and pray they could find another vein in my arm. This was a real problem at this point because all of my veins had either been used up or were blowing out as soon as they got the needle placed.
I remember that night being so afraid when the ER nurse pulled out the needles to start hunting for a vein because at that point they were having to dig really deep and it just hurt so much. I remember sitting in the chair and literally shaking from the fear. I didn’t even know fear could actually make you shake like that. I always had though it was a figure of speech. But there I was shaking, holding my mom’s hand, staring at a buckle on her shoe and trying not to hyperventellate because I knew if I started panicking and breathing fast, the veins would start clamping down and it would be impossible for the nurse to find anything.
It was amazing to me, as a lay person, how many little tidbits I had to remember. Push the air out of the syringe, mix the IV vitamins just so before injecting them into the bag, be ready with the IV Benadryl in case I reacted to anything, don’t mess with the PICC dressings no matter how itchy they are, change the site for the zofran pump every so many hours so that your body can keep absorbing the medication, this area is a sterile field, this other area is not. The amount of information that HG sufferers have to absorb and retain is immense. Add to that the stress of the illness itself and it quickly becomes overwhelming.
On top of dealing with the medical aspect of HG, we find ourselves having to learn to navigate workplace disability paperwork. Some women are fired from their jobs and have to face finding a way to pay for their medical care on little or no income.
HG sufferers find themselves unable to do even the most basic self-care. Bless my mother, she came and stayed with me for a month and bathed me, helped me change clothes (no easy task with all the lines and tubes connected to my body), fed me what tiny bits of food and fluids I could manage, cleaned my toilet, emptied my puke bucket, and changed my bedsheets. It is through her hard work that I very narrowly avoided receiving a central line that would have been put through the jugular vein in my neck.
Inquisitr: What problems to HG sufferers face at home, at work and when seeking treatment?
One of the biggest problems HG sufferers face comes from the medical community itself. Many doctors fail to recognize HG or treat it aggressively enough. Mothers are told that HG just morning sickness, told erroneously that there are no safe medications during pregnancy, and sent home with instructions to sip water.
This was my experience during my second pregnancy. My regular doctor was not available the week HG hit me the hardest and her partners’ lack of urgency nearly lead to my death. I was admitted to the hospital Monday morning, pumped full of fluids and anti-nausea meds, and then the doctor on call told me I was fine and sent me home. The HG hadn’t hit full force, but I knew it was coming.
I tried to explain to her that I needed her to set me up with an IV line and a home health nurse like my regular doctor agreed to do, but she shook her head and sent me home. On Wednesday, I was back. Eight hours of fluid and medication later, I seemed fine. Once again, I begged for home health care. I knew if I went home without it, the nausea would resume. They didn’t listen. Back home I went. Oral medications weren’t working and the only time I could eat anything was when I was in the hospital receiving fluids and IV medications. Every time, the doctor on call, a different doctor each time, would shake his or her head and say, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You are just pregnant. You need to go home.”
Finally, after bouncing in and out of the hospital, they agreed to set me up with home health care, but by then it was too late. It was a Friday night that I came back in to the hospital. That night my ketones, a toxic byproduct of the body eating its own fat and muscle reserves, were off the charts. I was so afraid of needles at this point that it took four nurses holding me down on the table and they still couldn’t get the IV line in without calling an anesthesiologist to do it. While they were holding me down, I began to have auditory hallucinations, probably from the severe dehydration. That night, they shuffled me from labor and delivery, to the ER, to a shared room where I had to endure the smells of my roommate’s hospital food. I was there for three days.
When the doctor came in to my room to tell me I was going home, I begged her for a PICC line, a permanent line so that I wouldn’t have to endure any more IV needle sticks in my arm and so that I could receive fluids, drugs, and nutrition at volumes higher than the small veins in my arms could handle. She smiled, shook her head, and said, “Molly, you’re just pregnant. There’s nothing wrong with you.” When I said, “You are sending me home to die,” she rolled her eyes and walked out of my room.
Inquisitr: Do you think the issue of inability to receive proper diagnosis and care for Hyperemesis Gravidarum presents a risk to expectant mothers, particularly those who may not have the best access to health care?
Doctors must begin acknowledging the reality of HG. I cannot say strongly enough that no one should die from HG. Women and babies die from HG because their doctors fail to take the disease seriously. This is unacceptable, and I hope that Duchess Catherine will become a voice for all of us in telling the medical community that this illness is real, it’s deadly, and it’s treatable.
Further information on Molly’s experience with Hyperemesis Gravidarum is available on her site, including a detailed treatment protocol she has shared with readers.