Monday, December 19, 2011

It's What Venus Has

It's an exaggeration to say no one has heard of Sjogren's Syndrome, but not much of one. I usually say it's like lupus, but not as bad. I'm a lawyer - I won't even pretend that's a medically accurate statement. It's what Venus Williams has. Judging by the reader comments left at when she had to pull out of the U.S. Open, many people think she has AIDS. Associating the word "immune" to more than one disease is a challenge for some, I guess, so I tend to stick with my lupus analogy.

Lupus and Sjogren's patients have a few things in common. For one, our bodies can hurt our babies. Well, some of us. We have to have the right antibodies floating around inside, and even then it's an uncommon thing for those buggers to do any harm (two percent). At forty, with three kids under my belt, I assumed I was done, and didn't worry about it. All three are healthy, beloved, and more than enough to keep me busy for a few decades.

Enter July. Mix a near amputation with a crossbow (left thumb), vicodin (me), and most of a bottle of Riesling (my husband), and you have baby number four. When I was pregnant with my son, I was just considered old (or advanced maternal age, which sounds worse, if you ask me). With baby number four, I was old and had what Venus has. So I was given a choice. I could take a steroid, one a good bit stronger than prednisone, in the hopes of preventing my body from hurting my baby. Specifically, her heart. Of course, the steroids could damage other parts of her, so I could also do nothing but hope for the best.

For a week, I weighed phrases like adrenal insufficiency and intrauterine growth restriction against two percent. A damn small number. I decided ninety-eight percent of everything being just fine and dandy sounded pretty good. So I tucked the bottle of pills into a drawer and forgot about them.

Flash forward seven weeks and I'm sitting in L&D at a hospital across the river from my home, listening to a heart beat that sounds like a train running next to the tracks instead of on them. I hate myself. 'Cause insufficient suddenly sounds a whole lot better than defective. I'm educated on atrial and ventricular rates, effusion, and tricuspid regurgitation. My husband is driving our children in a minivan somewhere between the elementary school and our house. Calling him seems like a really bad idea, so I text my sister instead.

At some point, I'm left alone with a dose of the same steroid I'd refused before and my clothes. I swallow the Dex with some water, piling growth restriction on top of AV disassociation. Right on cue,the morse code starts. The message could be anything from "SOS," or "suck it up, Buttercup," or "hey, I'm still here, you know." I don't read tea leaves, or astrological charts, or slips of paper from not-found-in-nature-orange fortune cookies. I'm not about to interpret the uncoordinated movements of an unborn baby. So I just poke her back and tell her I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.