Wednesday night, I got sick.
This pregnancy has been lots of not-very-fun and mostly-always-sick-with-something, but Wednesday night, I got really sick.
I had gone to the doctor on Tuesday morning to ask for a prescription for heartburn.
I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately because as soon as I lay down at night, allll my stomach acid comes barrelling up my throat and fills my mouth.
When I lay on my side, it pours out my mouth onto a facecloth that I put on my pillow for that reason.
Laying on my back helps and so do copious amounts of Tums, but I’ve been finding for the past three weeks or so that my bedtime math looks like this:
Well-intended bedtime + acid reflux hour + terrible lower back pain + growing baby kicking both sets of ribs simultaneously= bedtime + 2-3 hours.
Which for someone like me, pregnant with bipolar, can be quite dangerous.
For someone with my mental health condition, more than two nights in a row with less than 6 hours sleep can lead to mania.
A bad enough mania can lead to psychosis, which can lead to mandatory hospitalization.
Wednesday morning, I picked up my new prescription.
My doctor had had some concerns about me taking the typically prescribed-for-pregnant-women heartburn meds such as Pantoprazole, as they have higher steroid content than the one he prescribed me.
Because of my asthma, I’m already taking a daily steroid for that, and steroids are bad for baby, so he picked a drug called Cimetidine instead.
Wednesday night at 7:30, I took my handful of lithium at dinner time, as well as my new medication.
By 9:00 pm, I was sitting on the toilet in tears, clutching at my stomach, which felt like it had been invaded by an army of dancing knives.
My palms were pouring sweat, I was dizzy, I felt like I was going to vomit, and I was glued to the toilet due to excessive and painful diarrhea.
Yes- to some, this might be ‘TMI’, but I’ve learned that a whole lot of our lived experiences- the shit that Doesn’t make it to Instagram- is TMI.
So I’m sitting there, with my head leaning against the bathroom wall so that I don’t pass out on the toilet, and I’m calling Ryan on speakerphone.
Ryan typically works one week in the home office, and one week in northern Manitoba.
Then he comes home for another week to the home office, and then works another week north of Edmonton.
Due to Covid, he hasn’t had to fly to Manitoba for well over a year.
This was his first week back.
So there I was, glued to the toilet, in severe pain, with our 30-week fetus kicking the shit out of me from the inside, and our pyjama-clad Not-Sleeping at 9 pm toddler at my knee.
Adult-wise; I was alone.
I’m strong; I’m awesome, I have a great daughter, we’ve established a solid routine when Ryan is away, and normally- it sucks when he’s gone because I miss him, but for the most part, we do just fine.
Wednesday night- I felt overwhelmed.
I felt violently ill, scared, and alone.
With a toddler to care for and no help.
So I called Ryan on speakerphone through tears and told him what was happening.
He googled my symptoms and confirmed that I was basically experiencing all the bad side effects they tell you ‘could’ happen with Cimetidine, but rarely do. The odds are 1%. I hit them all.
Then I Really started panicking.
It struck me all of a sudden that all of the symptoms I was currently experiencing are symptoms of lithium toxicity.
Basically, in order to manage my mental health and to be able to support my family members and live a great life, I take a daily medication that is a poison and can kill me.
Every day that I take it, I walk a fine line between destroying my liver, and being able to live a balanced and wonderful life.
According to healthline.com:
“Lithium toxicity is another term for a lithium overdose.
Lithium helps reduce episodes of mania and lowers the risk of suicide in people with these conditions.
The right dosage of lithium varies from person to person, but most people are prescribed between 900 milligrams (mg) to 1,200 mg per day, in divided doses.
Some people take more than 1,200 mg per day, especially during acute episodes. Others may be more sensitive to lower doses.
A safe blood level of lithium is 0.6 and 1.2 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L).
Lithium toxicity can happen when this level reaches 1.5 mEq/L or higher.
Severe lithium toxicity happens at a level of 2.0 mEq/L and above, which can be life-threatening in rare cases.
Levels of 3.0 mEq/L and higher are considered a medical emergency.
People taking lithium need to carefully monitor how much they take it and when.
It’s easy to accidentally overdose on lithium by taking an extra pill, mixing it with other medications, or not drinking enough water. In 2014, for example, there were 6,850 reported cases of lithium toxicity in the United States.
Mild to moderate toxicity
Symptoms of mild to moderate lithium toxicity include:
• uncontrollable movements
Serum levels of lithium above 2.0 mEq/L can cause severe toxicity and additional symptoms, including:
• heightened reflexes
• rapid heartbeat
That last bullet point is the one that gets me.
Every point before it, I can handle. Hospitals can handle, if I catch the toxicity in time.
But there I was on the toilet, pregnant, alone at home with my toddler daughter, trying out a new prescription medication, and wondering all of a sudden if I might actually be about to die due to pharmaceutical oversight.
So I hung up on Ryan and called the poison control centre. While I was on the phone with them, getting them to search their database for ‘cimetidine and lithium pharmacokinetics’, Ryan was on his phone, dialling my bestie Tina, asking her to drive in from northern Calgary to our house in Crossfield at 9:30 pm on a work night, after putting her two children to bed.
While all of this was happening- there was my daughter, and the title of this article.
“I must be doing something right.”
My little Sadie Greta was born April 13, 2019, making her 2 years and 4 months old as of Wednesday night when this all went down.
I had been in her bed reading her a bedtime story when all the symptoms had started kicking in.
She watched with alarm as I had started clutching my stomach and moaning ‘it hurts’ in her bed.
She insisted on coming with me to the bathroom when I left her room to go glue myself to the toilet.
I asked her to please go get my phone from my bedroom so that I could call Daddy.
She walked down the hall to my bedroom and didn’t come back.
Sometimes when I ask her things like ‘can you please go get your bowl from the drawer?’, she comes back with two plastic knives and a rock, so I really wasn’t holding out much hope that she would come back with a phone, but then I heard her struggling.
She was grunting and pulling and saying ‘Mommy- I CAN’T!!’
I realized in that moment that my phone was plugged into the wall and my poor little nursemaid could not figure out how to detach it from the cord.
The next thing I saw was a little streak of colour flying by the bathroom door with my cellphone in hand.
She was so excited to have figured out the charging cord that she ran clear past the open doorway to the bathroom.
I called her back into the bathroom and she gave me the phone.
After I had called Daddy and the poison control centre with it, Sadie stuck by my side in her little donut pyjamas while we waited for Tina to show up.
I was crying and I couldn’t hold in the feelings.
So I just let it out and told her that Mommy was hurting and a little bit sad.
She cupped my face in her pudgy little hands and said ‘it’s okay, Mama, you’re going to be fine. It’s okay.’
She opened the bathroom drawers and found one of those soft cotton little makeup remover pads and washed my tear-soaked cheeks with it.
The gesture was so kind and so sweet, it only made me cry more.
When I could finally remove myself from the toilet and lay down on the bath mat in front of it, she looked at me and said ‘okay Mama, take a deep breath now.’
When she’s emotionally disregulated but starting to come back into a better place mentally, we always do these quick little breathing exercises to help her come back down from a tantrum.
I always coach her to ‘take a deep breath’ and then we lock eyes and we take the first deep breath together.
If she needs more, we take a few more, and then we get back to business as usual.
There I was, laid out on my bath mat in my nasty old housecoat, belly and boobs spilling out all over the place, feeling sorry for myself, and Sadie says ‘okay Mama, take a deep breath now.’
At 2 years and 4 months, she was able to recognize where I was at mentally, and coach me through a breathing exercise.
I did my one deep breath with her and felt a lot better.
Then she looked at me and said ‘let’s do another one.’
We did three deep breaths together on the bathroom floor and I felt almost human again after the last one.
While we waited for Tina to arrive, Sadie continued emptying the contents of the bathroom drawers, bringing me medicines (hair elastics), water (a bottle of makeup remover), and bandaids ‘to make me feel better.’
When I was able to get to the couch from the bathroom, she brought me a blanket and covered my legs with it and laid her head down on my legs.
When Tina showed up, Sadie lost her shit and had a total meltdown (I think mostly because by then it was 10 pm and her bedtime is at 8), but I think she was also hesitant to give up her nursing role to an intruder, hehe.
By then I was feeling almost better, so I put Sadie down to sleep in her room. When I came back out, Tina took me to my room and pet my hair and let me chatter until I fell asleep, and then she drove back home to Calgary.
Having bipolar sucks.
A lot of this pregnancy has sucked.
I don’t talk about a lot of these things to a lot of people, mostly because I’m so busy doing all the other shit that I have to do in my adult life, that I just don’t have time to talk about these things.
But I DO want people to know these things.
I want people to know that it IS possible to have a major mental health disorder, and a host of other illnesses (asthma, IBS), and Still live a super-productive life.
It IS possible to be pregnant while having a mental illness and to have a pretty okay pregnancy experience, even while you’re battling a bunch of invisible barriers that other pregnant women don’t have to face.
After Wednesday night’s events- I just feel really grateful.
I have a loving, understanding, supportive husband who remains calm and helps me through things, even when he’s not able to be at my side.
I have raised a beautiful, caring, sweet and kind daughter whose empathy skills are Well beyond her years.
And I have multiple friends who are ever only one phone call away from ditching their own families in the middle of the night to come help mine.
I must be doing something right.