I am Stephie’s mum and my name is Jill. For the last five years my life has been greatly affected by the episodes of vomiting my daughter, Stephie, has had at varying intervals. She is soon to be seventeen. Her vomiting always starts in the morning and, once it’s started, it almost invariably carries on several times an hour for a whole day, stopping some time in the evening, maybe carrying on into the next day. It started in her last year at primary school (P7 in Scotland) and has continued ever since.
Since having my two children, I’ve mostly done voluntary work with the odd paid job. The most stressful time at work I had was when I managed to get a temporary job on reception at our local secondary school. Each morning I had to make decisions – shall I go into work for 9.00 and leave Stephie in bed? Can she be left or should I call in and say I’m unable to work today? Shall I wait for her to get ready and go to work late? Shall I just not take her to school and avoid the sickness? Should I make a(nother) appointment with the GP? Shall I leave her at home (maybe tired but not vomiting) and visit her at lunchtime (I only had a break of forty five minutes). That to me is stress – not having any control over the situation.
Through Stephie’s bouts of sickness I’ve been determined to qualify as a massage therapist and have done so by attending two years of evening classes. Something for me! It’s been hard going but I’ve done it. I manage to keep a weekly session at a carers’ centre going by changing my hours from time to time or arranging for one of my close friends to take Stephie into school when she’s ready. I’m sure you all realise that, with most mums going back to work, it’s not easy to find someone who is available during the day. My husband helps as much as he can but, with important meetings, the occasional trip away, etc, etc, he’s quite often simply not available.
Sometimes Stephie’s episodes occur every week for most of the school term, maybe twice in a week. From time to time we hit a good patch but that generally means taking Stephie to school part way through the day when she feels the chance of sickness has gone away. A day’s sickness means that the next day is a ‘recovery day’ maybe starting with a bit of vomiting until her stomach settles.
Our best time recently has been a period of four months when she was able to go to school every day for the start of the day (we don’t think that has happened throughout her time at secondary school). Stephie has struggled through Fifth Year to do her Scottish Highers. She has to work extremely hard not only to do all the required work but also catch up on all the work she has missed during lesson time. She had a full timetable in Fifth Year, so only two free periods. So, the good ‘patch’ couldn’t have come at a better time. There is certainly a stress element to Stephie’s sickness but, if that were all, then you would expect it to get worse as the exams. approach, wouldn’t you?
Standard Grades last year were not great but she managed to do those exams where she hadn’t managed a mock exam and missed some exams where her mock exams had been very good. After appeals she ended up with 8 Grade 1s!
When the time of the Higher exams came this year, the first one passed without incident. Hooray! Hooray! It’s gone for good! But no! For the next one (she took five) she felt nauseous but it passed. Number three was the same as the second, number four – a little bit sick, took domperidone suppository (has some effect, whereas anti-emetic tablets always come straight back up) then, having arranged to sit at the back of the hall in case of early exit, managed to settle and completed the exam, number five – disastrous. She started vomiting soon after getting dressed, determined to go in and start, but even after being moved to separate room, vomiting had taken hold and she couldn’t carry on. That was mid-May and Stephie hasn’t managed a full day at school since.
We put the long period of good health down to acupuncture. I know that different things work for different people, but this definitely seemed to have a very positive effect on Stephie. As a committed Christian, I was a little sceptical at first about chi, yin and yang and all that but was reassured to know, having decided to book, that our Chinese therapist is also a Christian; apparently this is just what they do in China, medically speaking. It’s more about getting your head round a different way of looking at health, maybe a culture-thing. I hope that helps other parents out there – although I’m sure lots of people won’t bat an eyelid!
We did try a session of reflexology but when Stephie got up from the couch and threw up yellow bile all over the therapist’s carpet we decided to give that one a miss in future!
I discovered the CVS website quite by chance last year after years of struggle, seeing many, many doctors, and various health professionals quite often suggested by well-meaning friends. Apart from numerous trips to see various of the GPs at our practice, we have been to see a private paediatrician (who suggested abdominal migraine and pizotifen – almost right, and the pizotifen, which had a limited effect, stopped working after about a year) child endocrine clinic (where anorexia was suggested as she was at that time quite thin – I soon politely put him right!) child psychology (not helpful), child gastroenterology (a very pleasant consultant at least helped us to rule out some of the physical possibilities, although involving two hospital stays which were very traumatic for all concerned), child dietician, homeopath, chiropractor, dietician in mental health (!) and young people’s mental health. It seems that mental health has to be dragged in because of the stress element and no trace of a physical cause. After seeing a very unhelpful psychologist at first at the Young People’s Department, we were transferred to a two-some – Community Psychiatric Nurse (extremely sympathetic) and a psychiatrist. Although I knew that Stephie did not need a psychiatrist this doctor has been the most helpful we have seen and was really the first to explore the connection with migraine. (That’s how I found CVSA – by putting ‘migraine’ ‘vomiting’ into Google!). She referred Stephie on to a neurologist, who also drew a blank, although she was the one to suggest the domperidone suppositories which sometimes work for a short time.
Then you remember the times that you did decide to ‘go for it’ and booked a weekend in Paris with a school pal and her mum (because she hadn’t been offered a place on a trip abroad with the school – I wonder why that was?). She vomited from the first morning on waking at the hotel until sleeping back in her own bed three days later. It was awful. Have you travelled through airport security with a sick bag and had to decline the offer of putting it (partially full) into the scanner? Also, it’s not easy finding plastic bags without holes these days! And the family activity holiday in Austria (booked in a good period of course), when she vomited from leaving home with the occasional ‘recovery day’ until arriving back a week or so later.
Stephie’s only regular exercise/extracurricular activity is dancing, at which she is very talented. How many lessons has she missed so that you have to plead with the teachers to let her try the exam – and then she vomits on the morning of the exam, arrives at the venue with sick bag, gets pushed into the exam room to perform (as she confirms that this is what she wants to do), spends the rest of the day in bed, vomiting and ……… gets a distinction!
I have great sympathy for those with little ones who have CVS at a young age, please don’t get me wrong. However, coping with a teenager who is sick is a whole different ball game! Because she is ill, she misses out on a lot of social activity so, as a parent, you have to make these decisions constantly – if she is feeling OK/recovered should she go out tonight? What about her schoolwork? Should she stay overnight, or is that asking for trouble? But then when she is well she can be so cheeky! – well, that’s normal, isn’t it? But particularly difficult to take when you’ve just moved heaven and earth to rearrange your own timetable, such as it is, and then you feel slapped in the face. How many other mums in this situation have screamed and shouted … and then regretted it and been apologetic – ‘I’m sorry I know it’s not your fault!’