This book emotionally drained me.
Yet, I couldn’t bear to put it down.
Yes, those are note tabs. I’m a nerd.
I first heard about this book from my ChocolateBrides family. So many of the ladies were adding it to their reading lists, that I had to investigate. Once I saw the subject matter, how one black woman’s cells became the nucleus of modern medicine without her knowledge, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I went quickly to reserve it at my local library.
Ms. Skloot did an excellent job of nailing the black-speak given by Henrietta’s family. I was equally gratified with her ability to provide just enough back-story to engage us in not only what her cells became, but who Henrietta was. There were times very early in the book that I found myself weeping for this woman, whose story, though I’d never heard it before, was somehow familiar to me. I was infatuated with the world surrounding HeLa, the name given to Henrietta’s cells. Cells that eventually were used to develop vaccines and medicines for cervical cancer and HPV, flown into space, and blown up in atom bombs. I would encourage anyone with a passion for good story, medicine, and a trip down a rabbit hole, to visit the library and check this book out. I was severely impressed.
Aside from the book itself, and the significance of Henrietta Lacks as a person, this story provided a great springboard into my philosophies on African Americans and medical professionals. While the issue of infertility was only discussed briefly in this book, reproductive health was a huge factor as Henrietta’s initial condition was cervical cancer, most likely caused by HPV. The fear and confusion created by a lack of medical literacy is profound in this tale, and is something I am frequently ranting about.
In 1951, when Mrs. Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer, she began treatments at Johns Hopkins. I was taken aback to read that doctors had not informed her of the infertility those treatments would leave her with. Quite similar to the ignorance exhibited by some today in regards to cancer treatments and fertility, Henrietta had no idea the two were related. Ms. Skloot quoted this note by Dr. Richard TeLinde, however, the very doctor who did not inform Henrietta:
“The psychic affect of hysterectomy, especially on the young, is considerable,[…] it is well to present these facts to such an individual and give her ample time to digest them”
This gave me pause, because I’m often confused at how some people are understanding to the emotional feeling women experience when faced with hysterectomy, yet somehow unsympathetic to those dealing with infertility. Aren’t the feelings of inadequacy and “less than a woman”-ness, equal in the two?
Another statement that Rebecca made, which floored me because it was so closely related to what I’ve been telling people myself, was that eventhough Henrietta disagreed with her doctor’s prognosis about her recovery, it is quite probable that she did not question him. Patients believed what doctors said…”Especially black patients in public wards”, she writes. And the fear was passed down, as Henrietta’s husband and sons were wary to visit doctors in their own later years, in spite of gangrene and necessary angioplasty. The fear that doctors will do what they wish, without asking, or that they won’t understand what is being said to them, is a fear that I’m sure the Lacks share with thousands of other African American families. Some, right in Baltimore where the Lacks reside.
In an eye-opening few paragraphs, Ms. Skloot explains the origins of these fears as she recounts the tales slaves were once told of “night doctors”. To thwart possible runaways, slaves were told stories of night doctors in sheets who would snatch black people to infect them with disease or experiment on them. These stories provided the preamble to the Ku Klux Klan’s use of similar costumes. While these were “ghost stories”, some were actually true, and therefore solidified the fears that many blacks, especially those who lived near hospitals, had about medicine and doctors.
As the idea of cells and cloning becomes the focus of the book, it brought to my attention the necessity of medical literacy once again in the infertility community. To try and understand cloning, Henrietta’s daughter Deborah watched a movie called The Clone about an infertility doctor who misuses harvested embryos. So many of these movies and stories of science-fiction cast a negative light on reproductive technology. If we better understood what the terminology meant, and how the different procedures worked, we could lessen the ignorance and bias.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking issue of this book, was the way this family, for what they’ve given to medicine, had very little medical care of their own. For all of the money made by doctors and pharmaceutical manufacturers, it would have been nice for these people to at least be given free medical care…without fear of being further tested on as the family of HeLa. I felt connected to them and angry for them, as the book ended.
In all, reading this story relit my passion about making people aware of the effects medical literacy have on care and treatment. Knowing what is happening to or for you, as well as knowing the protocol for objection or second-opinion, is something we can not take for granted. Along with that, our reproductive health awareness MUST increase. For Henrietta Lacks to be given sexually transmitted diseases in 1950 that led to her cancer and eventual death, makes it all the more ridiculous for someone in 2010 to endure the same fate. We should know what our reproductive health means, and how to maintain it. If not for our fertility, then for our very lives.
I rate The Immortal Life:
Gourmet Omelet Worthy 5/5 +1: Informative, Well-Written, Engaging, Well-Researched, Health-Conscious, and Passionate
I hate the stirrups. I never want to fully cooperate. It’s so violating to me, I’m sure I’m not alone. I don’t know why, but I hate the stirrups! They have never meant good news for me. Just really glad I’m not shy, and even gladder (if that is a word) I have God. Anyway,back to the polyp that I came here for. When I was here last week they told me something about a polyp. I have no idea what that even is? Let’s find out:
According to the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago:
“A polyp is an overgrowth of tissue in the lining (endometrium) of the uterus. The concept is similar to that of a skin tag – basically normal tissue, but growing in an abnormal formation. Many polyps are very small (a few millimeters in diameter) and do not represent a compromise to reproductive capabilities. However, large polyps – or multiple polyps – can interfere with reproduction by causing infertility, or by increasing risks for miscarriage.”
All I want to know, is why am I just now hearing about it. Surely they saw this when they looked 2 months ago? Well we are here now. This is the present and evidently, this polyp is in the present.
Presently, I really want to use these opportunities to tell the story of the quest for the daughter who’s name keeps changing. But, there are new dynamics every week. Where this week I began really focused on where the “brown belles” are. Because obviously, the stereotype is that black women are super fertile, however somewhere there has to be one that visits this clinic, right? Maybe if I found her, that could take the edge off coming here.
And if no ‘new’ news popped up, that is what I hoped to uncover. But, as God would have it, all focus has shifted to the polyp.
So, I’m waiting for my doctor wondering what a “hydro-lighter” ultrasound is, I think that’s what the lady on the phone said when I called this morning , to say I was gonna be late. So, my next mission is to find out what that is. I hope this is not one of those times I was supposed to drink a ton of water first. I don’t remember. It’s all I can do to find out when and how to take this Metformin I got prescribed last week. Doctor is here now. Maybe if I focus on writing this I won’t be thinking about what is going on, at the end of this table, just a thought.
As I was saying, I’m not a writer. I have written, but blogged never. Unless you count the blogging Patrik and I used to do on MySpace, but that was dumb. This is different. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking I’m really behind. I spent far too long not being in the knowledge of the truth about my reproductive health. A woman experiencing a situation and sharing, hoping to find answers and friends. Those are the bottom lines. I am not a nurse, I am not a doctor & I hate blood! (LOL) So, I’m feeling behind because I always take notes at my appointments, especially for the words I’m not familar with like “uterine polyp”. What I am familar with is the way that they say it, like you know what the heck they are talking about, with no medical training. But, that is ok with me. I get real slick on them. I love the face a Reproductive Specalist makes when you whip out your $1 note pad and start hitting them with the questions.
My medical training is a search engine and the notes. I just want to be able to share & learn my way thru this experiance, to end at the wonderful result of a beautiful daughter. Ann Elise Lexington, that’s her name this week. And, even though my husband will hate it, it has a nice ring to it. I’m day dreaming. The usual.
Low Thyroid?!? Low thyroid. Thyroid hormone. What??? Why did he just say I need a thyroid hormone, in the middle of my daydream? Ruined my whole train of thought. I can’t even tie that into my storyline, because he didn’t tie it in to anything, he just hit me over the head with it…did he just slide that in there on me? Does this mean more pills? I haven’t even Googled the heck out of the last meds, or found any results for “hydro-lighter” ultrasound.
In breaking polyp news: wait a dang minute…surgery? Did he just say surgery? Why does it take 10 mins to examine you and 5 to turn your life upside down with these terms and words you don’t even understand? It appears as though I will be even farther behind in my “medical researh” of Metformin, what Metformin does, Low Thyroid, Thyroid hormones, and my favorite…side effects of said Thyroid Hormone, sure to include your friend and mine – HOT FLASH! But, that reaserch with that will have to yield while I continue the new and fresh obessesion with searching the internet for “polyp” till he dies.
Till next Time,
“Uterine Polyps Can Cause Infertility or Miscarriage” Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, 1996–2010 Web. August 8,2010
First post of the year.
Time out for bullshit, Eggshells. About ten months ago, a doctor told me to lose 30 lbs and THEN she would renew my Clomid prescription. At this point in the journey, I had already taken a round of Clomid about six months before that, and a round of Metformin a couple months before that, none of which (obviously), had worked.
The first doctor, who had prescribed the famed Clomiphene Citrate, was an African American woman, mid 40’s, who sent me in for an ultrasound, told me there was nothing “gynecologically wrong” with me, gave me a spiel about how fertility meds lead to multiple births, all in a “So don’t come calling my ass if you end of like Jon and Kate”, type voice, and wrote the prescription as she was walking out of the door. When I went back for my follow-up appointment she said, and I QUOTE, couldn’t make this shit up if I tried,
“Well, are you pregnant? No, Okay. Here’s a prescription for Metformin“.
She NEVER sent me back in for any ultrasounds.
She NEVER tried to monitor any ovulation.
She NEVER worked on any type of plan with me and my husband.
She NEVER asked me if I’d experienced any side affects, ill feelings, strange itches, nothing.
And I never asked her as much as I probably should have either.
So instead, I was relieved when my move to the suburbs afforded me the opportunity to find a new ob/gyn. I found her on good recommendation and even reviews online. They all said the same great things about her and I was excited.
I met with her and her nurses, and they were amazing.
She and I picked up a great conversation and were getting along great, then she said, “I would feel more comfortable if you brought your weight down about 30lbs, and then we can see if that will naturally get your body working properly again.” To which I thought to myself,
“Hmph, ain’t this some shit. Right lady, cause its just that easy”.
I’ve never been small. NEVER. I’ve been balanced because of my height, but never slim…at least not since I was like 8. So for me to finally get to the point where I was feeling confident about my choice in doctor, etc…she had basically put a brick wall in front of my bumper car. I felt instantly deflated.
So…its been about ten months.
And I guess I showed her.
I haven’t been back since.
Meanwhile, had I listened, and not been so insanely stubborn and sensitive, I’d probably have a kid.
Which brings me to my point.
HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?
If you want it more than anything, how can ANYTHING stand in your way of getting it?
30lbs? Seriously? What an idiot.
If its something I want, I have to do more at actively pursuing it.
I refuse to let another year pass where I have completely sabotaged my own destiny.
Remember, its time out for bullshit, Eggshells.
The subconscious is a cruel little deviant. But she usually has a point. So, anywho, I dreamed about this test for some reason, so I can only assume that it is something I’m supposed to share with you guys. I present to you, the dreaded HSG test. One of the many preemptive strikes some RE’s or OB/GYN’s will take is the hysterosalpingogram test. If this is a step that your doctor has suggested, know that you will live through it. For those of us who like to hear the battle stories of our fellow ladies in the struggle, you could very well hear some intense and frightening tales. Truthfully, this procedure is quite common and though it can be painful, a dose of painkillers should get you through the night. So, without further adieu, the basics…
What is a hysterosalpingogram (HSG)? A hysterosalpingogram or HSG is an x-ray procedure performed to determine whether the fallopian tubes are open and to see if the shape of the uterine cavity is normal. An HSG is an outpatient procedure that takes less than one half-hour to perform. It is usually done after menses have ended, but before ovulation, to prevent interference with an early pregnancy.
How is a hysterosalpingogram done? A patient is positioned under a fluoroscope (a real-time x-ray imager) on a table. The gynecologist or radiologist then examines her uterus and places a speculum in her vagina. Her cervix is cleaned, and a device (cannula) is placed into the opening of the cervix. The physician then gently fills the uterus with a liquid containing iodine (contrast) through the cannula. The contrast then enters the tubes, outlines the length of the tubes, and spills out their ends if they are open. Any abnormalities in the uterine cavity or fallopian tubes will be visible on a monitor. The HSG is not designed to evaluate the ovaries or diagnose endometriosis. Frequently, side views of the uterus and tubes are obtained by having the patient change her position on the table. After the HSG, a patient can immediately resume normal activities, although some physicians ask that the woman refrain from intercourse for a few days.
Is it uncomfortable? An HSG usually causes mild or moderate uterine cramping for about five minutes; however, some women may experience cramps for several hours. The symptoms can be greatly reduced by taking medications used for menstrual cramps.
Does a hysterosalpingogram enhance fertility? It is controversial whether this procedure enhances fertility. Some studies indicate a slight increase in fertility lasting about three months after a normal HSG. Most physicians perform the HSG only for diagnostic reasons.
What are the risks and complications of HSG? An HSG is considered a very safe procedure. However, there is a set of recognized complications, some serious, which occur less than 1% of the time.
- Infection – The most common serious problem with HSG is pelvic infection. This usually occurs in the presence of previous tubal disease. In rare cases, infection can damage the fallopian tubes or necessitate their removal. A woman should call her doctor if she experiences increasing pain or a fever within one to two days of the HSG.
- Fainting – Rarely, the patient may get light-headed during or shortly after the procedure.
- Radiation Exposure – Radiation exposure from a HSG is very low, less than a kidney or bowel study, and there have been no demonstrated ill effects from this radiation, even if conception occurs later the same month. The HSG should not be done if pregnancy is suspected.
- Iodine Allergy – Rarely, a patient may have an allergy to the iodine contrast used in an HSG. A patient should inform her doctor if she is allergic to iodine, intravenous contrast dyes, or seafood. Patients who are allergic to iodine may have a sonohysterogram performed instead of HSG since that procedure uses non-iodine containing fluids. Sonohysterograms provide good detail concerning the uterine cavity, but limited information about the fallopian tubes. If a patient experiences a rash, itching, or swelling after the procedure, she should contact her doctor.
- Spotting – Spotting commonly occurs for one to two days after the HSG. Unless instructed otherwise, a patient should notify her doctor if she experiences heavy bleeding after the HSG.