Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hurtling Towards Healing

I am convinced that someday soon, maybe in twenty, thirty years, we will view treatments like chemotherapy the same way we currently view treating a sick person with leeches.  "You mean to say that you tried to cure cancer by flooding the body with toxins and poisons and chemicals that slowly destroy the person's immune system and simultaneously destroy the cancer too, if the person is lucky? How utterly barbaric."

After all, curing someone through chemotherapy is, more or less (probably less), the same principle as using leeches.  Leeches are horrible little worms that suck blood out of the person's body, hopefully sucking the person's ailment out with it.  We now know that bloodletting with leeches isn't really an effective cure for most ailments, though it was used by the mainstream medical community for centuries.  I wonder if new scientific advances will obscure chemotherapy the same way.  I think they will.

I think the same thing will happen with assisted reproduction. Right now, I am in the early stages of my IVF treatment, but in a week or so, I will have to start giving myself five injections a day.  That's right folks, five nasty, painful injections, four in my stomach and one in my backside.  Not all of them will hurt that much, but frankly, I get pretty queasy at the sight of the two-inch needles alone.  This daily injection schedule will take place for two weeks, over the course of which I will be ultrasounded and have my blood drawn and tested every other day.  How much fun does that sound like?  Two weeks.  I am terrified.  I can't believe that all that most people have to do to have a baby is have sex.

I've been watching injection how-to videos on YouTube in order to get myself used to the idea, and truthfully, it is just frightening me more.  All my life, I've been a little queasy about needles.  I have mildly low blood pressure, and when I have blood drawn, I usually feel sick afterwards and have even passed out on occasion.  It is a horrible feeling.   I am also "blessed" with pale skin and really crummy invisible veins.  Nine times out of ten, phlebotomists have to try at least twice to get the needle in right.  I recently had to have an IV put in and the nurse tried four times to get the damned needle in (while my hand blew up like a water balloon), until the anesthesiologist shoved her aside and did it himself.  It's not so much the pain of the needle prick that I mind, it's the whole gestalt of needles and such.  It's just not fun.  There is something visceral and barbaric about it.

I've basically sailed through my life, thank you very much God, healthy as a horse.  I get a few nasty colds  every year and that's it.  Until last year, I even had all my wisdom teeth.  In my twenties,  I don't think I saw a doctor more than once or twice.  I feel like since I hit forty, my body has been on a steady decline.  I remember attending a class given by Tziporah Heller, in my late twenties, when she said, "the one thing that you can count on in life is that your body will fail you.  For some of us, it happens sooner; for some lucky ones, it happens later.  But it will happen.  Count on it.  You can watch your diet, exercise, do all the right things, but the body is designed to wear out eventually.  So don't be disappointed or surprised when it happens."

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not on death's doorstep.  Far from it.  As part of my fertility workup, I had to have a complete, multi-level physical:  total blood workup, stress test, chest x-ray, complete ob/gyn exam, name it, it's been tested, and thank God, except for the infertility, I am in pretty good shape.   So why does it feel like my body is rebelling?  I guess what I really want to know is, why the hell can the rest of the world have babies and I can't?  Not a day goes by when I don't ask myself this.  I am going to have to give myself five shots a day for 15 days to have a baby.  My neighbor down the block just had her fifth child.  Basically, when she and her husband share a toothbrush, she gets pregnant.  When he looks at her funny, she gets pregnant.  When they eat popcorn at the movies out of the same bag, she gets pregnant.

I heard an interesting and controversial dvar Torah about two years ago.  The upshot of it was that as the universe hurls itself towards the coming of the Mashiach (this conjures up an interesting Star Trek visual for me), the world  is actually healing and unwinding from the primal sins of Creation, and slowly, God is lifting the punishments that He imposed on Adam and Chava, as part of the Tikkun.  Think about it.  Most (or at least many) men in civilized societies do not earn their bread "by the sweat of their brow" any more.  Most men are not hunters or farmers; they sit in front of computers, or in classrooms, or are writing, or are investing, or they sell things in stores, or they treat patients and clients, etc.  I think in ten years, half the white-collar workforce will probably be telecommuting and won't even have to leave their homes.  How many men do you know are riding behind a plow all day? The fact is that "work" today doesn't mean the same thing that it did thousands of years ago, or even a hundred years ago, because the majority of us don't live in an agricultural society and the majority of men are not engaged in back-breaking labor.  And as far as Chava's punishment, most women in civilized society do not die in childbirth anymore, and thanks to epidurals, controlled breathing, etc. even the pain of childbirth labor is minimized.   Women can take ibuprofen and exercise to deal with most menstrual pain. Giving birth and most of what goes along with it, though essentially the exact same process, is no longer something most women fear.  "The curse" is at most an inconvenience.  The gift of medical science has removed most of the dangers and pain involved.  The punishments of the Garden are slowly being lifted and unwound as we move towards the beginning of the next era.  Pretty cool observation, whether you buy into it or not.  I actually like it (though I can see where many people would scoff at this).

But, there are still men who earn their living by sweat of their brow and often by their blood as well. And sadly, there are still women who die in childbirth, or who have horribly painful birth experiences, or women who cannot conceive at all or women who must put themselves through a painful and rigorous process in order to conceive.  I sometimes wonder if assisted reproduction is part of the whole Edenic punishment reversal process. I mean, if I had been born fifty years earlier, my chances at having a child would be zero (not that I even know what's wrong with me, or why I haven't had one, mind you).  All the advanced scientific research for assisted reproduction has taken place very recently.  Even now, in the last decade, there is new technology that has changed the nature of IVF, allowing for older women to have more normal pregnancies, by pre-screening embryos before implantation.   It's mind-boggling how far assisted reproduction has come in the last few years and how much better the statistics are.  Once again, thank you very much God.

And yet, I still have to give myself five shots a day for fifteen days.  I still have endured weeks of testing, poking, prodding, etc. As someone who is in the middle of the actual  process, I still view it as brutal, barbaric, and painful.  And I still can't believe that all some people (most people!) need to do is just have sex.

I do think that maybe in twenty, thirty years, IVF will become an injection-free, much more painless process.  And along those same lines, I think chemotherapy will go on the shelf with leeches and bloodletting.  I hope we will continue hurtling towards our redemption and that the gifts of technology and science will continue to help and heal us.


Anonymous said...

I really feel your pain and hope and pray that you will have beautiful and healthy children. It always pains me when the people who would be the best parents sometimes have difficulty conceiving. I've always felt (personal opinion, please nobody yell at me) that having trouble getting pregnant was more difficult than being single. On a bright note, a close friend of mine and my husband's cousin had to try with IVF for quite a while, and they are both in the middle of pregnancies. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Stay strong, and don't forget to take care of yourself during this process.

A said...

As someone who hates and fears needles, but has been living with the necessity of several insulin injections per day for most of her life, I literally feel your pain.

I wish you much luck and hope to come here and read that you've been successful.

MK said...

My wife was fortunate to have a wonderful woman do the injections. Perhaps you can ask around in your local Bikur Cholim if someone is available. It would be better if she were not Jewish because drawing blood on Shabbos can be problematic.

Totally agree about the chemo. If your any kind of Trekkie, you'll remember the scene in movie 4, The Voyage Home, where they are back in 1967. McCoy is in a hospital and passes a woman about to have a kidney removed. He is agast and says "How barbaric!" and gives her a pill which cures her.

Crawling Axe said...

Chemo is not the same thing as bloodletting. With the latter, they thought that a person was sick because there was accumulation of poison in his blood, so letting out blood (with poison) would make him feel better. In the former, they are killing all rapidly dividing cells. Which includes cells of one’s body and also, iyH, cancer cells.

It’s not the most elegant method and it can do as much harm as good (e.g., cure the cancer but also destroy one’s liver, r"l), and newer methods are being developed (antibodies, etc.). But chemo saves (or prolongs) lives. It physically works.

Crawling Axe said...

I also hate needles.

Hashem should bless you with hatzlacha of having healthy children that will bring you happiness.

WebGirl said...

Crawling, first of all, thanks for the bracha. Second of all, I'm fully aware that chemo is not the same as bloodletting and that it sometimes works. It was an analogy.

Crawling Axe said...

My point was that bloodletting didn’t help at all and was based on a false premise. A better analogy would be amputation — before the antibiotics, it was sometimes the only way to save someone’s life. A necessary evil, just like chemo. Anyway, I am just nitpicking. :)

Anonymous said...

I know this is a very old post, but I just wanted to give you some bracha and chizzuk. I too am dealing with IF and it's very, very hard. I give you the biggest bracha that everything should work out for you soon, amen!

I've been a long time reader of this blog, and I really love it. I hope you update soon with good news! :)