“Nobody gets what this is, how debilitating it is, and what it does to you. It’s not morning sickness,” says Meegan, who is three-and-a-half months pregnant and suffering from hyperemesis. To show what life is like living with the disease, she and her husband, Charles, captured their routine on home video. “My favorite quote is, ‘If you’d get up out of bed, you’d feel better.’ You can’t. I pretty much have spent the last four weeks in bed or on the bathroom floor because the noise, and even having this little light on in here right now, just makes me feel sick. It is like being stuck on a bad carnival ride and not being able to get off. I’ve gone from spending all day with my two kids and teaching at the local university to quitting everything. You can’t function. I don’t know. It’s ridiculous. One Saturday night I started throwing up. It did not stop, so we went to the hospital. They put in a pick line ” that’s just like a big I.V. ” and sent me home.
Meegan’s daughter, Quinn, says, “When my mom went to the hospital, I felt kind of sad, because I really wanted to see her, because she makes me happy.”
Meegan still takes I.V. fluids 24 hours a day and Zophran every eight hours for her vomiting. “This is the very fancy I.V. bag,” she says, pointing out its various features. “It’s attached to a pick line. There’s the port where I can give myself meds through here.”
“My husband, he had a really hard time when this started. It was really upsetting him,” Meegan recounts. “As far as, like, how this has really affected our family, my 3-year-old has decided now that she doesn’t need to pee in the toilet. So, she’ll just pee wherever she’s standing. I can’t cook. The smell of food makes me vomit. There’s really nothing I can do to help. You can’t chase the kids or get them what they need. You can’t even watch them.”
“My sister’s behaving kind of naughty, because she’s running around the house and she’s, like, poking my mom and stuff, and she’s playing with this I.V. thing,” says Quinn.
“My oldest daughter, Quinn, at night she’ll come in, and I try to do her homework with her, but I can’t read the papers because they make me sick,” says Meegan. She takes medication three times a day and changes her I.V. bag every eight hours. “My favorite line is, ‘Just think about the baby.’ You cannot think about the baby. All I can think about is how sick I am and how much this is costing my family.’
Quinn says, “It’s kind of hard to be in school because you kind of worry about your mom and stuff.”
“I’m not somebody who’s lazy or just wants to sit around, or not take care of things,” says Meegan. “I had a super busy, full life, and it’s just hard. I don’t want to terminate this pregnancy, but it is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Murphy Goodwin, Chief of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the University of Southern California, who says about hyperemesis, “One of the most difficult things is to communicate to patients and their families that it’s not morning sickness. It’s been said several times this morning, but it’s important to realize that about 80 percent of women have some nausea or vomiting in pregnancy, but only 1 or 2 percent have this very severe form which is life threatening and life changing.”
Dr. Phil asks, “When you’re in the situation like Meegan, what do you do to treat it?”
Dr. Goodwin says a number of medications can limit nausea and vomiting. “And what we have done is put together a hierarchy of medications that can be used that are effective, that have been studied in randomized trials, and that are safe for the baby. Because one of the big concerns of mothers early in pregnancy is, ‘I don’t want to take anything that might harm my baby,’ and doctors don’t want to give anything that can harm this baby while it’s forming, when this vomiting is the worst. But there’s a lot of evidence now that we can have a safe regimen of different medications that are reasonably effective. Nevertheless, some people can never get adequate relief, and if you’re losing weight, and you’re becoming dehydrated, you need to have nutrition, which is being provided to Meegan.”
When word got out that Dr. Phil was doing an exclusive interview with Allison Quets and would be discussing hyperemesis, the show was inundated with e-mails from women afflicted by this disease. Dr. Phil reads a couple of the messages aloud.
“This is from one of our viewers, Opal Shumacher,” he says. “She writes, ‘The tears are streaming down my face. I can barely see the computer monitor. I needed to write something to you, Dr. Phil, the good people who are finally giving a voice to hyperemesis. My hyperemesis was the worst case my specialist had seen. I was fed through a TPN 24 hours a day. At one point, my mother was taken aside and told to say goodbye, as they clearly didn’t think that I would make it.'” Dr. Phil adds that one of his own staff members, a director named John Perry, is married to a victim of hyperemesis, Cheryl. Dr. Phil addresses her in the audience and points out that she suffered from the disease during two pregnancies, once of which she lost.
“We don’t know why,” she says of the baby she lost. “We don’t know if it was because I was being treated aggressively. But I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s physically and emotionally torturous. And you think and feel in a way that you never would under normal circumstances. And it’s not easy to say, but I wanted the pregnancies to end. As desperately as I wanted a child, I wanted it to end. And I just can’t express how it affects you in a way you would never, ever realize. You would never know.”
Dr. Phil addresses Dr. Goodwin. “Doctor, with regard to this disease, can this change someone to the point that they think different, reason different, feel different and get so fatigued that they would make a decision that they might not make once they’re back to their normal self?” he asks.
“Absolutely,” says Dr. Goodwin. “We’ve seen, time and again, women who are completely transformed by the disease. They become almost listless, apathetic, unable to communicate, lying motionless in the bed, in a state that used to be described as catatonic. And then when you see them six months after birth, or a year later with their kids back in the office, they’re completely normal people. We did a study to examine them with various psychological methods when they were sick and afterward. These are completely normal people, but this is still a disease that people say, ‘You’re causing it somehow. You’re the problem. You don’t want your pregnancy. You don’t love your husband.’ All these strange theories still permeate our profession, and fortunately we’re making a lot of headway, but not enough, as we heard from Meegan’s story.”
“Yeah,” says Dr. Phil, “and we’re here with Meegan who is an attorney, Amy, who is actually an OB/GYN in the field, Cheryl, who I know personally to be a very highly functioning, energetic, focused individual, and these are people who aren’t psychologically impaired, but yet this is a crippling and debilitating disease. And I’m glad we’re talking about it, and I hope people will understand that it doesn’t appear that Allison is any different from these women: Very highly functioning, very productive in her life. And then gets in this phase and we have her locked in a prison cell. I just wonder if that’s the right thing to be doing here.”