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One Washington Midwife’s Battle with Pertussis

Yesterday I was diagnosed with "probable pertussis". My PA didn't swab or send labs off or anything, but based on my symptoms alone, she said I have all the classic signs. I'm being treated and should no longer be contagious by next week.

Let me tell you a little about it. Having pertussis feels like when you accidentally inhale a little bit of water while you're drinking. You loudly hack and sputter and cough and it hurts and you can't get enough air. It gets the attention of everyone around you. Pertussis is like that, except when you choke on a little sip of water, your windpipe clears out rather quickly. With pertussis it feels like you are choking on a sip of water every 30 minutes around the clock and the hacking lasts for several minutes. You can't catch your breath. It makes you dizzy. It makes you gag.

My clinic has been closed all week (luckily I don't have anyone due; not for another couple of weeks, so I'll be spending my vacation bedridden while recovering). All of my mobile newborn hearing screening clinics have been canceled. I don't dare go anywhere near my clients and I can't hold a conversation on the phone or in person. I have pulled muscles in my neck and rib cage, my house is a wreck, I can barely take care of my kids, I have no appetite, and I'm struggling to breathe, so sleeping is out of the question. I catch little naps in between coughing fits like laboring women catch naps in between contractions.

Thankfully, my children are fully vaccinated against pertussis and so far they're fine.

Please consider my personal story and do not take lightly the recent recommendations by the DOH. I would have gladly accepted a vaccine for myself in exchange for this illness. I don't know if I've ever had a pertussis vaccine in my life. I always just assumed that I had one as a child and that I didn't need to think about it. Yesterday, my PA said that all adults need to get a pertussis booster every 10 years. Please consider getting one and encourage your clients to consider it as well. This is predicted to be the worst pertussis epidemic in Washington state in many decades.

Many of our clients eschew vaccines, but we cannot as maternity care providers neglect to consider the potential health consequences that pertussis poses for our clients and their babies.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration and I wish all of you the best of health.

-Erin Curtiss, Licensed Midwife, Seattle, Washington

For more information, about Pertussis and vaccination recommendations, click here.(PDF)


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