Mrs Astronomer has started reducing the doses of nasally administered Nafarelin Acetate, halving the dose from two sniffs per day to one, but at the same time she’s started her course of 150mg of Follitropin alfa (Gonal F) per day, to be taken subcutaneously. Which, in plain English, means “sticking herself in the belly with a needle and injecting herself with more hormones”

Now, there’s a slight problem here.

Needles make my flesh crawl.

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Bloody big needle thing

I mean, I should be able to be an adult about this. I know perfectly rationally that I’m not going to get hurt by the itsy bitsy tiny needle, and I also know perfectly rationally that it’s all for the best and an important part of the process we’re undergoing. I know that I’m not even the one getting the injection! The stuff has been sat in the fridge for a while now, I knew that it would start sooner or later. The problem is, I just  flat out don’t like needles. I can go get my shots at the GP’s without being a baby; I know that the anticipation is always far worse than the experience, and IVF screening has involved me giving several vials of blood up for tests, and that’s far worse than these injections.They’re happening to someone else, for goodness sake! Injections are a vital and important part of medicine, and a critical way of delivering lifesaving vaccinations.

Still, the feeling of revulsion persists.

It’s not even a big needle.

No, that’s it. I can’t talk about them any more. I should be getting a sticker and a lollypop just for writing two paragraphs. (Incidentally, as an aside, it’s not until you’re an adult do you realise that the sticker and a lollypop are not, in fact, the best part of getting your shots. It’s the part where you don’t get sick and die of something preventable). Fears and phobias are funny like that. I have no fear of heights, spiders, snakes, or any of that nonsese. Clowns are another weird fear, although nowhere near as bad as needles. Thing is, with both of these phobias I have no idea where these irrational fears come from. There’s nothing traumatic in my early life I can recall; if I was once chased down the street by a maniacally laughing clown wielding a giant needle then the experience was so traumatic I no longer remember it.

But I wasn’t.

Still, it’s only for a week and a bit, at which point she has more bloodwork taken, scans and a decision is made on the next steps. It’s a bit early to tell if Mrs Astro is undergoing hormonal changes yet because of the injections, but as she was in tears this morning as she was leaving for work I’m going to go with “yes”. We had a scan on Tuesday to look at her ovaries; all was as expected, bar a small cyst near one of them. This shouldn’t be a problem; her lining is nice and thin and all is as it should be. As usual, I wasn’t needed beyond hand holding, and the staff largely treated me as if I wan’t there, although I did get to look at the ultrasound scan, which was quite interesting from a physics point of view.

Ultrasounds are one of those magic things which form a part of our modern life, but noone ever stops to think how they work. They use extremely high frequency sound waves (which you can’t hear because you are not, as far as I’m aware, a dog), which penetrate the body and then bounce back off any moving fluid. The reflected sound waves are collected by the hand held thingy, science occurs and an image comes up on the screen. If the fluid is moving, then the reflected sound waves are being bounced back off something non stationary… which means that they  have to either change velocity (which is a function of the medium they’re travelling though, and therefore impossible), or the soundwaves have to change length depending on the direction the fluid they’re bouncing off is moving. Wavelengths get shorter if the fluid is flowing towards the source (the hand held thingy), longer if they’re flowing away, which means you can build up an accurate picture of what’s inside someone using sound alone. It’s called the Doppler effect, and it’s one of my favourite physical phenomenons.

What? I’m allowed favourites.

The long and the short of it is that it’s one of the reasons I study physics – seemingly esoteric concepts actually have an enormous impact on our lives, and I love breaking down how that works. Reading this on a smartphone? Well done, you have quantum physics in your hand, in the form of how the screen works. Used google maps on it today? Congratulations, the satellite position signal you received (from space!) had to be corrected for both general and special relativity. Some of the most tricky concepts to emerge from 20th century science and you’re using them without even thinking about it to read this blog, possibly from a range of several thousand miles away from where I wrote it. You could even use said technology to talk to someone on the other side of the planet as clear as if they were in the next room.

IVF is no different; nor is modern medicine as a whole. Want to defeat disease? Sure, we can do that. In some cases, the effect can be total; when was the last time somebody died of Smallpox? Want to defeat infertility? No guarantees it’ll work 100% of the time, but yeah, science – rational, empirical thought – can beat that. Arthur C Clarke once wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – well, being able to produce a human being from a childless couple is pretty much there. Human ingenuity, perseverance and rational thought has brought us to this place. Even if it does involve needles.

Makes you proud to be human.

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