By the numbers:
- Eggs retrieved: 48
- Eggs successfully fertilised: 21
- Average number of eggs fertilised in an IVF cycle (according to statistics from a different state, though I couldn't find any for ours): 5.5
- Number of hours it usually takes to drive from Sydney to our city: 3-ish
- Number of hours it took us yesterday: 9
- Amount of time spent on side of road, waiting for the NRMA, tow-trucks and our heroic rescuers driving in to give us a lift back: 5
- Amount of furniture purchased by Claudia and Rob at IKEA while in Sydney: 50 metric shitloads (think: entire lounge fittings; entire bathroom fittings; light fittings for most of the house; multiple storage "solutions"... I think they're suffering from premature nesting syndrome, along the lines of, "Oh my god! Our babies will never agree to leave their petri dishes unless they know they will have a house full of pretty IKEA furniture to look forward to!")
- Number of times we* had to load and unload all this shit, due to the above-mentioned breakdown: 4
The retrieval itself was much less unpleasant than I had expected. I was happy and relaxed due to the fact that the car had not broken down on the way to Sydney the day before; we had had a fun trip to IKEA, followed by a fancy dinner at an Italian restaurant (OMG: seafood risotto with entire crab lurking underneath***), and a night in a swanky 5-star hotel.
We arrived at the hospital at 8am, as requested, to find they had lost all our paperwork. So spent the next half hour filling out forms that we had already filled out twice before, which was not entirely so awesome.
Then came flappy gown and silly bootie time.
The surgeon came and talked to me, followed by the anaesthetist, followed by—wait for it—The Scientist. Yes, she was introduced to us as "The Scientist" (and looked suitably embarrassed when we pointed out that at least three of the four of us were also scientists by any definition) and no, I never got clear exactly on what her role was. I guess she was in charge of the actual fertilisation and babysitting the developing embryos. But introducing her as "the Babysitter" might not have sounded quite so impressive.
My memories of the operating theatre are a bit hazy, but I do recall surprise at how many more people were present than I would have thought necessary. I'm still not quite sure what that was about. Maybe they all wanted to see superwoman with her over-active ovaries. The surgeon was nice and held my hand and talked to me about IKEA until I went under. The last thought I recall was being baffled about the lack of stirrups. I still don't quite see how the mechanics of the retrieval could work without stirrups. Weird.
I woke up an hour and a half later feeling really quite lovely, thank you very much and isn't codeine wonderful? Someone had stuck a post-it to me that said "48", which is apparently the new way to communicate with patients.
It wasn't long after that that they let me go. I was supposed to wait until I'd absorbed a litre worth of IV fluids, but I drank three cups of coffee while waiting and they decided that would do the job instead. (Go caffeine addiction!) So then we moved on to the next stage of our adventure: hanging out on the side of the road, not even a third of the way home.
Hanging out of the side of the road not even a third of the way home:
The first thing to go wrong was that the van's engine cut out. On the highway. At 110 km per hour. We trundled onto the shoulder and Rob spent the next hour under the van**** having repeats of the following dialogue with Claudia:
Rob: "Turn the ignition on and rev it until the engine dies. Then turn it on again and repeat."
[VROOM rev rev rev rev splutter. VROOOM]
[Claudia turns the ignition off.]
Rob: "No! Turn it on!"
Claudia: "But you said 'ow!'"
Rob: "I need you to keep turning it on!"
Claudia: "Even when you say 'ow'?"
Rob: "It's only a bit of electrocution."
Eventually they got the engine going long enough for Rob to disconnect the starter motor while leaving the van running, as the starter motor seemed to be part of the problem. So at that point the engine stayed on as long as the ignition key was pressed firmly to the right.
This meant Rob had to drive with one hand while holding the key in the "on" position with the other.
And this led, in turn, to an exciting manoeuvre (again, on the motorway at 110km per hour) where I, from the passenger seat, had to take over the steering while Rob attacked the ignition barrel with a screwdriver. While driving. At 110 km per hour. On the motorway. Did I mention 110km per hour?
Finally the engine died again and was totally unrestartable. Which is where the tow truck came in. Unfortunately the tow truck would only take us as far as the next town, 17km away, because the nice man from the NRMA was unable to diagnose the problem given the huge number of IKEA flat packs that were wedged above the spot in the van where the engine lurks. (Yes, I know: engine underneath a seat: not the smartest design in the world.)
So then followed a pleading phone call to one of Rob's grad students, who was persuaded to check out the department truck ("Reason: picking up lab supplies") and drive 200km each way to come and get us. I felt vaguely uncomfortable about such shameless exploitation of one's students, but damn, I felt more uncomfortable about sitting in the middle of nowhere all night.
I won't dwell on the rest of the trip back, but suffice it to say there were false starts, wrong directions, and a severe shortage of rope for tying the load on the back of the truck down with. There was also one passenger recovering from a small operation (whee, hi, codeine is my friend!), one with a migraine, and one in the initial stages of flu.
Claudia documented every step of the trip home with her camera, and fully intends to use these pictures as the opening pages of her future offspring's baby albums.
Which is kind of awesome, really.
Also: 21 embryos!
In conclusion, I like codeine. Thank you.
*I use the term "we" loosely, because ha, one of us just had an operation and was lying back peacefully on a picnic rug on the grass** while everyone else did all the work.
**I use this term loosely too, since actually we were on the gravel shoulder of your typical Australian motorway, and the closest thing to grass was a few patches of thistles and mountains of peeling eucalyptus bark. Also a few dead and rotting animals, and suspicious numbers of feathers. Ah well, the whoosh-whoosh, whoosh-whoosh of passing traffic was a peaceful soundtrack for the whole experience.
*** How does one eat a crab anyway? I was presented with a nutcracker, a long thin poky-stick, and a finger bowl. I cracked and poked and splashed and really made very little progress. But it was fun trying.
****They're experimentalists. Bodging dodgy mechanical stuff together is what they DO.