The ER entrance seemed like the secret back door of the hospital. Bump. Bump. Moan. Pain. They rolled me straight to triage. The EMTs spouted some sort of medical information to the receiving medical team. Vitals again. Hushed voices again…or maybe they weren’t hushed. But urgent. They were urgent.
“Where’s my husband?”
“He’s on his way, honey,” a stressed voice sounded, “he’s just parking the car.”
I don’t remember him walking into the room, but he was there. Holding my hand. He was there.
As I write. As I remember. I want him here, now. I want that strong hand. That, “It’s going to be ok. The doctors and nurses know what they’re doing.” I finally remember, but it’s painful to go back. To re-engage. To sit with myself in that ambulance, that room, that hallway. Cold. Bright. Sterile.
Needles. Pressure. Tubes. X-rays. Tests. Questions. Questions. Questions. Voices saying…what? Medical lingo swirled around me in a heavy blur.
The bustling and hovering of the medical team subsided and a doctor sat down.
She said something like, “You have Streptococcus-A Septicemia. It’s the same virus as strep throat. It’s in your blood and your organs are in danger. You are too weak to take to the CT scanner across the footbridge to the pediatric building. The best course of action is to perform surgery, check out all of the organs, and clean out the infection. We may need to remove tissue.”
I don’t remember making the decision. I remember my husband, “You’re the doctor, I trust you.” I must have agreed out of not knowing what else to do.
I remember being in a hospital gown on a gurney in an empty hallway. Bright. Sterile. It was perpendicular to another hallway. It was weird laying in a bed in a hallway.
My husband held my hand tight. I was crying. Was I scared? I don’t remember being scared. I don’t remember feeling anything. I don’t remember anything after handing my husband my new glasses. The glasses, as I later found out, he didn’t like.
A week went by. A week of hazy memories. My parents were in my room…but they had gone home…? People. Familiar faces came and went. Prayed. Comforted. Encouraged. Our pastor. My midwife. A few friends. At one point I was lucid enough to communicate…except that I was hooked up to IVs, feeding tubes, a ventilator. I couldn’t talk. My throat ached with dryness. My mouth was like cotton. I need water! They wet my mouth with a sponge.
A clipboard with blank paper. I shakily wrote out my answers to questions. I could barely hold my pen in my sausaged hands. My shaking fingers from…high doses of strong painkillers? People speaking for me. Around me. In front of me. Rarely to me. I screamed for my voice on the page with my child-like writing.
Doctors and nurses, too. Doctors came in, standing casually in their long white coats, stethoscopes, clipboards, and pens. They talked to my family. Not to me – eyes wide open and hazily aware – but to my family.
“We don’t know exactly how she contracted this. It was probably the birthing tub.”
The birthing tub…
Had I caused this with my determination to have a natural water birth? Later, after my release, my midwives assured me that they tested the entire center and it all came up clean. They reminded me that I had a severe sore throat a couple weeks prior to giving birth. I self-treated with over-the-counter meds.
I continued to find ways to blame myself. I chose a water birth. I didn’t take proper steps in cleaning my birthing wounds. I didn’t go to the urgent care soon enough. I…I…I…
“It’s not your fault,” came the responses. “It’s not your fault.”
I was in and out. Sometimes I woke up and couldn’t move. Strapped to the bed. Until they thought I didn’t need the straps anymore. One day…night…?…I woke up in panic.
What’s all this stuff on my face, in my mouth, choking me, silencing me. Get it off! Get it off! I grabbed and grabbed and then my husband is on top of me holding down my arms, my body, “Nurse! NURSE! I need some help in here!” People rushed in. Held me down. Strapped me in. Rushed something into my IV and…gone. Out like a light.
I didn’t remember this moment until months later. I would have nightmares about it. Wake up screaming. My husband stroking my still painful shoulder. My back. My hair.
“It was a dream. It was a dream. It was a very bad dream. You’re ok. You’re ok. You’re ok,” he cooed.
Some time after the days of hazy moments I started being more aware. Lucidity returned to me like an old friend. The tiny bear that my dad put in my arms in place of my child tucked under my arm. My child! Where’s my baby? I want my son back!!!
“He’s been here visiting you every day,” Mom calmed me. “You’ll see him again soon.”
“But where is he? Is he ok? He needs to eat! He needs me to eat!”
“He’s fine, Bethany. He’s doing very well. Andrew’s parents and us are trading him off every few days,” she explained, “He comes to see you every day. We’ve been putting him inside your gown on your chest. We strip him down to his diaper so that you can have skin-to-skin contact.”
My husband worked all day – long days – then came every night and slept on the reclined chair next to me. We tried to watch TV or movies, but I always fell asleep until the nurses came in the middle of the night with needles and vials.
As the lucidity returned and tests showed my improvement, the ventilator was replaced with an oxygen mask. I could drink water again. “Drink as much as you can,” they encouraged.
Pain medication reduced, lucidity returning, I started to feel imprisoned. They moved me to the PPU – Postpartum Unit. Other women were there snuggling their babies. Family arrived with balloons and flowers of congratulations. They came and went and came and went. My baby came and went and came and went.
My sister and then my brother both came from out of state to visit me. What an odd feeling that my brother, the one who was hard and tough and uncommunicative, came to visit me. What an odd feeling that he took time out of his life to come see me. Me. His annoying unfavorite little sister.
Then a backslide. My body temperature started dropping into the low 90’s. They rushed me back to ICU – covered me with a hot water blanket. Hovered over me. Concerned voices. High pitched explanations of what was going on. I had to pee. Bedpan. A bedpan? Most uncomfortable place to pee ever.
They got my temperature under control. They did a CT scan. Inflammation in the uterus.
“We need to remove it,” the doctor stated.
I cried and my mom cried.
“But I wanted to have another baby!” I cried. “Call Andrew,” I sobbed.
Tearfully, she helped me prep for surgery. Wipe my body with this cloth, then do this other thing. Swish and spit this fluid. Brush your teeth with this nastiness. I remember it in slow motion – robotically following the instructions.
However long later, a fresh 7 inch incision, just like the first, ached as I came to the world again.
“Good news,” they said. “We didn’t have to remove any tissue, “ they said. “Someone must have read the images wrong.”
Pointless surgery – a precaution, maybe, but my family was upset. I was relieved and yet so succumbed to my imprisonment that the validity of the surgery didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to get better and get home to my baby.
Back in the ICU for several more days. Improvement. Physical therapy. Pain.
My husband needed to stay late at the shop for a few days, so he couldn’t come visit. He was trying to keep our family business – our sole source of income – alive. I missed him. I needed to talk to him. My phone was dead. Where was my cord? My phone is dead!
My sweet night nurse calmed me, gave me her phone cord to charge my phone. I called Andrew. We had the first of many rough conversations over the course of my healing. I was upset. The nurse came in to check on me or poke me or…
“Can’t I get five minutes to talk to my husband?” I sobbed. She backed off and left.
I shouldn’t have yelled at her like that. She was just doing her job.
Later, she returned.
“I know that this is really hard. We have a chaplain here and she could be of help if you would like. Should I ask her to pay you a visit?”
“Yes,” I wept. “That would be good.”
The woman came. She was comforting. We talked. She helped. She may have come for another visit or two. I don’t recall. Regardless, it was a turning point for me. I started to realize some things.
As I began to improve, the emotional toll of the whole ordeal began to set in. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Postpartum Depression. And my familiar friends, chronic anxiety and depression.
Back to PPU. Continued to improve, but as my body regained strength, my mind succumbed to emotional fatigue.
Off the opioid pain medications and down to good old acetaminophen and ibuprofen, my mind became clearer. The pain became pronounced. The days dragged on.
“We’re just waiting for your blood results to come back clear of infection,” the nurse explained, “And then we can get you out of here.”
Freedom. And yet anxiety.
Do I really want to leave? Can I do this without the doctors and nurses and professional guidance? Can I take care of my baby?
As much as I wanted to leave, I was afraid. It was oddly comforting to have these people care for me. I could barely get out of bed on my own. I could barely walk. I couldn’t stay awake for long.
Am I really ready?