I am sitting here looking at the calendar. November 8th (in Australia). It is hard to believe that last year at this time, we all sat anxiously waiting for the proverbial shattering of the glass ceiling. A story whose ending we all know. But, in an effort to stay away from politics, there is also another story from that same date, 5 years ago.
November 8th, 2012 will always be known in our household as the day I died.
Scratching your head?
For our circle of friends and people who have been close to us for years, they know the story. But, for the sake of looking back on this day each year as a reminder to live in the moment and love well – I am going to share it again.
I had given birth to our daughter 12 days before. My mother was with us, as were my husband’s parents who were visiting from Australia. My mother noticed that my coloring had looked a bit off since we returned from the hospital, but I assured her it was likely just lack of sleep.
That morning, I finished up breakfast and made my way outside to take the dog out, but something didn’t feel right. I went back inside and quickly found myself in a pool of my own blood, looking like someone had been murdered in our bathroom. I called for my mother and my husband. The look of terror on their eyes said it all. Call the doctor. Now.
After speaking with the nurse, we were directed to get to the hospital immediately where they would do an ultrasound and make a recommendation. We soon learned that I would require surgery to remove placenta that had remained attached after the birth of our daughter. I was surprised to hear the diagnosis, as our doctor had made sure to instruct the team that was onsite the morning our daughter arrived that the placenta could potentially cause some issues, as I needed a D&C after the birth of our son (immediately after and without drugs – good times).
But, 12 days later there we were prepping for surgery.
I should have known things wouldn’t go as planned when the first hurdle we had to overcome was the fact that I ate breakfast that morning shortly before we left the house. Since you can’t have any food in your system prior to surgery, I had to wait hours before I could even go in. I didn’t mind the quiet time in the stale hospital room – a little bit of quiet and a bed to catch up on sleep.
The next hurdle was the IV. That damn IV.
I still have photos of my arm. I was in the room alone when the first nurse came in. A few hours before, I had told my husband to go run errands and to pick up some things from home. I didn’t have anything with me since we had left the house so quickly that morning.
I didn’t think anything of getting an IV at this point. As anyone who has given birth will tell you, after having children you feel like such a science experiment that you are numb to people poking and prodding at you. And I had never had issues with my veins, other than the fact that I simply hated getting stuck.
First attempt. Fail.
Second attempt. Fail.
Third attempt. Fail. My vein in that arm collapsed.
On to the other arm and in comes another nurse.
Fourth attempt. Fail.
Fifth attempt. Fail. Another nurse joins in the fun.
Sixth attempt. I am in tears, wondering why this is now taking 3 nurses and 6 attempts. Fail. The vein in the other arm collapsed.
Another nurse. One more attempt. This time in my hand.
Seventh attempt. Fail.
I lost my shit when they wanted to continue poking me.
The anesthesiologist finally came in and apologized profusely. Apparently, it is protocol to get help after the second attempt. You could see the disgust on her face that 3 people from her team continued to poke at my veins for 7 attempts before finally coming to get her.
My poor arms look liked someone had beat me.
Eighth time was a charm.
By the time my husband returned, tears were streaming down my face. I just wanted to go – take my bruised arms and my bleeding vagina home to my family.
When surgery finally rolled around, we were told it would be quick. Although a routine procedure, since mine was considered an emergency we would need to spend the night in the hospital for observation.
That is where my part of the story ends. I remember counting backwards from 10.
The surgery was only supposed to take 20 minutes, so the doctors told the hubs to wait patiently in the waiting room and that things would be done quickly. For the same reasons I was excited to be in a hospital room alone earlier, he was excited to sit in the waiting room. Peace, quiet and a little TV (college football).
He started to wonder what was going on when the minutes became an hour, and one hour became several. By that time, all staff had left and he sat in an empty waiting room wondering why in the world it was taking so long. As he tells the story, a sinking feeling came over him and then a song on the radio that reminded him of me – he lost it. He instinctively knew something was wrong.
Another hour passed before the doctor approached him, ill-looking and white as a ghost. The anesthesiologist was with, looking equally solemn.
They explained that the situation was now under control but something had happened, which is why it was taking so long. They would need to continue to monitor me closely for another hour or so, proceeding with caution.
Following the surgery, my body had a reaction to the drugs that were used. Both my respiratory and muscular systems shut down. Completely. Luckily, in the 23 years the doctor had been practicing medicine, he had seen this happen 2 other times and knew what to do.
My husband was in tears, which I guess is a natural reaction after being told your wife just died for a minute or so. I don’t know if it was the terror of me passing or the idea of raising two babies on his own that frightened him more. Of course, his recollection of the events from that evening are much more excruciating than mine.
To this day, I am still not clear on exactly what happened.
10, 9, 8…
When I opened my eyes, there was a tube down my throat and the shock of seeing it sent me into a panic. I tried to move my arms to remove it, but they wouldn’t move. It was like a scene out of one of those awful movies – I was on the recovery table, alert in my head but unable to move my body. I tried to scream. I tried to move my arms. I heard the voices of two nurses and saw out of the corner of my eyes, one on each side. I started blinking and trying to talk. This finally got their attention.
After that, I remember waking up and all feeling was back in my body. The tube was gone. And I was hungry. Extremely hungry (I had not had anything to eat since that morning). One could go as far as saying I was “hangry.” I remember saying in my drug-induced grogginess, “I am so fucking hungry! Don’t you people feed anyone up in here?” (Charming, I know).
When the doctors made their way back out to my husband and asked if it was normal for his wife to use profanity, pointing out the “f-word seems to be her favorite” he knew I was going to be just fine. All color returned to his face.
As I was being wheeled up to the room, demanding food, I still had no idea what had happened. When I finally saw him, I was concerned why he looked so awful, “you look like crap, what the hell happened to you?” His face said everything. I knew something had happened.
What the doctor told us that night is that the surgery went just as planned, but afterwards things went south. My systems shut down and they had to intubate me, as I was unable to breathe on my own. Apparently, I have a condition that doesn’t allow my body to metabolize certain drugs used during surgery, something that was unknown to us prior to that night. (Note – can someone please design attractive medical ID jewelry)
Once they had me breathing again, they had to monitor me closely for several hours. My respiratory system worked faster than my muscular system, which is what happened when I found myself blinking in a panic to alert someone to the fact that I was awake and choking on a tube. When they noticed, they had to put me back under until everything was back to normal.
And that’s when I finally woke up hungry and completely unaware of what transpired.
When I got food that night and opened my mouth to eat it, I had this awful feeling in my jaw and throat. It wasn’t until the doctor explained what happened that I put two and two together. And I cried. Over a stale sandwich and apple slices, I cried. I cried at the thought of leaving our two small children without a mother, my husband without a wife, my family without a daughter and sister, and my friends without their comic relief.
It was an emotional night.
We would recount the events of the evening with family and friends the next day, letting them all know what happened. Luckily, the children were in good hands that evening with our parents – my father-in-law even changed a diaper for the first time in years, something he vowed never to do but took near death to make happen.
I remember sitting there overnight in the stillness of the early morning hours. It was peaceful looking around the room, out at the city lights. In that moment, I was thankful.
Life wasn’t always easy up until that point. It hasn’t always been easy since. But, I vowed that night to do my best to live it to the fullest and to love well. I may not succeed at those things all the time, but I do my best. And every single day that I get another opportunity to look at my children, to snuggle them at night, and to annoy them with my strange “isms” is another reminder of just how lucky I am. How lucky we all are.
I say it a lot and will say it again, life can change quickly. Embrace it. None of us know when it may be our time, when we may be the one leaving behind our loved ones. But, wouldn’t you rather do so knowing you lived a full life, a life of no regrets, as opposed to not living when you had the chance to do so?
Life – Make it a good one!!