This is a quick disclaimer – Before you read this, please understand that there are some areas that some may consider graphic. The squeamish might appreciate the warning. My personal story below is intended for informational purposes only.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This is the thought that kept going through my mind as I lay on an emergency room gurney just days after giving birth to my daughter. That, and how and why is this happening?
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start over…
The day I found out that I was pregnant, it was 2008 and I was getting ready to go to work. I remember that I was wearing a bright yellow and white floral dress topped with a white cropped cardigan. After work, I was going to see the new Sex and the City movie with my girlfriends. Knowing that there would probably be a Cosmo or two in my future, I added, “take a pregnancy test” to my morning routine. I wanted to check that it would be safe to drink an adult beverage. Call it intuition. (I’m a Charlotte, by the way.)
As soon as I see that pink plus sign, I jumped on my sleeping husband waving around the pee stick and screaming, “I’m pregnant!” We had officially started trying for a baby six months prior and I figured that after years of birth control pills it would have taken longer than it did, but there we were, pregnant. I was going to be drinking water at the movies.
My pregnancy was uneventful, save for the fact that I developed gestational diabetes. I pretty much figured that this would be the case due to many factors, my age, weight, and genetics. I ended up being prescribed medication to help control that aspect.
I was 35 when I was going to deliver. Because I was considered a high-risk pregnancy, my doctor scheduled a time for me to come in to induce labor with Pitocin.
On Friday, January 30, 2009, I spent the day going through labor. The doctor came in periodically to check how far along I was. Near the end of the day, the doctor explained that my baby was “sunny side up” otherwise known medically as occiput posterior or OP position. She tried reaching in and manipulating the position, but my stubborn baby was not having it, and the heartrate would drop.
After discussing with my doctor, I opted for a caesarian section to avoid stressing the baby out any more than was necessary. After a quick prep for surgery, I was whisked away to give birth. It seemed like it took only a few minutes and before I knew it, my daughter, Olivia, was born at 8:50pm.
I couldn’t hold her as my arms were strapped down, which I guess is common practice during surgery – no flailing about and keeping a sterile environment. I had to wait for the doctor to close me up. Once I was back to my room, I held her for the first time. It was glorious and she was the most beautiful girl in the world. My family surrounded us and it is something I’ll always treasure, holding her for the first time.
Because I had the C-section, I was in the hospital for four days and Olivia had jaundice and spent the majority of her days in the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) getting phototherapy. We were both biding our time until we got home. While at the hospital, I found it hard to get comfortable. I was having pain above my left breast, below my shoulder. Nurses told me that it was gas due to the medication and that it would pass. I eventually asked for an antacid as the pain persisted. I figured eventually, I would pass gas and I would finally be done with the pain.
Once the baby and I got our clean bills of health, we set off for home. Forgive my bluntness when I say that I still had not “tooted”. Eventually the pain was so bad that I had to sleep sitting up as lying down made it worse. Weird, I thought, but didn’t think any more about it.
After being home for a day, my husband and I took Olivia to her first pediatrician appointment. On the way home, I mentioned to my husband that this gas, or the lack of passing it, was really starting to take its toll. I called my OBGYN to see if she could prescribe a more powerful antacid as the over-the-counters were not cutting it.
In speaking with the receptionist and explaining my issues, she put me on hold to speak with the doctor. Again, I thought, weird. Why does the doctor have to talk to me about passing gas?
My doctor got on the line and asked me a series of questions – Where is your pain? Can you lie down? Are you having trouble breathing? I answer with, above my left breast, no – lying down is too painful, because when I do, I am having trouble breathing.
She said that I need to get to the emergency room and that she is going to call the hospital regarding my arrival. I’m sorry, what? I was stunned. And yes, after all this, I’m still thinking, “all this for gas?”
She said, “You have a possible pulmonary embolism and I want you to go to the ER to rule it out.”
Thinking back on this conversation, I have to say, I had no idea what she was talking about at the time. Still, I relayed the information to my husband and we went to see my mother. I told her that I had to go to the hospital per my doctor’s orders. My mom took the baby and I kissed Olivia telling her that I would be right back. Little did I know that I just lied to my daughter.
By now, the pain was getting more severe. I checked into the ER and noticed that I was taken right back, despite the other patients in the waiting room. They started checking my vitals – blood pressure, oxygen intake, listening to my heart – all the normal stuff you see on TV. Nurses had put those stickers with snaps on them and I was being hooked up to a machine. The nurse asked me to lie down. Then it hits me, I couldn’t lie down because I couldn’t breathe. It hurt – my chest was hurting. Tears started to form and I was thinking that I was having a heart attack. I was gasping out, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”
I looked at my husband and I thought, “I’m sorry but you might be a single father because I am dying”. Up until this point in my life, I had never broken a bone, never had a hospital stay and now I truly thought that I was dying.
They sat me back up and that was better. I was still having pain but I could breathe little gasps of breath. The ER doctor said that he was going to send me for a CT scan. He thought that I had a blood clot in my lungs. A blood clot. In my lungs. What? How? Why?
The ER doctor confirmed after the CT scan that I did in fact have a blood clot in my lungs and I was admitted to the hospital. I started to cry, I just had a baby, checked out of the hospital a couple of days ago and now I was back.
Needless to say, I was mentally exhausted, physically weak and severely depressed. I continued to pump for breast milk while in the hospital. My husband would take the milk back to Olivia every day. She hated formula and I felt it was my duty to give her what I could. I felt guilty for being away from her and it is still something that haunts me to this day.
Let me just say that my mother was our lifesaver. I was, and continue to be, so grateful to my mother for taking care of Olivia while I was in and out of the hospital. My parents even moved to Pennsylvania from Texas and found a house only a couple of blocks from ours.
I was put on blood-thinners and was told that I would be on them for up to six months, maybe more. I spent another five days in the hospital while trying to recover from the blood clot. I was told later that a blood clot could have killed me and I cried some more.
Leaving the hospital didn’t mean that I was out of the woods. I was set up with a nurse who would come to our house daily to check on me and take blood work. I spent a majority of the night and a good portion of the day sleeping. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was pumping. Due to my absence, Olivia didn’t take to breastfeeding and probably bonded to my mother more so than she had with me. Still, I pumped. In my mind, it was the only thing that connected us as mother and daughter and it was the very least I could do.
About six weeks after having had the baby, I noticed that my C-section scar was tender, more so than usual. In some spots, it appeared that puss was forming. I brought this up to the doctor and because I was on blood thinners, it was back to the ER.
Turns out, my C-section had gotten infected. Spots along the scar appeared slightly green even. The doctor was able to draw on my belly an outline where the infection appeared, like a map of a country. I’m told that they are going to treat me as if I have MRSA.
According to WebMD, “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body. It’s tougher to treat than most strains of staphylococcus aureus — or staph — because it’s resistant to some commonly used antibiotics.”
The blood thinner that I was being treated with in pill form, was now going to be in injection form. Apparently, if the need for surgery were to arise, the reversal of the effects of the blood thinner works quicker if administered via injection.
I’m typically a glass half-full person but on that day, I couldn’t help but think that the world was against me. I was back in the hospital, away from my newborn daughter, suffering from blood clot pain and now my C-section incision was infected and I had to get injections every 12 hours. Oh and these injections were given in my gut. Yes, my stomach. This is the site where you get these injections. I was feeling quite defeated.
I was admitted back into the hospital but I felt like I was under observation, as if the doctors were waiting for something to happen. I was getting my twice-daily injections for my blood thinners, I was pumping every couple of hours and binging on America’s Next Top Model. My incision appeared to have grown a boil on it, but still nothing really happens. Then on my second, or was it my third day at the hospital, I got up from a nap. My husband was also napping in the chair next to my bed.
I got up to use the toilet and I was dragging along my monitors and whatever other devices to which I was hooked up. I lifted my gown and lowered my underwear when I heard a wet slapping sound. I looked down and I was bleeding. I was bleeding from my C-section incision. The boil had broken and puss and blood were dripping onto the tiled floor of the bathroom.
You know that “pull in case of emergency string” that all hospital bathrooms have? I pulled it but nothing happened. I thought that someone would spring into action and an announcement would be on the speakers, “code (whatever color) in room 324”. I waited a good five seconds, nothing.
By now, I was panicked and called out to my sleeping husband, “ERIC!!” Next thing I know he had raced over to find me in the bathroom and I was just standing there with blood and goop dripping from my body. And I can tell by the look on his face, he is the one thinking, “I’m about to become a single father because my wife is dying.”
He ran into the hall and yelled for help and a nurse came in. She had me sit on the toilet, as it was the closest thing to a chair. Then it dawned on me, I didn’t feel any pain so I figured I was in shock and also, I never peed so I proceed to do so as my husband and a nurse held me. Modesty was definitely out the window.
Once that was done, I was moved to the hospital bed. One of the nurses cleaned me up and then a barrage of doctors rotated into my room – pulmonologist, OBGYN, hematologist, and wound care. The wound care doctor explained that he was going to check the wound. My C-section scar was now being referred to as a wound. The wound care doctor lifted up the bed so I was at least four feet from the floor. He takes one of those long-handled swabs and inserts it into my C-section incision. He is able to push it in over two inches. The thought of that made me want to vomit.
My wound was unable to close because of the blood thinners. Talk about a catch-22. I had a blood clot so I needed the blood thinners but because of the blood thinners, my C-section was not healing.
The next few days were a blur of being poked and prodded by the nurses and doctors. I still got my twice-daily blood thinner injections. My blood was drawn every day. Now wound tape – medicated strips of a gauze-like material – got packed into my wound. This was as awful as it sounds. Apparently, the wound packing material allowed the wound to heal from the inside out and it was a long process.
Eventually, I was discharged from the hospital. In 2009 I spent a total of 17 days in the hospital. I was again set up with a nurse who came to my house to change my wound dressing. Eventually, I ran out of visits according to my insurance company and the nurse gave my mom and my husband “lessons” on how to treat my wounds. They both became experts on doing this, as my wound would take over four months being treated with wound tape.
A couple months later in May 2009, I visited my OBGYN. I still had weekly visits with her to check the healing process. I told her that the wound feels tender I showed her where the scar was healing irregularly. She called to one of her nurses to come into the room. She asked the nurse to hold my hands, saying that this might hurt a bit. I had suffered chest pain from a blood clot, daily stomach injections and wound tape packing for a few months. I figured my pain tolerance was better than most. Then, she did something that I will never forget. She took one of those long-ended swabs and she was able to bypass my skin with little effort at the site of my wound. She proceeded to open the wound by dragging the swab down the length of my C-section, as if she was opening an envelope.
I remember crying out. I heard the nurse say to me that she has arthritis and not to squeeze her hands too tight. Seriously?! I was being cut open like a Thanksgiving Day turkey and I couldn’t squeeze your hands? Still, I felt badly for the nurse and I gritted my teeth and held her hands as delicately as I could while being shived with a cotton swab. The doctor was able to go most of the length of my C-section with a swab inserted almost an inch deep in some spots.
I felt like I was starting over. The weeks went on and I continued with my blood thinning injections and wound packing regimen. All the while, I kept a breast-pumping spreadsheet to keep me on schedule. Looking back, I’m not sure why I did it but I would time my pumping’s every four or so hours and measure how much I was producing. I think that it made me feel like I was doing something important for my daughter that no one else could, despite all the issues I was battling. It was proof that I was somehow caring for my daughter.
Eventually, I saw my wound care doctor in his office when the wound became shallow enough that it could no longer be packed. He cauterized the wound with silver nitrate and I ultimately got better. I had finished taking my blood thinner medication. My wound finally closed. I was even able to go back to work.
Thinking back on this experience brought up some painful memories. Not just the recollection of bodily pain, but the pain felt by my family. My parents who just had a granddaughter but at the possibility of the loss of their daughter. My husband who had become so depressed but so depended on. My sister who I burdened with my medical issues while she was working towards her career in law enforcement.
I was stronger because of what happened. I even pursued a career in the medical field and worked at the hospital where this whole thing took place. Throughout this ordeal, I remember thinking that God would never give me anything that I couldn’t handle. In the end, I guess He didn’t.
Today, my daughter Olivia is a happy and healthy eight-year old. She and her sister, Emma, are the light in my life. Yes, I did have another child and that pregnancy was carefully orchestrated by my OBGYN and there were no issues to speak of with that birth. I gave birth in one of the operating rooms vs. the maternity ward, in case the need for surgery came up. I even had a plastic surgeon do the “close” of the C-section.
I decided on having a tubal ligation after the birth of my second daughter – no regrets. I try to think what I could have done differently during my first pregnancy but it turns out that after doing extensive research and multiple doctor’s visits of all kinds of specialties, it was a fluke. That blood clot was random. It can sometimes be hard to accept – trying to find blame and coming up short. But that’s the way it is sometimes, no rhyme or reason. The strength of my family and friends got me through the hardest time of my life. And I for one, am grateful for it.