Monday, February 4, 2013

The Battle's Lost and the Pregnancy Abruptly Terminated

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Wounded and weary, Help me, I pray!
Power, all power, Surely is thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine!
Adelaide A. Pollard, 1862-1934

            Monday, April 12, I felt physically uncomfortable and increasingly apprehensive, as though a “sixth sense” warned me of tornadic events about to unleash.
            After just four days of confinement, emerging pressure sores peppered my hips, making it necessary to carefully, and more frequently, shift position to avoid lying on one side too long. Every movement became a strategic and terrifying effort, and I made repeated, paranoid visual checks to see if the movement caused the bleeding to resume. Rechecking became my obsession-of-the-day.
            I wasn’t the only one concerned. The nurses also made unusually frequent checks. As the hours progressed, I became more tense and fidgety. Neurotic flashed through my conscience like a blinking, neon sign when every muscle in my body tensed after each fluid dribble. The muscular movements required during my sponge baths also caused me concern. Dr. Gordon had said I wasn’t to move a muscle. But the warm water relaxed me so; and it was wonderful to feel clean. Suddenly baths became indulgences, and guilt waltzed with neurotic in my brain.
            Abruptly at 6:00 PM, vice-like pain skewered my low back – pain identical to the back pain I experienced while in labor with Parker. Heart pounding, breathing shallow, I buzzed the nurse and blurted out my diagnosis.
            Calmly, friendly, a nurse entered, offered a brief comment in a mildly patronizing tone, and then left to locate the fetal monitor. After strapping the monitor belt around me and watching the numbers on the screen, she pronounced everything “fine.” According to her, I was not in labor. Wanna bet? I thought.
            Agitated, I re-explained the pain and how I’d met with identical pain during the delivery of my son. She respected my evaluation and called for another, more experienced obstetrics nurse to peer at the monitor numbers, and me. With still no measurable labor signs, they left the monitor strapped to my middle, patted my leg soothingly and returned to their hallway station.
            Within minutes Chris arrived for his on-his-way-home-from-work visit. I appealed to him to apply pressure to my back to possibly alleviate the pain, but the simple touch of his hand aggravated it more. Just like Parker’s labor. Unable to stay, since he needed to pick up Parker, he told me to call him should anything change.
            Minutes later, my parents called from Hawaii. They’d canceled a lengthy European trip because of my emergency – my father insistent that he would not depart for a vacation under these circumstances - and became distressed when I perfunctorily told them I couldn’t talk because I thought I was in labor. They promptly phoned Chris to find out if he “knew what was going on over there,” and to fill him in if he didn’t. Twenty-five hundred miles away from the action, I’m sure they felt helpless and anxious.
            The undulating back pain and soundless monitoring continued until 8:00 PM when the unmistakable brutal cramps of labor roared through my body like a famished lion. My eyes frantically searched the monitor’s digital readings. There they were: the discernible, measurable labor contractions; and the baby’s heart beating wildly in response to each compressive squeeze. Tears slipped down my cheeks as my frenetic, trembling hand buzzed the nurse again.
            This time the obstetrics nurse’s eyebrows shot north as she inspected the monitor numbers then jogged out of the room to call Dr. Gordon. He ordered another round of magnesium sulfate pumped through my IV and confirmed he was on his way. When he ordered the mag sulfate, I ordered two cold, wet washcloths to alleviate the burning sensation that would soon hasten its way through my body. And I prayed fervently that I wouldn’t expel the nauseating chemical as I had the first day. Still under orders not to move around, I forced myself to remain on my left side, eyes transfixed on the monitor readings, begging God that every contraction would be the last.
            The mag sulfate had done its job when I first arrived; it just had to work for me again! Please, God, make it work! By the time Dr. Gordon arrived, I’d thrown one washcloth over my face, hiding from the glaring monitor numbers and the nurses working frantically about the room. The contractions and lumbar pain bore down every minute-and-a-half, and I strained to control my senses and body. How can I feel so alone with so many people in the room? They all attended to the distal end of my body, but the most proximal end suffered more simply because it could manufacture and amplify abject fear. Unable to grip anything due to the IV lodged in my hand, I wrapped my wrist around the bed rail and repeated a murmured prayer: “Jesus, please bear my burden!”
            Even if He wouldn’t arrest the labor, I wanted Him to snatch away the pain. I wanted to experience this defeat on my terms, in relative comfort, not in crushing pain, violent cramping, psychological turmoil and heaving blood clots. During my previous bouts with severe nausea, the prayer provided relaxation and priceless, cherished sleep. Yet now, the prayer didn’t seem to produce any desired results, except for the slight diversion of my concentration from what transpired at the other end of my bed. I gritted my teeth and combatted the escalating urge to scream and thrash around.
            Soon after his 9:00 arrival, Dr. Gordon called Chris. Around midnight I knew things were bad when the nurses told me Dr. Gordon had called Chris again, asking him to come to the hospital. I suspected then that he was preparing for the possibility of surgery and a blood transfusion, since he also ordered my blood drawn, typed and cross-typed. Within seconds someone punctured my arm with a pediatric-sized syringe to harvest some of my blood from what little remained in my body.
            Intercepting Chris upon his arrival in the ward, and blocking Chris’s entrance into my room, Dr. Gordon told him things didn’t look good. Then he bluntly asked Chris where he stood. He firmly let Chris know that if he – Dr. Gordon – let things go too far, he wouldn’t be able to bring the baby – or me – back. However, he’d take it as far as he could in an attempt to save both of us. Should he fail, an emergency C-section surgery to save my life would be necessary.
            The three of us previously agreed that since the baby’s chances of survival outside the womb were less than poor, life-saving support measures wouldn’t be initiated. No heroics; no playing God. If we could just get through the night, the chances were good that I’d be able to continue the pregnancy another three weeks – into the “viability” range. Our hopes rode on a draining hourglass. God, please, just three more weeks. Is that really too much to ask?
            After their conversation, Chris came into my room to stroke my forehead and hold my hand. Someone who loved me had finally arrived to take his place by my side. Loneliness evaporated; Chris’s presence and gentle touch wrested my attention from the aura of despair enveloping the room, and the medical terminology and opinions – I understood only too well – being verbalized in the huddle at the end of my bed.
            Two hours later our hopes shattered as the bleeding worsened and blood clots the size of oranges appeared. The heavy bleeding increased the inflammation and pain, and I endeavored to maintain my hold on the bed rail and murmur my meager prayer. I knew Dr. Gordon had all but given up when he ordered a morphine IV drip and called in another physician – who had just finished a deliverey – to assess the situation. When he first admitted me, he’d explained that he didn’t want to give me morphine because it would mask the pain; and he needed to know exactly how much pain I was experiencing in order to make a proper diagnosis. Ordering of the morphine drip signaled the end; and I could read the sad defeat in Dr. Gordon’s eyes.
            The other physician lifted the sheet from my pelvis, briefly assessed the blood loss, then quickly turned to Dr. Gordon, and shook his head. “No way.” Firm, resolute, adamant.
            With that categorical verbal prognosis, Dr. Gordon barked his order: the monitors and all but one IV immediately unplugged. Stat. That word they blurt when things go horribly wrong, when life’s hanging by a thread. When everyone needs to move, move, MOVE! NOW!  
            It felt as if a relay race pistol had discharged; the room’s atmosphere suddenly switched from taciturn and tense to noisy, controlled panic. As the nursing entourage yanked and roughly discarded tubes, straps and wires, both doctors rushed to the operating room to scrub. With one efficient hand sweep, the fetal monitor connection was disengaged.
            The speaker went silent and the screen morosely blank.
            Gone were the melodious harmonies of my baby’s precious beating heart and the visual delight of the tiny human body wriggling beneath the vibrating sonogram waves. An imminent death aura descended like a shroud as Chris and a nurse grabbed my bed and quickly navigated me through the halls to the operating room.
            Outside the operating room door, I clutched Chris’s hand while my eyes searched his face. He gently squeezed my arm and softly said, “It’s going to be okay.” I possessed just enough strength to nod an affirmation and mouth the words, “I know.” Then I reluctantly released my weakened grip, and Chris gently lowered my hand to the bed. He gave my shoulder one last, loving pat.
            The massive double doors swung open, and Chris waved good-bye. Tears laced his eyelashes as a sad smile spread across his face. “I love you,” he mouthed. The nurse and Dr. Gordon drew my bed into the bustling operating room, and the doors closed behind us.
            Once inside, a friendly but focused anesthesiologist quickly greeted me with a speedy introduction and barrage of questions about drug allergies, previous surgeries, types of anesthesia used and any adverse reactions to it. Shouldn’t they have asked this when I was coherent? Too weak to respond verbally, I slowly nodded my head or held up quivering fingers he could count. Every miniscule movement required an all-consuming effort. Finally, after intense concentration and final force of remaining energy and will, I managed a whispered reply.
            The doctors rapidly transferred me from my bed to the operating room table as the anesthesiologist prepared the anesthesia. I struggled to sit upright as more escaping blood clots racked me with scorching pain. It no longer mattered if I moved a muscle. Frantic, I grabbed for Dr. Gordon’s hands and screamed. With eyes full of compassion and sympathy, he extended his hands to me and gently said, “It’s all right. Squeeze as hard as you want.” He’s left-handed. I’m clutching his hand like a vise-grip. How’s he going to operate if I crush it? I thought. (When your life is haunted and driven by accusing voices of failure and guilt, your mind and behavior often revert to the well-worn path.)
            The pain subsided, and I lowered myself shakily back down on the operating table, struggling to keep my eyes open and remain alert. Closing my eyes meant recognition of the end, and accepting failure. The longer I stayed awake the longer the pregnancy progressed. The longer the pregnancy progressed, the longer my baby remained alive. Maybe we should go back to the room and try some more, I wanted to say. The pain’s no longer so bad.   
           “Give her some oxygen,” Dr. Gordon said.
            The anesthesiologist didn’t hesitate. “No, we’re losing her. We’ve got to go in now!”  
            “Her” was me. They were talking about losing me. Until that point, I don’t think it ever seriously entered my mind that I might die.
            That sudden knowledge had a strange effect. Fear promptly withdrew its attack. A commanding sense of peace oddly juxtaposed with an atmosphere of abject loneliness and acknowledged failure replaced it. My brain and heart went quiet even as a myriad of intensely focused people purposefully crisscrossed the room – somberly preparing to save one life, and reluctantly take another. The door of hope had firmly closed. In minutes labor would end and the accompanying physical pains evolve into a memory. We’d all fought a tremendous battle. And lost. No tears; no hysteria. No more frantic, eleventh-hour attempts to divert disaster. All that was left was acceptance. My breathing slowed. God had already begun to shield me from the initial psychological pain of my loss even before it happened.
            “Count backwards from ten,” the anesthesiologist instructed from his vantage point above my head. He was smiling down at me, a sympathetic, but serious, business-like smile. “This won’t take very long.”
            Especially in my condition, I thought. I tried to wrestle my lips into some kind of response. My blood and oxygen-depleted body ignored my brain’s efforts.
            With a curious feeling of relief that comes with finally knowing the outcome of a battle, I weakly nodded my head, let my eyes drift shut, and waited for the sleep-inducing medication to overpower me.
            The possibility of not waking up didn’t concern me. At the time, I considered that alternative a gift.


            Although I didn’t know at the time what transpired in the conversation between Chris and Dr. Gordon, I learned later of the line Dr. Gordon drew in the sand for Chris. “I need to know where you stand,” Dr. Gordon had told him.
           What a heartbreaking dilemma for a husband and father to confront. My precious, loving husband had to make the most grievous decision a father ever has to make: his wife or his baby. And if he decided wrongly, he stood a distinct chance of losing both.
            In an agonizing breath of time, Chris decided his young son desperately needed his mother, and he needed his wife.

NEXT WEEK: The immediate aftermath, and a father’s anguished heart.

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!