Monday, June 8, 2015

Lifesaving Words

Words have the power to uplift and heal. They also have the power to tear down and destroy.

Today's post is an encapsulated version of significant parts of my story, and a tribute to the dedicated woman who chose her words carefully. Her timely, lifesaving words gave me hope when there seemed to be no hope, and her obedience to God's prompting saved a life. I owe her much more than a debt of gratitude.  

   Lifesaving Words

            Why, why, WHY!? How could this happen to me again? I wondered. My body lay confined in a head-down, foot-elevated position on a rock-like hospital bed, my mind reeling from the reality just hurled at it. Nurses bustled too quietly around the room while my obstetrician presented a medical discourse about my “condition.”
            Roused from a Sunday evening with his family, he had shuffled slowly into my room five minutes earlier, hands buried in his jacket pockets, his face a etched with concern and caution. Before he spoke, I instinctively dreaded his forthcoming appraisal. With a sober voice and matching demeanor, he pronounced his diagnosis: an incompetent cervix—the medical community’s nomenclature for a cervix that opens prematurely during pregnancy. He stood at the end of my bed, presenting options to my stunned husband and me. “Your cervix is dilated to three centimeters, and you are seventy-five percent effaced. If we can save this pregnancy at all…,” his voice trailed off. He seemed as grieved as we were.
            Continued labor would mean a severely premature baby delivered at twenty weeks, too early for life support in 1994. Our only hope would be to pray I didn’t have an infection, survive the night successfully, and then perform a cerclage—surgically drawing the cervix closed like a marble bag the next day—and then pray the amniotic sac didn’t rupture during or after surgery.
            It was devastating news. Twenty months earlier, our daughter, Victoria, died in a premature delivery following a misdiagnosed pregnancy complication, with another doctor. My heart and mind couldn’t believe we might be making a return trip down this ugly road, and our beseeching prayers might be answered with a “No.”
            The nurses busied themselves with the task of officially admitting me and pumping euphoria-producing muscle relaxant through my IV line.
            They encouraged my husband, Chris, to spend the night. Before he wedged his six-foot-one-inch frame into the reclining chair, he shuffled down the hallway to call my visiting parents to let them know he wouldn’t be coming home.
            Vera—one of my nurses—lingered after everyone else left. I had noticed her absorbing my doctor’s words and watching my reaction to the news from her quiet vantage point in a corner of the room. Now she slowly walked to my bedside. Her delicate cross necklace glittered in the room’s harsh fluorescent light.
            First, she told me a story about a young woman who bled to death from a placenta previa rupture—the identical problem I’d had with my daughter’s pregnancy. This mother hadn’t arrived at the hospital in time. Her doctor warned her of the problem, but she’d either ignored the danger or misunderstood the gravity of the situation. Vera’s meaning was clear, and it re-awakened in me the awareness that mercifully, I had not suffered the same fate, even though I’d come dangerously close to dying from severe hemorrhaging.
            Vera stayed for some time, and we talked about faith, God, and his promises. Suddenly Vera stopped talking to silently and intensely observe me. Then she leaned close and softly uttered her carefully selected words: “I have a good feeling about this; I think everything is going to be fine.”
            My eyes adhered fiercely to hers. I wanted to believe her, ached to believe her. Maybe Vera was right, and I wouldn’t have to relieve another nightmare.
            The following afternoon, I lay in the recovery room after the twenty-minute cerclage procedure, entertaining morbid thoughts about my legs never regaining sensation and having to spend the rest of my life confined to a wheelchair.
            Suddenly Vera strode through the recovery room doors, projecting a radiant smile. My morbid thoughts disintegrated. “I just felt like I needed to come and see how you were doing,” she said in her soothing voice. “How are you?” But then she stopped looking at me and scrutinized the paper steadily rolling from the fetal monitor perched next to my bed.
            “Fine,” I replied, calmed by her warm, hopeful presence.
            “Are you keeping an eye on this monitor!?” Vera shot at the recovery room nurse. “She’s having spikes of contractions all over the place, every three minutes! You’ve got to give her magnesium sulfate, right now!” My head swiveled to look at the other nurse, who wordlessly snapped to attention and rapidly prepared the injection for insertion into my IV line. Vera reiterated the need for attention to the monitor, shook her head, told me she’d see me later, and quickly left.
            Within seconds the prescribed magnesium sulfate flooded my body. A dose of an anti-nausea medication reduced the nasty nausea and feeling-like-you’re-being-burned-from-the-inside-out side effects. Within minutes, the contraction waves quieted to occasional baby wiggle blips, and glorious sensation slowly returned to my lower extremities. All ten toes gestured ecstatically at their liberation.
            I was retuned to my room, repositioned with my head titled south—to keep pressure off the cervix. Vera attended to my every need the rest of her shift. I missed her terribly when she departed that night.
            The following day Vera was there again, waving goodbye to me as I was wheeled out of the room to head home. “Get some rest,” she and the other nurses waved at me. Happy smiles decorated their loving faces. “Good luck! We’ll see you back when you’re ready to deliver in four months!”
            Four months of complete bed rest. Would I make it that long?
            Day after agonizing day, I prayed for the life of my unborn baby. And I remembered Vera’s words: “I have a good feeling about this; I think everything is going to be fine.” Her words gave me strength and hope. They spurred me to persevere. I think I wanted to prove she was right, and not let her down.
            I didn’t make it four months. I made it three and ended up back in the hospital, once again in premature labor. This time the magnesium sulfate wouldn't do its job.
            And just about the time my six-and-a-half-week premature baby was to arrive, Vera arrived for her shift. She had silently slipped into the room during the chaos of my newly ruptured cervix and no doctor in sight. Once again, she patrolled the room and kept her eye on me. Once again, she was the last nurse remaining, and the one who tended to my every need after my precious son was born, resuscitated back to life, and wheeled to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
            And she was there eight days later, when he was miraculously released earlier than anyone expected, and my husband and I triumphantly carted him to the obstetrics unit, to thank her for her love, her dedication, her kind, hopeful words, and her intervention that surely helped save my unborn baby three months earlier.
            Twenty years later I look at my son and remember Vera, and thank God for her, for nurses who not only save lives, but also encourage and nurture them, who fight for and help bring them into the world. For nurses who share a good feeling with their scared, bewildered and broken patients.
            My heart knows my boy would not be here today, if not for Vera and her lifesaving words.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!