(Family and friends, you know this one. Feel free to skip. If you don’t know, it’s important. Please read.)
I thought I was doing the smart thing. The right thing.
I’d had three babies in three years and eight months. We were poor — not food stamp poor (we had family members helping us out as much as they could), but the kind of poor where if my oldest unexpectedly wanted toast for breakfast, I sometimes skipped lunch for fear of the bread not lasting until grocery day otherwise. Food insecure, I guess they’d call it. I lived in fear of unforeseen expenses — even $25 extra threw our budget into chaos.
At 26 years old, with three small children and one crappy job with no upward mobility between the two adults, I could not see us being able to break out of that financial situation. I’d gotten pregnant even while faithfully using birth control (I’m not stupid; I never messed it up or skipped or anything like that). I was under pressure from one of those helpful family members to, for the love of all that was holy, stop having babies, whatever that entailed, or the help would end.
I thought about my sweet children. I was in the hospital already and Medicaid would pay for my sterilization if I did it the day after my youngest was born. I wanted another child, but felt this was my only option — that my family was depending on me to do the right thing. (I have never regretted anything more often, intensely, or bitterly than I do this decision.)
So, just before 6am on February 14th, 2009, I kissed my newborn’s head and sent her to the nursery, and walked into the elevator that took me to the OB/GYN surgery unit.
I don’t remember much about that surgery, and then I was in the dim, quiet recovery area…and having trouble keeping myself awake. People were upset around me though, and I heard the surgeon and two nurses conferring about my stats. My heart rate was in the 170s and my blood pressure was dangerously low — and falling. The surgeon wanted to take me back into surgery. One of the nurses said it would kill me, and the surgeon said I was dying anyway so they didn’t have time to discuss it.
Dying? I couldn’t comprehend the gravity of the word…it just felt like idle conversation to me. I couldn’t feel happy or sad or even scared. Nothing was flashing before my eyes; wasn’t there supposed to be a whole montage? I didn’t think of my loved ones…I was having trouble thinking at all. My brain was fuzzy and I was so sleepy.
“Stay with me, you hear?” someone said. I don’t know if it was a nurse or the surgeon. Everything felt cozy and dark, and I knew with gentle clarity below conscious thought that my life was almost gone. I guess I instinctively reached out for something to hold on to, like a balloon string, and found a bit of purple song (more on the colors/syn another time). It was Snow Patrol’s “Firelight” for reasons unbeknownst to me, and as they wheeled me back into surgery, that’s all I really was — just a snippet of song.
They assumed the spinal was still good, but I felt the blade widening my original incision, and a tiny spark of fear finally touched me. I managed to squeak out, “I can feel that!” and they clapped a mask over my face. I was out.
When they opened me up, my abdomen was filled with blood (almost two liters of it). They had to remove it, irrigate, pack my bowel out of the way and play “find the source.” The surgeon had accidentally gashed the ligament by my left ovary (the mesosalpinx, if anyone is weirdly curious) and a thick blood vessel was torn. They patched me up, closed the incision with sutures and a dozen staples, and returned me to the recovery room, where I received four units of blood (sometime in there).
When I woke up, I was a wild thing. I couldn’t really move, but the pain. Oh my gods, the pain. Labor and gallstone attacks didn’t compare. This felt like my lungs were bruised and the rest of me had been eviscerated and burned or something. Everything I could feel hurt beyond all words. They kept telling me to breathe and I kept trying not to, because every time I did, the pain intensified impossibly. My humanity was gone. I was a wounded animal, bewildered and afraid. I couldn’t comprehend anything but the pain.
They pumped me full of the “good drugs” and told me to breathe through it. I tried. And failed. Eventually they added Dilaudid, and I became so out of it that I didn’t care if it hurt, which was such a relief that I would’ve stayed in that haze forever…
…except that I suddenly snapped fully alert with a clarity I hope to never need again. I blurted, “Something’s wrong. Gonna pass out,” and I could hear multiple alarms going off. It felt like a million superheated knives were pricking my body and I was just going to burn to stabbed ashes. A new nurse, a redhead, leaned over me and said, “Don’t you die on me, missy,” but there was kindness under the steel in her voice.
She (or someone) figured out that I am deathly allergic to Dilaudid (lucky me!), and managed to counter the severe reaction I was having. They hung another unit of blood, and after that and some other fluids, I finally started to feel human again.
That’s when it all hit me: how close I’d come to leaving my children (aged 3, 1, and a single day) motherless…how I’d missed my newest child’s first full day earthside (it was almost midnight before I got to see her, and I was too weak to hold her without assistance so she wasn’t allowed to room with me that night). I called my dad and told him through cracked lips what happened, and I think he broke a land speed record for getting back to the hospital (he lived in another town). He always makes me feel calmer, but the look on his face when he saw me let me know just how like-I’d-almost-died I looked. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen a person actually blanch.
It was a slow recovery. Physically, I was pretty much back to normal in a few weeks. Emotionally…it took a long time for me to let go of my anger and to deal with the fears that arose from the situation. But I got there…mostly, at least. 😉
That’s a super-long-story to say that this is what Valentine’s Day is for me — a celebration of my life, an admonition against unnecessary surgery (especially sterilization for young adults!), and a huge thank-you to all blood donors. I won’t ever know who the five people were who saved my life. Were they white, black, Hispanic, Christian, atheist, Muslim, other? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter — they are all heroes and they all deserve my profound gratitude forever.
Please, if you can, consider donating blood. Or plasma. Or platelets (that one’s fun; you usually get to watch a movie!). I had to wait a year after my transfusions before returning to regular blood donation but I had a burning drive to at least donate back the five pints I had been given. I did that, and then discovered that platelet donation is more useful with my blood type, so I started doing that (whenever my stupid anemia lets me pass the hematocrit check). 🙂
We are all “someone else” to someone else. Be a hero. The life you save might be someone you love. Read on for more information.