Category Archives: eclampsia

Maybe “coded” means, like, “ordered lunch in”.

As you may have gathered, they let me leave the hospital! I was super-gleeful about this, because HOSPITALS ARE TERRIBLE (don’t get me wrong, if you need your life saved, they will take care of that for you. But they are also sort of unpleasant places where doctors wake you up at 6:45 AM to tell you complicated things about the HOLE THEY PUT IN YOUR THROAT and how OH YEAH THEY MIGHT HAVE DESTROYED YOUR ABILITY TO SPEAK.) but then I started to realize that leaving the hospital has as its main downside that you expect to be Significantly Better and like Able To Go Shopping or whatever, when really at first you need 18 hours of sleep a day.

(Still better than being in the hospital, though.)

At this point, I am mostly all better: they took out the valve in my throat, and my voice came back, so I will just have a cool scar to freak people out with (after the hole closes up. YES! I still have a small hole in my throat. Jealous?) And they put me on medication for a while to make sure I don’t have any further bizarro incidents where my blood pressure becomes 900/500 or what have you… And antibiotics so I don’t get MRSA and die (I imagine.)

So ignoring minor issues like near-constant exhaustion and this thing where my memory suddenly doesn’t work (which better be because of the exhaustion and not because I blew a fuse in my brain, you guys!), I am pretty much back to normal. Aside from how I now have this baby.

***

When I first woke up, the day after The Dramatic Incident, I remembered essentially nothing*. So as I slowly regained consciousness, nurses and doctors would come in and talk to me and as hours passed, I slowly gathered the following: these people seemed to think that I was married and had been pregnant and had almost died and had just had a baby.

HOLY SHIT WHAT THE FUCK?!?

I did not believe any of this.

You guys! It was like one of those ’60s paranoid conspiracy thrillers, where a guy wakes up in an apartment he doesn’t remember and has a wife he doesn’t remember and then eventually it turns out that it’s all a ploy by the Russians to get the nuclear football or something. And exactly like that guy, the longer it went on, the more I started to doubt EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD.

The basic timeline is something like so: I woke up doped to the eyeballs on painkillers and sedatives, people implied that I had a kid, and then crammed me into a wheelchair and took me up a bunch of floors to see some tiny person who evidently lived full-time in an EZ-Bake oven.

“Here’s your son! Isn’t he beautiful?”

Riiiiiiiiiight.

I THINK I WOULD REMEMBER IF I HAD BEEN PREGNANT, LADY. NICE TRY.

Later, when Seth made his illegal foray into checking out the folder of records the NICU staff were keeping on us, the notation for my first visit was:

MOTHER HAS FLAT AFFECT.

This was pretty much the one thing about the hospital that actively pissed me off. Flat affect! Are you kidding? I was stoned out of my gourd, remembered nothing, and was UNABLE TO TALK. BECAUSE OF THE TUBE IN MY THROAT. That wasn’t “flat affect”, that was “skepticism”.

Grumble.

(The NICU nurses were actually really outstanding specimens of humanity. It was just that one thing that made me cranky. No wonder they won’t let parents look at their records.)

***

Seth has mentioned previously that hospitals are not necessarily as organized with the imparting of information about your care as you might think. I guess, insofar as I had ever thought about this stuff, I imagined that if you were in the hospital for something life-threatening and you were totally out of it, doctors would probably wait for your husband to be around before discussing complicated health stuff with you. (Particularly if you couldn’t talk to ask them questions.)

Not so! The doctor who crammed the tube through my throat, for instance (PS, I first met this guy in the ICU, and for quite some time I thought maybe he was someone I was hallucinating and had cobbled together from from The Simpsons characters.) liked to walk in at 6:22 AM and say things like “So we’re not totally sure your voice is going to come back! {jargonjargonjargonjargon} Some other doctor is going to {jargonjargonjargon}, okay? How’re you feeling? Good, good. All right, see you later! Oh, hey- don’t forget to {jargonjargon something really complicated involving breathing}.”

THEY WERE ALL LIKE THIS. I kind of thought that leaving the hospital would mean the end of this nonsense, but NO:

Today we took Henry (who has been allowed to come home from the hospital – Seth will probably update you on that later when we are no longer sobbing with exhaustion**… or I guess if you’re a parent yourself you can just think back to the early days and laugh at us for being SUCKERS.) to the pediatrician for the first time.

(He is totally fine and healthy and gets excellently angry when nurses try to take his pants off: OUTRAGE! VENGEANCE WILL BE HIS. But that’s not what this story is about. Sorry, baby-oglers.)

The pediatrician had one of those electronic readers she used to flip through our various hospital records. She said things like “Wow! What a dramatic experience!” and Seth and I nodded politely: we have figured out over the past few weeks that having full-blown, no-warning eclampsia makes you the obstetrics version of reality-tv-show-“famous”.

And then she tapped a new section of the screen and said, in awesome deadpan:

“Huh. So you coded on the table?”

And I said “I’m sorry?” and looked at Seth – you know, just in case he had been Keeping Things From Me – and he was shaking his head, “No, I don’t think so–”

And the doctor said, firmly and just ever-so-slightly dismissively – BE QUIET CIVILIANS, DO YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW HOW TO READ A MEDICAL RECORD OR SOMETHING?!? WHO’S THE EXPERT HERE? – “Yep, that’s what it says, all right. Coded on the table. Phew! What an ordeal, huh?”

You would think – or I would have thought – that this is something that maybe someone would have mentioned to me! BUT NO.

(???)

Of course I also recently discovered that the reason my midsection is crazy sore is not because I am having EXPLODING SPLEEN SYNDROME but instead because the two surgeons who saved me and my kid used that area to rest their heavier instruments while they were working. So I am starting to think that my standards for how doctors communicate is based on the wrong TV shows – E.R. instead of, say, Scrubs.

*You know… except for how I suddenly had all this insight into the true nature of reality and the universe and our immortal souls, etc. Which I guess is kind of par for the course if you CODE ON THE TABLE.

**I realized that I really needed to take a freaking nap and calm down when I found myself almost-tearfully wanting to argue with Facebook. My husband had updated his FB status to indicate that he had kicked me out of the bedroom to go sleep in the TV room for a few hours (he initially kicked me out onto the couch… but I could still hear the existence of other people from the couch, so I couldn’t sleep, because WHAT IF THE BABY WERE CHOKING OR BEING ABDUCTED BY ALIENS). And instead of just going “Yep. My husband is a pretty cool guy.” I started to get argumentative and upset because he said that I had had FIVE hours of sleep, when I was pretty sure it was no more than THREE.

Not-sleeping! It’s terrible and turns you into a loon.

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in the blink of an eye it can all go awry

Since Elana and I have both written about our laissez-faire, play-the-numbers approach to birth and its attendant risks, I figure we should give equal time to the tiny minority of cases where disaster strikes, natural childbirth is impossible, and only high-tech, highly interventionist medicine can save both mother and child. To this point — the story of our lousy, amazing week, in which Elana and the Lentil both almost died.


Tuesday morning, Elana got up and announced that her vision was blurry. We knew that was a possible symptom of high blood pressure, which isn’t good for pregnant ladies, so we called the OB/GYN’s office and asked them if that was the kind of thing that, you know…. They told us we weren’t being paranoid and we should get in the car and come on in. While we were getting dressed, Elana asked me to help her to the toilet, because she thought she might throw up.

She still couldn’t see very well and kept bumping into walls, which was pretty funny, so I laughed at her a little and helped steer her into the bathroom. She seemed a little unsteady, so I put a hand on her back. She reached back and brushed at my hand with her own. At first I thought she just didn’t need the extra touch (you know, sometimes too much contact is annoying, first thing in the morning), so I let go. But there was something odd about the way her hand was slapping at her back. She turned towards me, and I saw her other hand starting to curl up like a weird clawed fist. Her mouth was open in a peculiar “O” shape, and she stumbled toward me.

From all this, I cleverly deduced that Something Not So Great was happening.


When you’re in the Army and you’re about to Go Off To War, they make you take a class called “Combat Lifesaver,” in which you learn how to do things like apply a tourniquet and put in an IV, and where they teach you acronyms like

Massive bleeding
Airway
Respiration
Circulation
Head injury

They also teach you how to do buddy carries:

Buddy Carry 1

Also works on drunks.

Buddy Carry 2

I think this one is about breast cancer screening.

Which is to say, the impression you get of first aid in the Army is that you should stop any obvious bleeding and then pick the person up and haul ass to the medevac point.

So when the EMTs have been in your house for twenty minutes already and there are seven of them trying to figure out how to move one gurgling pregnant lady out of the upstairs bathroom, you want to scream, “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU??!! YOU TAKE THE LEGS, I’LL TAKE THE FUCKING SHOULDERS, AND WE GET HER DOWN THE FUCKING STAIRS!” But you don’t, because apparently these people are professionals, even though you saw one of them looking in the handbook under the chapter heading “Holy Shit — A Pregnant Lady Is Seizing!” And even when they later bump your wife into a wall and almost drop her on the way down the stairs, you resist the urge to punch anyone, because, you know, they’re saving lives here, so you try to be grateful.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure there’s more to real-deal, civilian emergency response than belt-dragging a guy to a helicopter, so I want to thank Kevin of the LaFayette Fire Department and all the other EMTs who showed up. (Seriously, it was like an ambulance convention on our street.) You guys rock.


Props, also, to my dad, who’s a registered nurse and was first on the scene. Not a lot he could do alone and without any equipment, but he at least knew what to tell the 911 operator.

Whereas I was all, “I think she’s having a stroke or a seizure or… something?” And then I thought about the time I was working on a reality TV show and one of the participants had a seizure. Or was it a stroke? Fuck.


I’m not usually a guy who falls apart in emergencies, and I didn’t fall apart right away there, either. I mean, I didn’t drop her when she fell, and I got somebody to call 911, and I corralled people and stuff out of the way while the EMTs worked. But somewhere on the ride to the hospital, I began this wave-upon-wave surge of crying that didn’t stop for several hours. I found myself crying in the front seat of the ambulance, crying in the ER, pulling myself together in the bathroom, then crying again when they showed her to me after the surgery. I kind of, sort of, usually managed to hold it together whenever she was awake — but then I’d cry again whenever I could get away. Jesus, the whole thing just knocked all the man out of me.


I mentioned “surgery.”

It’s funny — when you watch a lot of House, M.D., you sort of get the impression that they come to you and say things like, “We have to do an emergency C-section to save her life.” And you as the husband look grave and concerned and say, “Doctor, are you sure?” And then they say, “Yes, it’s the only way.” And you scrutinize them, trying to decide if you can trust them, and then you sign the clipboard and they sprint away to the OR to scrub in.

What ACTUALLY happens is your wife goes in one ambulance and you go in another and when you get there somebody makes you sign into the hospital and provide insurance information. Then you sit in another room for ten minutes, and then they come to you and say, “This is the doctor who’s going to take care of her — now why don’t you wait upstairs?” Then eventually some other people come to you and say, “Well, both mom and baby are fine after the surgery. We decided to put in tracheostomy in her throat, and she’s on a heavy sedative…” and about ten minutes later you realize that “surgery” means a C-section and that somewhere in this hospital is a baby with your name on it.

Then a sheepish-looking person asks you to sign some papers saying it was okay to do the stuff they already did.

And that is how those choices are made.


It turns out my wife had eclampsia, the very rare end state of the somewhat more common pregnancy complication preeclampsia. You can read Elana’s take on it here. Or you can read the always-funny Natalie Dee’s description of her experience. It’s a fucked-up, fucked-up thing, and scientists don’t know what causes it. Though there are some interesting theories.


We are all very well now, thank you. Somewhere in the world tonight there’s a beautiful baby boy named Henry who makes hilarious faces and eats like a champ, if you go by the neo-natal ICU staff’s encouraging words. He sometimes looks like this:

The Lentil

The Lentil, out of the womb and ready to rock!


In front of the Catholic hospital where they saved my wife and my boy stands this statue, dedicated to St. Joseph The Worker:

According to americancatholic.org’s Saint-Of-The-Day article about Joseph the Worker,

In a constantly necessary effort to keep Jesus from being removed from ordinary human life, the Church has from the beginning proudly emphasized that Jesus was a carpenter, obviously trained by Joseph in both the satisfactions and the drudgery of that vocation. Humanity is like God not only in thinking and loving, but also in creating. Whether we make a table or a cathedral, we are called to bear fruit with our hands and mind, ultimately for the building up of the Body of Christ.

Or, as Johnny Cash once said,

“If you were a baker, and you baked a loaf of bread and it fed somebody, then your life has been worthwhile. And if you were a weaver, and you wove some cloth and your cloth kept somebody warm, your life has been worthwhile.”

It’s hard for me to think of people that applies to more than the nurses who have taken such amazing care of my family in this hour of near-disaster. Also the doctors, for whose life-saving knowledge and skill I’m eminently grateful. Truly — what a miraculously gifted group of people.

But it’s the nurses who wash people’s helpless bodies and answer their questions and hold their hands and patiently gather the statistics that make scientific medicine possible. Nurses bring you juice and drugs and chairs for your visitors and say sweet, cheerful things about how good you look. Nurses are your first line of defense against parents and spouses and doctors and other patients and the bewildering changes in your normally reliable physical system and loneliness. There’s no more blessed job anywhere.

I want to bake them all cookies, but I am embarrassed by the smallness of the gesture compared to the magnitude of what they do. Maybe someday when I’m really wealthy, I’ll come back and donate a nice break room with a Wii and a 24-hour-a-day chair massage service. I don’t know — I’m just spitballing here.


POST SCRIPT: Yeah, yeah, I know — our story is a perfect illustration of how important health coverage is and how you could be ruined in an instant without it. My dad and I spent a few minutes idly calculating the total cost of this freak occurrence, and we expect it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars. Back when we first got pregnant, there was a brief period where we considered just playing the odds and planning on paying cash for the birth. As my sister pointed out, we would have blown that cash reserve on the ambulances alone. So yes, without government-sponsored, government-regulated health coverage, we would have been financially ruined. (Which would also have cost me my security clearance, and therefore every last one of my career options. Which would obviously have ruined us further.)

But shit, man… this blog ain’t always about why a single-payer health care system would be better. Sometimes it’s just about us.