On January 11th, 2017 I went in for a routine repeat C-section. We were having our fourth child, a baby boy that came to us via embryo adoption and we were so excited to meet him. The recovery was much more painful than my last, but we were able to be discharged on schedule so we thought the worst was behind us.
Six days after I gave birth, my husband took our older 3 children with him to the gym and left the baby and me at home so I could have some quiet time. I had not been feeling well the last few days but just brushed it off as being tired. I put the baby down and went to use the restroom before getting a shower. When I finished, I started to stand up but stopped because I could still hear a gushing sound. When I looked down, I saw blood pouring out of my body. I knew immediately that if I didn't get help I was going to die. Thankfully, I had my phone with me, so I called 911 and then my husband. The 911 operator instructed me to unlock the front door and wait there. I tried to stand up and when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror I panicked. I was so white I looked like a ghost. I turned to look behind me and my bathroom looked like a murder scene. I almost passed out, but I started crawling to the door so I could wait for the first responders.
Within minutes, my home was flooded with paramedics: starting IV fluids, taking my blood pressure, encouraging me to stay awake. I remember glancing up as one of the paramedic students saw the bathroom, eyes wide in disbelief. I yelled out to my parents where I thought some formula samples and a bottle might be as I left my newborn to be rushed to the hospital, sirens blaring in the background.
When we arrived at the emergency room, there were stretchers lining the hallway and patients everywhere. The charge nurse took one look at me and put me in a room. My room quickly became a flurry of activity: doctors assessing me, medics starting more IVs, nurses charting and giving me medicines, and an ultrasound that revealed that my abdomen was full of blood. I was started on pitocin to help stop the bleeding and I was given a blood transfusion, before being admitted to the hospital for observation. Before I was wheeled out of the ER, one of the nurses bent down and whispered in my ear, "I'm nervous about you going to a room on the floor. Make sure they give you your next unit of blood and keep a close eye on you."
Those words later haunted me.
I got checked into my room and decided to use the restroom before trying to rest for the night. All of a sudden, it was happening again. I easily lost all of the blood that I had been given and then some. My husband ran to get the nurse.
They called the doctor to get a plan while I continued bleeding.
They called the medical response team while I continued bleeding.
The monitor room kept calling to tell them my heartrate was 180 while I continued bleeding.
My blood pressure was 60/30 and then stopped picking up while I continued bleeding.
The nurse from the medical response team kept trying to get an EKG, but I was so sweaty at this point that the leads wouldn't stick. I just continued bleeding.
The nurses stood there, looking terrified. Covered in sweat and shaking uncontrollably, I begged them to give me the blood that I knew was held for me. When they refused, I pled with them to give me more IV fluids so that when I did lose my heart beat, there would at least be enough fluid to circulate so that CPR could be effective. I lost consciousness several times. Each time the darkness overtook me, I wondered if it would be my last. I remember my husband holding my face in his hands shouting at me to open my eyes because he was scared I may never open them again. I never saw my life flash before my eyes, but I remember thinking how I wasn't ready to leave this earth and how I couldn't leave my husband behind with four kids to raise. The images of my older kids are seared into my memory, so I desperately tried to memorize the details of my newborn's face: his big gray eyes, those pouty lips, that wrinkle between his eyebrows.
By the time the doctor finally came in and I was wheeled in to emergency surgery, I had lost over half of my blood volume. Thankfully, the surgery was a success and the retained placenta that my doctor left inside me was removed. After receiving 6 units of blood and an iron transfusion over the next few days, I was stable enough to go home. It still took weeks for me to be able to walk short distances without becoming short of breath.
But recovering physically wasn't the hard part. I had always assumed that if I ever had a near-death experience, I would live life just being grateful for that second chance. That I would stop and smell the roses, that I would have more patience with my kids, and let the little things go. And I do. Mostly. But I was not prepared for the angst that would creep in. Having never dealt with anxiety before, it caught me off guard. Some days I'm fine, but some days the memories come flooding back: the smell of blood, the feeling of my gown sticking to my sweaty body, the sound of machines dinging in the background, watching helplessly as my husband begged the nurses to do something.
Around the world, maternal death rate is slowly declining due to medical advancements and treatment. However, the number of women who die due to child birth related complications has actually INCREASED over the last few decades in the United States. There are several (mostly preventable) reasons for maternal deaths, such as hemorrhage, embolism, and infection, just to name a few. My situation had several factors in play, and I was failed many times over:
- The doctor who performed my c-section did not adequately clean my uterus out and left a piece of placenta that caused me to bleed internally.
- The OB that consulted me in the ER did not take me to surgery but instead put me on pitocin stating I was not "stable" enough for surgery.
- Once I hemorrhaged after admission to the hospital, another OB was called and she decided not to come in and see me but to have the nurses give me a shot to help stop the bleeding and call back in 30 minutes. The nurses assumed that the shot was coming from pharmacy and just waited to receive it. I continued bleeding and no one ever checked to see how much blood I had lost. After my husband asked them multiple times to call the pharmacy and figure out where the shot was, they finally did and found out that the shot was not coming from pharmacy but was in a med room right next door! This large hospital apparently only had one nurse on their medical response team and she was busy with another patient when my nurse called her. By the time she came, I was already in shock.
Despite the multiple instances of failing to intervene, I survived. I am not exactly the same person that I was, but I am alive and grateful to not just be another statistic.
I had been a nurse for 13 years, had 4 kids, and had no idea that I had been slowly bleeding internally. I just thought that I was tired, chalking it up to normal newborn and breastfeeding fatigue. But deep down I knew something was different. I told my husband that I felt like something was wrong. Had I gone to the doctor initially, maybe this could have been prevented. So educate yourself, educate those around you. You might help save a life, and it just might be your own.