Life, love and the challenges we face as the heart of home.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Our Story Part 10: I Am A Survivor

Soon after the bilateral pulmonary embolism (PE) diagnosis, I was started on a heparin drip to lessen the coagulation in my blood.  Because I was pregnant, I was not a candidate for any of the clot busting super drugs that would have had me up and out of the hospital in no time.  As evening turned into night, my husband and I were still in the ER triage room waiting for a room upstairs.  The night shift had settled in after making their rounds and the light from the nurse's station filtered through the gauzy curtain shielding our dark room from view.  It was just enough light to see it; my husband was very much awake with a blank look and tears streaming down his face.  While he would never say it out loud, I could tell that he was worried.  I wasn't anywhere near being out of the woods yet and he was thinking he would lose me.  He was scared he would lose us both.

Around 3 am, a team of nurses and aids came to move me to my room up in the Critical Care Unit.  Despite still feeling fine, they insisted I allow them to move me for fear that any effort on my part might suddenly dislodge a clot and kill me.  Once I was settled, my nurse came in to introduce herself and handed me a bedpan.  "Um, about that.  Sorry, I don't do those!"  But she was not having any of it!  She read me the riot act right then and there but I persisted.  The bedpan was only going to stress me out.  I had an open air "bathroom" in my unit and I negotiated like a New York City Power Broker to be able to use it.  God bless her because she sympathized with me.  Here I was this poor, pathetic pregnant lady on the verge of death and all I wanted to do was go to the bathroom in peace.  My Pulmonologist agreed to allow the nursing staff to wheel my bed to the "bathroom" as long as my numbers didn't spike at all.  One tiny blip on the machines and I would lose my privileges.  As ridiculous as this sounds, this was yet another tender mercy from the Lord and I was starting to see them everywhere!

I was on bed rest in the Critical Care Unit for four days.   It was my first time in a hospital which upset me because I thought the very first time would be to welcome our little man into the world.  This was definitely not part of the plan!  Not at all!  The Critical Care Unit seemed like an odd place to put a pregnant lady but that's how critical I was.  Even the Chaplain commented that I was by far the perkiest patient she had ever visited in this unit!  Nurses got a kick out of me eating Chipotle and Panera for dinner when so many others were on restricted liquid diets.  I realized how full of life and out of place I must have been when someone down the hall died during my second night.  Thankfully, I felt good considering my condition but the gravity of my situation became crystal clear after that.  I was in the Critical Care Unit for a reason!  And not only that, I later learned that my room was right outside of the nurse's station which is generally reserved for their most critical patients.  I'm glad I didn't know that at the time.  



A few days after the start of the blood thinner therapy, my heart rate went down and my blood numbers were stable enough for me to be transferred to a bigger hospital with a high risk Maternal Fetal Medicine unit.  I'm fairly certain the original hospital was scared of me.  A double PE patient is bad enough but a pregnant, double PE patient?  I was far too high risk for their comfort level.  Off I went on another ambulance ride to the new hospital.  As we passed the street that I normally would take to go home, I wondered when I would go back there and I thought about my Grandpa.  He was whisked from hospital to hospital too.  Did he feel the same pit in his stomach as he passed the route that he should be taking to go home?  I took a picture of myself in the ambulance to document it for my pregnancy book and for my nephews.  “Look!  Auntie got another ambulance ride!”  At least there was an upside to all of this: more new stories for my nephews.

The new hospital was like the Hilton compared to my quarters in the CCU!  I had a real room with a real bathroom, a shower and room service!  Within a few hours, my IV lines were removed and I was started on the blood thinner injections that I would be taking twice daily for the duration of my pregnancy.  I could get up now!  I could walk around!  I could take a shower!  My eagerness at these new freedoms was met with support but also some caution.  The overnight nurse suggested I wait to see how I was feeling in the morning before getting carried away and overdoing it.  She was right.  All night long, I was worried about not being monitored so closely and my arm was sore and numb where the port had been.  I casually mentioned this to my day nurse the next morning and before long three of my doctors were hovering over me asking questions.  Given my condition, they didn't want to risk anything so they ordered another Doppler of my arms and legs.  

I was wheeled to the cardiac imaging laboratory out of an abundance of caution but this was starting to get old.  I just wanted things to go back to how they were before this PE nightmare began.  You know, when I was blissfully pregnant and not a crazy high risk patient.  The test was going swimmingly with nothing triggering any semblance of suspicion.  When the tech got to my left arm I started feeling hot, flushed and then my vision started getting spotty very similarly to when I was at the top of the stairs at work earlier in the week.  I immediately told the tech all of this while thinking "This is it!  These PEs will kill me and my son!  Jesus, I'll be seeing you in a few!"  I can't remember if I blacked out but the next thing I knew I was being rolled on my side while another nurse fanned me and a third applied cold compresses.  Within a few minutes, my doctors were in the cardiac lab hovering over me again.  Since I started feeling better after a position change, the doctors were fairly certain I just experienced a constricted vena cava.  Pregnant women are advised not to sleep on their backs because the weight of the growing uterus compresses the vena cava, the main vein bringing blood back to the heart.  I had the full weight of my baby resting on my vena cava during the test and when the tech checked my carotid artery in my neck to be extra thorough, it constricted my blood flow even more causing my symptoms.  Looks like I wasn't going to die after all, at least not now.



I often asked God why he allowed the blood clots to form in the first place and even now, close to a year later, I still only have part of an answer.  Since sleep is nearly impossible in a hospital setting, largely because of all of the machine noise and my blood draws every 2 hours, I was awake more often than not during those four nights.  In the wee hours of the morning, I would talk to God in the dim light of my room.  I would storm the gates of Heaven with tears and pleas for Him to protect my son and I asked for telegrams.  The Lord never disappoints!  I received at least one telegram per day during that week.  He let me know that He was with me.  He eased my fears of losing my son.  He quieted my heart like only He can do.  He prompted someone who didn't know about our crisis to randomly send a beautiful art print for our son's nursery to encourage my heart.  He told me to be still and wait patiently for Him.  He told me we would survive this but not without pain.  It was during one of those early mornings that God brought my attention to Psalm 40:1-5.


I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. 
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.
 
Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
 
Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

At the time, I thought the PEs and my recovery from them would be the worst that I would have to endure but the meaning of these verses only deepened for me over the coming months.  Looking back, I now know that the Lord used them to prepare my heart for the more turbulent waters ahead.  It was his way of letting me know that He was holding my hand tightly as He guided me through the hardships and that someday I would look back and not be able to count all of His tender mercies.

One of the things I prayed about a lot during the week was my husband’s graduation.  After taking classes part time for the last six years, he was graduating that Friday, the same Friday I was blacking out in the cardiac lab.  All week my hope and prayer was that I would be discharged from the hospital in time to see him walk.  He didn’t even want to walk, especially after everything we had been through but I insisted.  "You worked too hard not to walk.  Plus, it's your wife's dying wish."  (Hey, I just used the argument God had provided.  No judgement!)  For months, I planned to take pictures of him in his cap and gown with me and my big belly in front of our little house to show our son one day.  Sadly, I missed his graduation by a few hours; but thankfully, we had family to rally around him during his big day even though his biggest fan was absent.  My sister was quick to suggest that we video chat during the ceremony so I was able to see my handsome husband walk across the stage and hear the cheers even though my happy tears were mixed with sad tears from the confines of my hospital bed.  It was a moment I had looked forward to for years.  I had planned a graduation barbecue and even bought graduation themed cookie cutters to make royal icing sugar cookies for his big day.  "Lord, this stinks!  Why did you sideline me like this now?  Why not in a few weeks from now when we don't have anything fun going on?"  

My husband's graduation wasn’t the only thing the Lord sidelined me from.  The week after my hospital stay was Vacation Bible School at my church and I was supposed to be the art teacher.  The theme was science and the Bible which was right up my ally!  Art, science and Jesus!  What could be better?  I planned the activities for months and yet I had to relinquish the role to my sister and the many hands that rallied to help her lead art lessons she did not plan.  I was thankful she willingly stepped into this role because I am well aware it is not an easy feat to jump into someone else’s plans at the last minute.  (And many thanks to those that supported her tremendously. You know who you are!)  

God could have chosen another week for the PEs to strike, but he didn’t.  I don’t know why.  I may never know why he allowed all of these things to happen on this side of Heaven but I trust that he has a plan to use them all for good.  Not some of them, all of them.  For now, I can say I am a Maternal Bilateral Pulmonary Embolism Survivor.

Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

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Stay tuned for Part 11: Know The Signs
Missed previous posts?  Click here to catch up!

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4 comments:

  1. Finally got a minute to read this ... with tears streaming down my face I remember, all of it, like it was yesterday. So very thankful our Mighty God preserved your life and the life of my sweet little nephew!! ❤️

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    1. I know... It seems so recent sometimes but then so long ago when you consider everything that followed. There are times I just hug NJ so tight and thank the Lord we are alive! Truly, it's only by His great mercy!

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  2. I had no idea this all happened to you. Your trust in God is beautiful!

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    1. Thank you. It's been quite a year! I wish I could say the PE's were the worst of the medical troubles but it's really just the beginning.

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