Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Backstory 3: Complications

Endless water, mostly calm. No horizon and no bottom sighted. I was just swimming the crawl. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, ...

When the time came for the next breath, I skipped it. Just a little mistake, but no need to break my stroke pattern. I could continue and take a bigger breath when the next time came. Stroke, stroke, stroke ...

But wait, I'd missed breathing again. Now I really needed to gasp. Time turn my head out of the water.

But I couldn't turn. And the burning need for air consumed me.

Now I remembered the D&E. I was not swimming, I was having surgery. Something was wrong. Around me I heard the hums and mechanical sounds of the OR. Someone, a woman -- maybe Dr. Surgeon -- was talking to another woman.

"Does it say trisomy 21 in there?" She said. "That's wrong. You need to correct it. It's trisomy 18. Completely different animal."

I felt a searing pain in my belly button. The sensation of not being able to breathe got worse, and I tried breathe, scream, kick. Nothing happened. The pain increased. It felt like someone was shoving a pipe through my navel. Oh God, were they cutting me? Why couldn't I breathe? I needed to breathe! I flashed to a thought of my husband upstairs in the hospital waiting room, completely unaware that something was wrong. And then a line was crossed. I knew I had gone too long without breathing. I was dying. Colors bled away to black.

After ... a moment? An hour? The world suddenly blinked back on. Unfortunately, the struggle to breathe and the pain picked up where they left off, too. But this time as I struggled I realized that I was moaning. I could make noise! Finally, I managed to get my mouth to form a sentence, "Can't breathe!" I rasped.

Someone was there. A nurse. I couldn't open my eyes, but she murmured that I was ok. I felt her adjust the mask on my face and the hiss of oxygen being turned up high. I started to calm down. I wasn't dead. They wheeled me out of the operating room into recovery. My abdomen ached. Not the cramping I had expected, but the jangly pangs that come after being cut. I didn't feel coherent enough to ask what happened yet. Also, I didn't really want to know.

It was the Friday before Christmas weekend in the hospital, and not many surgeries were scheduled that day. There was only one other person in the recovery room. My nurse asked me what my pain level was and injected some medication into my IV. She seemed busy, despite the fact the room was mostly empty, she was a constant whirl of brisk motion around the bed and equipment. But she was calm and had a soothing voice, and that was a blessing. She told me what time it was when I asked, said that I was in acute care recovery because I'd had a complication and needed emergency laparoscopy in addition to the D&E. She said my doctor would come and tell me about it soon.

Another woman came in the room to see me. She said, "You probably don't remember me, but I was your nurse during surgery." And then she made what I guess she thought was a joke, but it stung me: "I know you said it felt like you couldn't breathe. But we knew you could, because you you said you couldn't." I realized that made sense -- if you can talk, you can breathe. But, I felt embarrassed for feeling such panic in the OR. I knew I wouldn't be telling anyone else about what I'd experienced while I was still in the hospital.

While I still felt like I was falling backwards into a pool of black every time I closed my eyes, by the time the doctor arrived, I could at least focus my eyes clearly when they were open. I studied Dr. Surgeon's face as she crossed the recovery room in her blue scrubs. She looked serious. This couldn't be good.

"I perforated your uterus in the D&E," she said. "I performed laparoscopy to repair it. That's why you have an incision under your navel as well as two incisions on your belly."


"I know we talked about you trying to conceive quickly after this, but the perforation changes things," Dr. Surgeon continued. "It's in a poor location -- up high, where your uterus is the thinnest and weakest during pregnancy. So, I think that you should wait three or four months before trying again to ensure that it heals well.

She paused. "Also, due to the site of the perforation, I'm not sure that it's advisable for you to have another vaginal birth in the future. Cesareans are probably the safest bet. But, we can talk more about that later." She said she'd call in a prescription for pain meds for me and asked if I had any questions.

It wasn't so much a question as a plea. "Can I go home now?" I desperately wanted to get out of there.

"People who have laparoscopy usually do it outpatient. So yes, if everything goes all right in recovery, then you can go home today."

After Dr. Surgeon left, my recovery room nurse came back. She quietly explained that because acute care recovery is a sterile area, visitors are not normally allowed. But it was so quiet that day ... and, I suspect, she felt sorry for me after hearing what had occurred. Would I want to see my husband if she could find him and bring him back to see me?

I couldn't speak. Tears were closing off my throat, so I just nodded vigorously. I could have kissed her. Seeing DH was better than morphine.