May 4th, 2013
My baby died. My body hurts. I need pain meds. I need to not be hurting everywhere. I walk around the house in a stupor, a fog, empty arms, empty uterus, aching. Danny and I have been out. We went to and from the NICU four times before he died, I’ve been to the OB for a postpartum check-up, we went back to the hospital to meet with the NICU chaplin who will lead Harvey’s memorial service tomorrow. I do my best to get out of bed to take care of Vesta some, but Danny is here, his brother, my best friends, family is arriving and they are taking care of us, all three of us. In the chaos and shock of Harvey’s death, not much attention is paid to how much my body hurts, not even by me, it’s very nearly the least of my worries. One friend has been concerned about my physical pain all week and has encouraged me to do something about it, I’m sure she’s talked to the others who are here helping us about it, she gave me a few pills she still had from an injury. I’ve taken all of it. I need more. I meant to call yesterday, Friday, but I never did, no one did. I know tomorrow is going to be one of the hardest days of my life and some numbing of the pain would be very helpful. I call the number on the back of my insurance card.
“I’m sorry, we don’t prescribe narcotics on the weekend. You’ll have to come in to be re-evaluated.”
“My baby died last week. His funeral is tomorrow. Can you make an exception? I just need to stay in my bed.”
“Let me see what I can do”
Musak interrupted by how much this insurance company cares about my health, how they are making it easier than ever to make appointments, fill prescrip…
“I’m so sorry, honey. I talked to several people and you just have to go in. I’m so sorry.”
My dad and step-mother drive me to urgent care. I’m starving. I forgot to eat. We talk about where we will get lunch after I get my meds. We check-in, we wait, I get called back, vitals taken, seemingly endless questions answered, we wait for the doctor, the physicians assitant walks in.
He is very sorry for my loss. He can’t imagine. How am I doing? How is your grief? We have a lot of resources her for you from counseling to medication. Anything we can do to help you, we will. I give him the most honest and oft-repeated answer I give everyone, which a whole-heartedly beleive: we are doing very well under the circumstances. We are talking to each other, we are talking to our family and friends, we have an amazing amount of support, we met with the chaplin, I don’t need psych meds, but I do need pain meds. He spends a good 15 minutes, possibly 20, discussing my grief. There is still a normal part of me left, thanks to the shock, and I am impressed that a medical doctor in urgent care would spend so much time talking to me about my mental and emotional state. I appreciate it but I also just want my pain meds, to eat, to go back to my bed, to get out of this hospital. I tell him about my pain. About how it seems to have gotten worse over the last couple of days but I had an intense, long labor, my baby died, his funeral is tomorrow, I just need some pain meds to get through right now and tomorrow. He asks more questions, inspects the stitches on my tear, apologizes for having to touch me internally, he presses on my abdomen. Yes, it hurts there, yes it’s sore when you push there, yes, yes yes, pain meds please. He seems to take forever. He says “I think you need to have an ultrasound. I want to have a look in your abdomen. If we can’t see anything in the abdominal ultrasound, we’ll have to do a vaginal one.” Like hell. I can’t believe he doesn’t just see the pain of my heartbreak, my grief, my fog, my confusion, my inability to comprehend and retrain information. My baby died. I am a mess. I need pain meds and I need to go home. “Ok, I understand. I’m going to insist. This is very hard. But I if we do this scan, we can just rest easy that everything is okay with your body so you can face the day tomorrow.” Nope. He leaves to consult. He comes back and says he’s concerned about the pain increase and he will move me to the front of the line for ultrasound and we won’t do a vaginal one, even if the abdominal one reveals nothing. Okay, I give up. I have to do this to get my meds and go home. I agree. Then comes the trauma of being escorted to the ultrasound room, laying there like I did when we saw his heart beat, when they checked his growth, for ten fingers and ten toes, he’s a boy. The tech knows nothing, asks a routine question, which leads to the reveal of the dead baby, which leads to embarrassment and stammering on her part, which I reassure her out of, which I fall apart from after she leaves the room.
I am wheeled back into the exam room and a flurry of activity begins. The PA comes back in and explains that there is bleeding in my abdomen and that the ambulance is on it’s way to take me to the main hospital. I may be dying, I may need emergency surgery. They can’t tell if I am actively bleeding or not. A nurse comes in to do vitals again, a phlebotimist wheels her cart in to get my blood work started, an IV is placed. I am thrown swiftly and surely back into shock. We figure out who is driving and who is riding in the ambulance with me. I remember to call Danny. I’m wheeled outside by two women who talk and joke easily, who make me feel comfortable. My dad is by my side.
I am not bleeding anymore. There is a large clot in my uterus. I was saved by a final layer, a “skin”, of the outermost layer of the uterus. We learn that the uterus ruptured. I don’t have to have surgery now but I might later. I stay in the hospital over night. I beg them to get me out of there so that I can go to my son’s funeral. I have morphine, which is wonderful. I feel almost normal again. Now I am talking and laughing easily, until it wears of.
October 18th, 2013
Six months, a million doctor and surgical visits, and further complications later, I have the surgery for the uterus which did not heal correctly. Which they assure me they will be able to fix and we will be able to have another baby. We stop talking about not being able to entirely. They are sure of themselves.
The tear is embedded in the vasculature. They inflate the uterus and I begin to bleed out. They save my life, the repair the artery and the muscle as well as they can. They sew me up. The shaken surgeon tells my shocked husband the good news. I survived the birth somehow, I survived the surgery because they found the bleed in time and we can’t, I can’t, carry anymore pregnancies. In fact, if I was to get pregnant, I would not make through even the first trimester expansion of the uterus. Pregnancy is a life threatening condition to me. In fact, nothing should ever be inside my uterus again, certainly not a baby and no medical instruments either.
Three days later, our marriage takes its first, and eventually fatal, blow.
I want to find out who that urgent care doctor was. I need to write him a letter. I need to thank him for saving my life. For the time he took, his concern, his patience, his insistence. By this time, we have decided we want to have another baby. Had he not done his job so perfectly well, the hematoma would have dissolved, the gap in the ruptured uterus would have gone undetected, I would have gotten pregnant again, and subsequently widowed my husband, left my daughter motherless and taken our 4th pregnancy with me.
I look through my records online and find his name is Erik M, PA. No last name. I ask my surgeon at my post-op this man’s last name and he tells me. I will write him. I will thank him with my whole heart, with my whole being for being the first person this year to save my life. My grief overtakes me. The mourning of Harvey increases exponentially. He was our last baby. I grieve the loss of the ability, at 35, to be able to have another baby. My marriage slowly crumbles around a decade of also unseen wounds. I never write Erik M—, PA. I think about him often. I give silent thanks for him every time I do but pen never touches paper.
September 24th, 2014
I go to urgent care for a routine problem, finally and happily, unrelated to birth or death but just run of the mill bacteria. I am surprised that the advice nurse tells me to go to urgent care even. I have no fever, hardly any pain, no sign that I am in immediate need. I mostly called to see if I could get an appointment in the morning with my doctor to be checked. But he tells me to go ahead and go in, the clinic closest to me is open until 11 so you still have some time. Do I know how to get there? Yes, I am very familiar with that place. I query with my roommate if I should change out of my pajamas to go and she says Why? So I leave.
The urgent care department has changed locations. I check-in, I wait, I meet with the nurse. “Ok”, she says, “We’re going to send you to the lab and then you will be seen by Erik M—.” I gasp.
“Do you know him?”
My eyes as wide as saucers, my heart racing, tears beginning to well, “Yes! He saved my life.”
It’s her turn to give a shocked, “Really?”
I walk to the lab in tears. I am so excited to see this man again. To thank him in person. To tell him my story and how he was the first angel sent to me on my new journey. To hug him and to thank him. To look into is eyes and hope he sees how deep and eternal my gratitude. I am also crying because I am taken back to that day. Lying in shock and pain on the exam table. Listening to him go on and on about grief resources. The fog so dense that I float in it, the inability to really understand him, the resignation I had once I realized I had to jump through this ultrasound hoop to get my pain meds and get our of there. How completely lost I was. How I could say things like “We are doing very well under the circumstances”, as if there was anything “well” about us at that time. I remember the moment I realized he was an angel. I cry from grief and anticipation and excitement and overwhelm that I have this apportunity.
He comes to the waiting room to get me. I don’t remember what he looks like but as soon as he starts talking I know it’s him. He says, “We don’t have the results yet but we can just get started before they come in.” Of course. Of course, I am given extra time, because it’s 10:30 at night, to sit and tell this man, this sacer of lives, that I stand before him as one of them. I start crying immediately after he closes the door. He hands me the tissue box. He doesn’t remember me until I tell him about the clot and then instant recognition. I said first that my baby had died and he didn’t remember me but once I mentioned the clot he said “yes! I remember you. You’re baby died.”, as if I hadn’t told him. I told him the whole story of my rupture and incomplete healing and surgery and infertility, through my tears, equal parts grief and gratitude. He thanked me. As an urgent care doctor, he almost never gets to find out what happens to his patients after they leave his care. He went into medicine to help people, to hopefully save lives, but he doesn’t get to see or hear that often like most other doctors. He is grateful to me for sharing. We hug.
From this connection, we begin an unprofessional and unorthodox urgent care visit. He asks about my marriage. I tell him it ended and why. His marriage ended the same way. We commiserate. He gives me some hope for the other side. He mentions how I am laughing and smiling but that there must be some real intensity on the other side of that. I almost don’t because it seems so out there, but then I do. I tell him about the miracle healing. About how a group of women saved my life in this same year as he and my surgeon did. He believes me. The man of science and medicine, of number and research and studies, tells me he believes me because he sees the unexplainable, the unmeasurable everyday in his work. Because he has seen it in his own life. We talk for a long time, including also the matters at hand which he advises on and medicates and then we hug me again as he leaves.
I drive home in tears with a full, full heart. I feel my son in a moment. I feel him as I drive and I know he sent me there. Minimal symptoms to a routine issue, an advice nurse who strongly suggests I head to urgent care right now, Erik M not only working but seeing me (the nurse told me there were 5 other doctors on tonight), the lab results taking forever to come in so that we had plenty of time to talk and connect, to be grateful for each other and hopefully, give each other a little hope. I know I got some. Some hope that my angels will send me these kinds of miracles even when I am not falling apart, even when I don’t need to know well I am watched over and cared for. That the universe will bring this shit, this fallen apart, shattered to bits life, full circle. That I will be provided with opportunities to share with people, those I love and a stranger like Erik M., how so very grateful I am that they came into my life, for forever or for an hour or so one afternoon. Since my heart has been so torn asunder, since a big part of it left with my son and the returned in the healing, I know so well the amount of emptiness one heart can hold, that my heart can hold. There have been few moments since Harvey died that I have felt my heart full, but tonight was one of them. Tonight as I drove and I felt my son reveal his orchestration of this connection, I cried for him being gone, for him taking care of his mother instead of me taking care of him, I cried because my heart was so full, so exceedingly full, I thought it would burst from my chest. And knowing the contrast, knowing this feeling’s exact opposite so intricately, I savored and I relished and I gave thanks for my full, broken, healing, whole heart. My human heart, that has the capacity to tear and mend and break apart and piece itself together again. That can bear both the very worst of human experiences and have the same capacity to hold the best of human expereinces without bursting into smitherines. Well, these are the moments I live for, that I am alive for. So thank you, Erik M. Thank you, from the whole of my heart.
As a side note, a totally off topic lesson I learned tonight: as a single, thirty-something, when you ask yourself “Should I change out of my pajamas to go to urgent care?” (or anywhere else), as you say to your roommate, “I probably should because you never know who you might meet!”, the answer is a strong and resounding “yes!”. You should change back, put on a bra, redo your make up and fix your hair. Because you might meet a handsome young doctor who saved your life and who understands some of your loss. Lesson learned. Winking emoticon.