Tuesday, October 2, 2012

the angels of st. ann's

As most of my family and friends know, last week held a level of worry in our home.

Last Friday I ran several errands, including a trip to Lowes where I got lumber for a couple projects I wanted to do around my home. Nothing overly strenuous, but I was definitely moving around like a normal person. Then suddenly, early in the afternoon, I started having incredible pain in my lower back and abdomen.

At only 25 weeks pregnant, this is an uncomfortable and terrifying experience.

By 4 PM I had called my Aunt, a Douala, and she told me, with no minced words, to get to a hospital. I couldn't stand, and in less than a half hour, my mother in law had taken me to our local hospital. They ran a urinalysis, and after establishing the appearance of a fair amount of blood, told me it was "probably" a kidney stone, hence the pain. They sent me home with instructions to tough it out and drink lots of water.

I have discussed before my intense and often fierce dislike of this hospital and its staff. Unfortunately the multitude of chances I have given have proved fruitless, and this experience has prompted me to never again register my name or the names of my family in their data base a patients. It almost cost us our lives.

I began throwing up in the car on our way home. After a painful night, along with an equally miserable day of keeping nothing down and having no relief from the ever-increasing pain racking my lower body, I was back at the hospital. This time, however, we made the drive to Saint Ann's hospital.

Within the first hour of my arrival, I was wildly impressed by an experience I had never realized I was missing. Despite the pain I was in, I could immediately recognize the actual care and genuine concern reflected by the ER staff. I was spoken to gently, touched carefully, and escorted to the Maternity Ward by a nurse whose name I will never know but whose efforts to make me comfortable I will never forget. He was kind and patient, and the word genuine is again repeated in his compassion for me.

By the time I got to the Maternity Ward, I had tears in my eyes and my knuckles were white around the pail they gave me to hold whatever refused to stay in my stomach. The triage nurse established that there was in fact something wrong with my kidneys, though not as minor as LMH had believed. I was put on an IV drip and antibiotics before I even left triage.

The evening and night were rough, and to be honest I don't remember much of it. I have an image of a nurse talking to me, holding my hand, with lady bug earrings in. I was visited frequently through the night by nurses who made every effort to make me comfortable, though by morning pain killers were doing nothing and all I could do was lay there. They ran tests through the night, and I was scheduled for an ultrasound on my kidneys first thing in the morning.

As soon as was possible that morning, I was taken to an ultrasound technician. She made a uncomfortable grimace when scanning my kidneys and said "Well no wonder you're in pain". The obstetrician from my midwife's medical team came down to the ultrasound room and reviewed the scans on the screen, before they were even printed off for her, no time wasted. An hour later we were scheduled for surgery.

My nurse and the transport nurse did their best to stall as long as possible for surgery, as through my haze I insisted that my husband be there. My nurse made all my phone calls for me, taking my cell into the hallway and talking to the variety of family members required to pass the word of my surgery and to find my husband. I remember insisting that she tell my Aunt to come, who lives 3 hours away from the hospital. Delirious, right??

My husband made it, thanks especially to the team who walked slowly and "missed" OR calls, and he was there to be my ears as the anesthesiologist and doctors explained the procedure. He tried to hold my hand, but in doing so accidentally brushed my back. He didn't even realize he did it, but I could feel the pain from the brief encounter to my toes.

They took me into the OR, where I could only wait for the relief I knew would come from being knocked out. This carried with it a heaping measure of guilt. What about my baby? How is she faring through this pain and obvious infection? Is it selfish of me to crave this relief so badly when I know, on some level, she'll be effected? Apparently my concerns were obvious, though not spoken. An OR nurse, whose eyes were all I could see, held my hand. It takes a wonderful sort of person to be a comfort to a stranger, to convey genuine kindness through only your eyes and body language. I felt like I was the only person she cared about in that moment. She told me:

"We'll fix this, and you. Your baby will be beautiful when she comes on time. Don't worry"

That was the last thing I heard, and I cried as the anesthesia took over.

After surgery, I was shocked at how much better I immediately felt. OR nurses whose faces I didn't even recognize smiled happy smiles when they saw me waking. The transport nurses acted like family members who had been anxiously awaiting my recovery. I have never seen strangers so pleased to see me sitting up.

I got hugs and happy cheers when I arrived back in the Maternity Ward later that evening. One by one, the team of doctors who attended my surgery stopped in to see me. It turns out that I had had an infection, but that, because ofmy 24 hours of "drinkng water and toughing it out", it hadn't been caught in time. One theory was that it started out as a kidney stone , another that it was an abscess, but by the time they got to my kidney, there was so much infection that needed to be cleared out, they could never be sure what was there originally. The toxic levels in my kidney had hurt me severely, but they were able to stop the infection before it went septic and seeped into my blood, and therefore, before it reached the baby. According to the Infecious Disease Specialist, we only had hours.The OB relayed that the safest, and most comfortable place for the baby the entire time was right where she was. She was fine, the whole time.

The next three days were a blurr of pain control, of which I was proud to handle as much on my own as I could.

I cannot repeat enough the happiness and surprise I felt so often at the level of care given by the staff. On my second day of recovery, I was allowed to take a walk around the Unit. As I slowly made my way past the nurse's station, several people looked up. I had nurses I didn't know, who I was sure were not part of my immediate care group, tell me how happy they were to see me up and about. How much they had worried, and prayed, for our recovery. The girl with the ladybug earrings was standing at the desk, same smile and kindness now as when I couldn't remember her face.

So this is a thank you to my team. The doctors who saved my life, and the nurses who brought me back to it.

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