Happy Birthday to you our son. Our first, our last and our only son. You are beyond special for many reasons. But most of all, you are the miracle we prayed for, our Cohen, our namesake and now our family is complete. Today is a day of appreciation and recognition for those who worked so tirelessly to help our family stay a family.
I took a page from the AFE Foundation’s founder, Miranda Klassen, and decided to start an annual trip to the hospital to give thanks to everyone who helped save my life. Jonathan and I packed cookies and cards and got to the hospital this morning at 6:45a. Just in time before the night shift was turning to day shift and we could get a double bang for our buck making sure to see everyone who was there around a 24 hour cycle.
As we drove up to the hospital and valet at the labor and delivery entrance at Prentice Women’s Hospital, a wave of nausea came upon me. The last time I was in this driveway, I had my daughter in the back seat, I was about to give birth when the ever happy valet guy came to the driver’s side of the car saying the same thing he always said every time he saw a woman in labor– “I believe it’s going to be someone’s birthday today!” Normally a great thing to hear from an excited parent to be, but that day, May 30th 2013, I wasn’t excited, for me it was like hearing I was on death’s doorstep. Today was definitely different. A whole year later and it is true what they say, “Time Heals.” It doesn’t heal everything all at once, but it does get easier. And today was no exception.
I smiled at the valet and he didn’t say “Happy Birthday” (I was a little thinner). One traumatic recurrence averted. Then we went to check in and the Director of L&D obstetrics at Northwestern, Kim Armour, met us downstairs to give us our VIP tour. I knew I was going to get to LEAVE today — not just arrive. Another positive thought. I took a deep breath getting off the elevator on the 8th floor. This is where I gave birth. Not so easy. I was pale and Jonathan was holding my hand tightly doing his best to tell me to relax and that he was there because last time he wasn’t. I took another deep breath, he was right and WE walked through the double doors together. Down the hallway where I normally would have gone if I was in labor, I did not need to go. “Guess what?” I thought to myself, “I am not pregnant.” I cracked a smile and we turned away from that hallway into the “Restricted Personnel Only” doors and walked straight into the nurses station. It was a strange feeling I was having. A sort of DejaVu. I had been here before.
Kim went to tell the night shift we were there. One by one nurses started to come in. Shaking my hand, telling me that they were in the room the day I gave birth. One by one, I listened. I told them I wanted to hear from their perspective what happened. How often does an emergency like this happen? How stressed are you and how chaotic does an operating room get when all Hell breaks loose? How did they do their jobs the rest of the day? What did they tell their families that day they went home? How did they decompress? Some of the nurses knew my story. Some were students and didn’t know what an AFE was but were eager to learn about it. Some had had their hands on me, in me and around me and were the very life-savers that were around the OR that people tend to forget. One nurse introduced herself to me as Jessica. I knew her immediately, I just didn’t know how I knew her. She said, “You probably don’t remember me, but I was the one who performed CPR on you.” I remembered her figure, her strong hands and her incessant counting. I said, “Oh, you were the one who broke my ribs!” She said “And I would do it again if it helped save a life.” And it sure did. And I would never have wanted anyone else doing it. Thank you Jessica. I later found out through a friend that one of the nurses actually got closure from seeing me. She told my friend who works at the hospital that she knew I was ok and she had seen me on TV, but seeing me in person was what she needed in order to KNOW I was ok. We sat for a Q&A. My husband as eloquent a speaker as he always had been: refined, intelligent and articulate, was emotional and teary-eyed through his gratitude.
We then moved on to the 13th floor in the hospital. The floor where, once out of Surgical ICU, I would stay for the next month. I was just barely OK. I knew I was safe. I knew I needed to recognize that staff who worked so hard to keep me comfortable and keep my spirits up every day the doctors came in to tell me I wasn’t going home. So I needed to get it together. I’m not going to lie. Seeing room 1368 still affects me. I walked past it very quickly to not make eye contact with the numbers. I’m still not over it. But I’m giving myself a break and owning that for now. I’m not so strong.
Back in the break room on that floor I saw Diane. That nurse is Jacob’s angel. She was the first to hold him, take care of him and be there for him as his surrogate when I could not be there. She took care of my sister and my sister bonded with her. When I saw Diane I held her and I cried. Just cried. We gave her a cookie and a thank you card and we just talked about the things our children are doing today. Nothing else needed to be said.
I had seen other nurses throughout that morning, some I knew and some who were new to me. No matter who they were, they got a cookie and a thank you card. I didn’t care if they personally saved my life. They save lives every day and they should be recognized for it. Whether they directly or indirectly affected my life, they work as a team. Their collaborative effort helped me and kept me alive to be here writing this today. I am indebted to them, forever.
As I was wrapping up, Dr. Hyo Park came in. I love that woman. She is a 3rd year resident but she had the unfortunate draw from the deck to see me twice before I gave birth. Once as she was in rotation and working for the Gynecological Oncologist when I had my consultation in the third trimester (he was the one I was telling if I needed a hysterectomy, he was my doctor) and then a second time the day I went into deliver Jacob. Months later, she was now on an OB rotation and she was there during my delivery.
You can imagine her face when chaos ensued. I asked her a bunch of questions and to her credit, she answered them like a doctor. “To the naked eye, the placenta…” “We are trained for emergencies…” “The crash cart was…” And then casually she said “The first cart wasn’t strong enough, so we got a second one.” WHAT?? I was freaking out, but not because of what you might think would be an obvious reason to freak out. She looked exhausted. She was coming off of a long shift and stopped by to say hi. I didn’t press, but I WILL when she has had enough sleep. I didn’t tell her this at the time, but during my regression work (to go back in and deal with my PTSD) a couple of weeks before, I saw that happen. First attempt didn’t work, but second one did. I didn’t know what it meant until that moment.
I told her she received the brunt of my anger when I stayed at the hospital and it was so unwarranted. She was the first face I saw every morning at 5am to check on my “everything” and also the first to always tell me the same thing– “You are not going home today.” I told Dr. Levitt to get her transferred because I was going to kill her. I can’t tell you how much that woman means to me today. I adore her and apologized profusely for my insanity and insensitivity. I ultimately said to her “You were always meant to be a doctor. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. Not me or any other crazed patient having a bad day(or in my case, a month). You are an amazing doctor and an incredible human being.”
She was grateful to hear it and then she said “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I had known you were doing great and I was proud of the work we had all done to help you, but as I was watching you on TV, I had another AFE patient crisis. Here it is, I am amazed at how well you are doing and I have another one in my path. This one makes my third.” Doctors go an entire career never seeing one AFE in their entire lifetime and this poor soul has had 1 in every year she has been a resident. I asked what happened? She looked down, very un-doctorly-like and said “She didn’t make it.” I was devastated. I immediately asked about the other one, and she said she survived. All very random cases, but nevertheless, a reminder that what we are speaking about is really life or death. My life continues and that other woman’s life has ended, like a game of Russian-roulette.
Today was an emotional, uplifting, inspiring and spiritual day. It also was an incredible reminder that life can be very fleeting. Those nurses and doctors worked hard to keep me here and I’ll be damned if I don’t go back from time to time to acknowledge their tenacity and love for what they do. They usually never get to see a patient after they leave the hospital. I completely understand why that is, but if you as the patient could have seen their eyes today, their excitement to know I was ok and let them know I KNEW that it was their work that made me ok, I think many of you would go back and thank your health care workers and they would welcome it.
When we were done with the hospital, I was inspired to LIVE. We picked up our son and daughter. I turned off my Re-Birthday and moved onward to Jacob’s very happy birthday. He can’t blow out the candles, walk, or eat cake, but with one look in his eyes, one smile that glows and arms that open wide for an embrace, those were the only reminders I needed to know that today is Jacob’s day. And will be for the rest of his life.