Thursday, March 10, 2016

why am i surprised?

It was late December, 1992 -almost 2 years to the day we had lost our son, Stephen.  My wife calls me:

“I’ve got this weird sensation like there’s a butterfly in my stomach.  No pain.  Just weird.”, she says.

“Well, you’re going in for another ultrasound tomorrow- why don’t you call the doc and see what he says?” I answered.

So she does.  The doc’s office says “it’s probably nothing, but why don’t you come in and we’ll check it”, and she calls me back and I say I’ll meet her at St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown Orange, California.

My wife was about 22 weeks pregnant.  Prior to this, we had lost our son, Stephen, who was born alive but way too premature (at about 22 weeks), and had suffered a subsequent miscarriage (at about 16 weeks) from another pregnancy- I almost lost her on that one due to a horrific hemorrhage that followed.  We were advised to not get pregnant again.  When we did get pregnant again in the summer of ’92, our doctors suggested we abort because it just wasn’t probably going to viable, but we couldn’t do that.  We enlisted a new OB who performed surgery, giving my wife a “cerclage” which is stitches in her uterus to keep premature labor from happening- and, he put her under a rigor of almost constant monitoring.

They begin the exam- my wife is no longer having that sensation, and the nurses are joking with us as they start.  As soon as the nurse gets the ultra-sound scanner on my wife’s belly, the whole tone of the room changes.  The nurse picks up the phone and says something so quietly I can’t hear her.  The OB comes into the room in just a few seconds, and they start looking at the scan.  Then the doctor utters the words we really didn’t want to hear.

“Debi.  You are in active labor, and the stitches have torn.”  And, just like that we start.  They kick the bed she’s laying on up, backwards so her feet are in the air.  They hang an IV of magnesium sulfate and get that going.  I looked at the scan, and it says “4cm”- holy shit.  Here we go.

They admit my wife to St. Joseph’s, but the only bed that is available with this amount of notice is in the Post-Partum ward- we’re about to lose another baby and she gets checked into a room that holds women who have just had a baby.  So cruel.  They’re telling us that it doesn’t look good- there’s a ton of damage to her cervix from the cerclage and now she’s bleeding pretty badly.  Whatever happens, she’s admitted and she’s not leaving the hospital until she delivers- whatever that may mean.

In other words- alive or dead.

I won’t go into all the details that followed, but suffice it to say that since I have a 5-year old son at home and a very busy work schedule, I become very dependent upon friends and family to help me- and, oh baby- did we have a support mechanism!  It functions like a well-oiled machine, and I get lots of time to get to be at the hospital while my wife goes in and out of various stages of labor for the next 2 MONTHS.

Yeah, you read that right.  Moms, take note: my wife was having labor pains for 2 months straight.  Let that sink in for a minute.  And all in “Reverse Trendelenburg” position.  (She was basically standing on her head for 2 months.)

On March 1, 1993, my wife came home, still pregnant.  She’s put on 100% bed rest and has an intra-uterine monitor implanted that connects to a telephone jack and regularly dials our OB’s office to send monitoring strips in.  (That was the weirdest freaking thing you ever saw.)  She’s home for 2 days, and goes into labor again- so off we go to the hospital.  My wife’s OB isn’t there, and the on-call takes one look at my wife’s chart and says, “This is NOT happening on my watch.”, and starts the magnesium sulfate/terbutaline all over again to stop the labor- and it does.  She comes back home the next day.

In the evening of March 9, it happens again.  We call the doctor, and her OB says, “This is getting ridiculous.  You’re about 30 weeks, which is early, but I don’t think we should keep putting you under stress.  Let’s do this.”  Off we go again- we’re going to have a baby!

We get to the hospital around 10PM.  We go into L&D and they are getting ready for a “High Risk Delivery”, which means that the delivery room is right next to an operating room.  The OB is there, and he is the absolute 5-star General of the “Not Screwing Around Crew”.  Monitors go on.  Sarah’s heart is doing well- a little high, but not un-normal.  Debi is prepped for surgery to remove the cerclage. And, that’s when it happens- Sarah’s heart monitor goes flat.  Asystole. 

The whole room stops.  Then it starts beating again after a few seconds.

OB: “If that f****ng happens again, we’re going to the OR.”

As soon as he finishes that statement, it happens again.

I’m immediately pushed out of the room, and a nurse literally throws a gown and mask at me in the hallway- “Put those on right now!”, she barks.  As the door closes, I see the crew start moving my wife to an adjoining operating room.

For those that don’t know, Caesarean’s come in 2 flavors: the “nice” version where a cut about 6 inches is done just below the belly button, resulting in not much scarring.  And, there’s the other kind, which is what they did to my wife: it’s basically a gigantic cut to allow unfettered access to the issue at hand.  One cut that goes through EVERYTHING- quick and decisive.

I enter the OR.  My wife has been given a local (spinal block) and she’s draped just below her chest.  They guide me to the head of the bed.  My wife is crying- she’s scared (I am, too) and she’s being rocked up and down on the table as the OB tries to gain a foothold. 

“I’d really like to know what they’re doing down there”, my wife says.

I look on the other side of the drape, and reply, “No.  You really don’t.”  I saw parts of my wife I never knew were there.

All of the sudden, at 12:10AM on March 10, 1993, Sarah is there.  But something is wrong.  She’s dark blue and non-responsive.  They suction her.  Nothing.  No breath sounds, and a heartbeat that isn’t workable.  They start working on her, and Deb and I cannot hold her or touch her.  Sarah is whisked out of the room while the OB literally removes my wife’s uterus, holds it in mid-air, turns it inside-out, pulls out what’s left of the cerclage from her cervix and very unceremoniously shoves it back inside.  Yes, I saw the whole thing.  Yes, I almost fainted- and remember that I am a former first-responder.  That visual really rocked me.

My wife is moved to the Post-Partum ward, but there will be no baby visits.  The doctors come in and tell us that it doesn’t look good.  Sarah was much earlier along than previously thought (about 28 weeks) and while her vitals are improving, she’s still non-responsive. She won’t wake up, and she won’t eat.  They’re pretty sure she was oxygen deprived too long, and has suffered a potentially profound brain injury.   She is in the NICU and we should prepare for the worst.

After all that.  We’re gonna lose.  Again.

I begin making the phone calls to family and friends at 1AM.

I probably don’t need to tell you what’s going through our minds.  We’ve come so far; we’ve done absolutely everything that can be done.  We’re thinking that our first OB was right- we should have aborted.  Now, we’re going to have – at best – a brain damaged child that is going to need constant care, or – at worst – another funeral.  I’m not angry.  I’m just numb, and I mean REALLY numb.  It’s all clear to me, but I don’t pray or cry out to God- I just can’t.  There’s nothing left to say or implore. 

After the phone calls, I go back into my wife’s room, and she’s asleep (“passed out” is more like it) because of the stress.  I left the hospital and went home around 2AM and stayed up most of the night talking with our then roommate (and drummer in my current band), Gary Zdenek.  It’s weird- I’m partially relieved that this chapter is closed and another is starting, but I’m scared to death about what’s next.  I don’t pray- I don’t want to.  God feels very far from me right now.   I think I got about an hour of “sleep” and got back up to go back to the hospital.

I got to the hospital around 7AM and went to my wife’s room.  She’s not there.  I go back to the nurse’s station and ask where she is.

“Are you Debi Miller’s husband?” she asks with a stern look on her face.

“Yes, I am.”, I reply dumbly.

“Listen.  I don’t know if you know this or not, but you’re married to Rambo.  She woke up this morning and demanded that her PAA (Patient Administered Anesthetic) be removed and she be taken to the NICU.  I got the PAA out, but when I went to get her a wheelchair, she had already gotten up and walked to the elevator and went to the NICU by herself.”, she tells me. (This is a literal quote.)

Remember- my wife had had her abdominal muscles cut during the procedure the night before.  For her to get and walk was next to impossible and almost certainly excruciatingly painful.  And, she has no painkillers with her!

I get down to the NICU- and I cannot believe my eyes.  My wife is breast-feeding my daughter!  She is awake and looking at mom!  The whole NICU is just completely dumbfounded, as she apparently woke up as soon as my wife touched her, and she was hungry.  This shouldn’t be happening, and more than one nurse comes to tell me things like “I have never seen something like this happen before” or “This is a miracle”- and, I have to wholeheartedly agree.

Still, there is a road to hoe.  We should be prepared for a substantially brain-damaged child; she’s going to have developmental issues; she’s going to have physical issues like lung and heart problems – I DON’T CARE!!!  SHE’S ALIVE AND WE’LL JUST DEAL WITH IT!!!!

After 2 weeks in the NICU, we brought Sarah home.  And, here’s the best part of all- she’s fine.  No brain damage.  No developmental issues.  No heart and lung problems- she’s a perfectly normal, healthy girl who is the light of her daddy’s eye.

So, there you have it.  God provided again.  Why should I be surprised by that?