Moments of Horror
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Moments of Horror

Posted April 8, 1996

I stand beside our minivan.  It’s a cool night.  The moon is bright
and full.  The motor is running. The air conditioner is on, because I
like it cold in the car.  I’m waiting for the ambulance to pull away
from the house.  They haven’t left yet because they’re having a hard
time finding a vein to jab for the IV.  Her veins are small and tough,
and keep squirming away.  I look back over the minivan.  The red,
white and yellow beacons of the ambulance reflect millions of times on
the dewy roof surface.  It’s a hypnotic view, and I lose myself in

I stand beside the examination table in the ER.  We’ve been in this
same room for six hours now.  The table is hard and uncomfortable. It
doesn’t have any rails or arm rests, so she has to make a conscious
effort not to fall.  This is not easy, especially since she has been
wracked with non-stop contraction pain since we arrived.  Though the
top half can be raised up a few inches, it’s not enough.  I have to
beg for a pillow to keep her sane. One of my jobs right now is to
simply hold her arm from falling off the table.  Even small comforts
make a difference.

I sit on the edge of the bed at home.  She is lying there, wrapped in
a comforter.  Her nightdress is stained with bloody fluid. Tears are
welling up in her eyes, and she is sobbing.  I’m sad, but I haven’t
cried yet.  I’ve leaned over and am hugging her.  She looks back up at
me, and her eyes say that she is very, very sorry.  I tell her that
it’s not her fault. 

I stand next to the stretcher in pre-op.  Since we arrived eight hours
ago, no one has given her anything for the pain.  The friendly banter
of the nurses and anesthesiologist is probably equal parts planned and
spontaneous.  Even so, it helps distract her.  I remark on how many
times she has been asked in the last hour "when was the last time
you’ve eaten?" and "do you have any allergies to food or medication?"
and "are there any metal plates or screws in your body?"  I hope she
finds it amusing. 

I’m in the kitchen.  I am cooking dinner for my son, daughter,
sister-in-law, and niece-in-law.  They are visiting us, and hungry
after a long day at MetroZoo.  I prepare a simple casserole of bow-tie
pasta, green beans, and turkey breast chunks browned in olive oil,
oregano, basil, pepper and honey.  She is lying down in bed, very
scared.  She’s called the obstetrician’s office, and the nurse there
has told her that though she should spend the rest of the day off her
feet, spotting is nothing to worry about.  We don’t believe the nurse.

I’m in the surgical waiting room.  I’ve got a beeper in my pocket that
will go off when the doctor will arrive to tell me how it went.  I’ve
got my notebook computer with me.  I’m trying to distract myself with
work, and I manage to do so for about half an hour.  I just ate a
Snickers bar and a can of diet soda.  My hair is funky and my armpits
stink, but I don’t really give a damn.

I’m following the ambulance on the way to the hospital.  The driver
asked me to follow in my own vehicle, but not to run any red lights.
It’s two a.m., so traffic is light.  Even at the slightly elevated
speed I usually drive, the ambulance quickly forges ahead.  I marvel
at how far away I can still see the flashing lights.  I wonder how
many times I’ve seen other ambulances racing to emergency rooms and
thought nothing of it.  But someone is always riding in the back of
those ambulances.  This thought occupies me for several minutes. 

I stand next to the stretcher in pre-op.  A nurse comes up with three
small vials, and the nurse announces each one as it is injected into
the IV drop.  "This one will keep you from getting nauseous later."
"This one is the anesthetic."  "This one will make you not care what
we do to you."  I grin and ask if that last one is a controlled
substance.  The nurse replies, "Very controlled."  In thirty seconds,
she is on cloud nine.  I kiss her farewell, and she is smiling as they
wheel her into the operating theater.

I’m at the nurse’s station in ER.  I’m trying to get someone to give
her something for the pain.  They want to get a hold of her
obstetrician first.  Unfortunately, he’s not returning pages or beeps.
I impress upon them that she’s been going slowly insane for the past
few hours.  They say they’ll page the doctor one more time, and if he
doesn’t answer they’ll go ahead without him.  I want to ask them to
commit to a time, but they’ve wandered away before I actually do, so I
go back and try to help her work through the pain some more.

I’m standing next to the bed.  She asks me to call 911 to get an
ambulance to take her to the hospital.  I think we should just drive
to the hospital in our van, and say so.  She asks me to get a few
towels to put under her to handle any blood.  I get the towels.  She
lifts up so I can wrap the towels around her and we see that there’s
blood all over the bed.  I call 911.

I’m loitering near the nurse’s station in ER.  I’ve been kicked out of
the examining room so they can change the bloody pads and sheets.  The
ambulance team that brought her here a few hours earlier comes in
again, this time with a cardiac patient.  One of the team members
remembers me, and stops to ask after her.  I tell him she’s losing it.
He says he’s sorry, and asks how she feels.  I tell him physically
she’s in a lot of pain, and mentally she’s miserable.  He looks
apologetic and says that it was a stupid question.  I tell him it was
a kind question, and thank him for his concern.  I think of saying
that I respect him and his colleagues for being able to remain
compassionate against the backdrop of horror they see every day, but I
can’t think of how to phrase it without sounding like I’m making a
speech.  He wishes us well, and I thank him again.  He wanders off.

I’m in the surgical waiting room.  I call my sister-in-law and say
that she is in surgery now and should be out in just a few minutes.  I
ask her if she had any trouble getting the blood out of the
bedclothes.  She says everything came out, there are no stains.  I
thank her for watching the children.  I say I can’t imagine having to
deal with a six year old and a two year old at the hospital all night.
She blows me off.

I’m at work.  She calls me up and tells me they are going to MetroZoo.
She says she heard the heartbeat this morning, and it sounded slow and
strong.  She says they won’t give an ultrasound until the sixteenth
week, and unless anything is wrong there won’t be another.  The
insurance company is getting stingy.  I wish them a good time and hang
up.  I smile, and enjoy the thought of having a third child in October
for several minutes before resuming work.

I stand next to her gurney in the ultrasound suite.  The technician
works fast and competently.  I’m fascinated with the equipment and how
it works.  I look at the screen and try to make out what is visible.
The dark blob at the top of the screen is her bladder.  She’s had two
or three bags of fluid through her IV so far, so it’s full.  She says
she hopes the baby is dead, because she would not want it to still be
suffering.  In one position I see a dome-shaped object, and ask the
technician if it is the uterus.  He nods.  Inside the uterus I can see
what I believe is the fetus.  There is no space around it.  The
amniotic fluid is gone, and as far as I can tell there is no heart
beating, no movement.  I ask the technologist if he agrees with my
thought, and he does so quietly.  Tears stream down my face as I look
at the tragic images.

I’m next to her examination table in ER.  The pains come every twenty
seconds.  While we’ve been through two labors before, these pains are
easily the most severe.  She gets wild eyed and starts to wail, and I
remind her not to gasp and moan, but to breathe deliberately.  I’m
surprised she hasn’t smacked me or told me to shut up, because I’ve
said it maybe a hundred times.  I tell her I wish I could bear the
pain for her, and I mean it.  

I’m awakened out of a sound sleep. She says, "Bear, I’m having a
miscarriage.  I’m losing it."  I am alert.  She says the cramping has
gotten worse and is now turning into regular, sharp pains.  The
spotting of the evening is now an irregular, clumpy flow of blood.  I
get up and go out into the living room where her sister is sleeping.
I wake her sister up, who goes into our bedroom to comfort her and
call their parents.

Her surgeon has told me that everything went just fine.  He said he
removed all of the "tissue" and cleaned out the uterus.  The bleeding
has been stopped.  She’s in the recovery room, waking up from a light
general.  I go in and sit down.  She comes out of the bathroom and
sits down next to me.  I remark that she looks a little different.
Even at 12 weeks she was beginning to show a little.  We sit there
quietly.  She says, "we’ll go back to Plan A, okay?" referring to the
plans we’d made to get into shape.  Plans we’d made before she became
pregnant in January.  

We leave the hospital in about half an hour, returning home to our
children and kin.  We need time to mourn, to understand and deal with
the reality.  Even though this has happened once before, it wasn’t any
easier this time.  The world is a harsh place, but as a species and as
a society, it is what we make of it.  

It was a bad day, but better ones are coming.

catbear biz:  

Every moment happened exactly as described. This post was incredible therapy for me.