Yesterday, I turned 37 years old. It was the birthday I have looked forward to my whole life. I never thought I would ever see this age. I almost didn’t. This is the story of my near death experience, and how it changed my life.
36 IS THE LAST OF THEM
My maternal grandmother died of heart attack when she was only 36. My mother told me this as a child, and I thought, at that time, she was very old to die at 36. Mom told me it was actually very young. Then, on my mother’s 37th birthday, she told me she was officially older than her mother when she died. For some reason, I carried this around with me my entire life. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I wouldn’t live to see 37.
When I found out I was pregnant, concern grew in my heart when I realized I would be 36 years old on the day Asher was to be born. I kept telling myself it would be ok. When all of the craziness began to happen with my pregnancy, I turned off that fear and concentrated on what I had to do: carry the baby and be a mommy. This was all that mattered.
THE WEEK AFTER GIVING BIRTH
Two days after returning home from giving birth to my son, I was admitted into the hospital with fluid around my heart and lungs, heart murmurs, and high blood pressure. I was there a week, but I had survived. Maybe getting to 37 wasn’t an impossibility.
Soon, a schedule developed for our family. None of us had much sleep, but, we were happy.
WHAT IS GOING ON?
I awoke at 6 a.m. with Asher on November 29th. He was one month old that day. I had to go to the bathroom before I got him to nurse, and as I was sitting there, a very large clot came out. It was about the size of a basketball player’s hand. Of course, I thought it was quite strange, but I didn’t worry.
The reason I didn’t worry was because the previous Wednesday, I had a similar experience. After the clot, a stream of blood began to pour out of me, then another clot, then it stopped. I thought it was strange, so I called the doctor. They told me to come down to the hospital, and after they checked my blood, they released me and said this sometimes happens after having a baby. My blood counts were fine.
This was different
Back to the 29th. After the clot came out, I was ok. No blood, no big deal. I went in, picked up Asher, and we cuddled and rocked for about two hours. (Yes, I know…I spoil him with love)
When the blood started flowing, it was soaking my pants immediately. I jumped up and went into the bedroom where my husband was sleeping.
“Steve, you have to take the baby, I am bleeding everywhere!”
He took Asher, and I headed for the bathroom. I was covered in blood as if I had been stabbed, and it was pouring out of me. POURING. There was nothing I could do to make it stop. In the moment, I was concerned, but was unsure of what to do.
I told my husband to come quick, and when he saw me in the bathroom, he said, “We are going to the emergency room NOW”. He grabbed the phone to call our neighbor to come and watch Asher, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to clothe myself with all of this blood. I had my nursing tank and sweatshirt on, but I could not figure out what to do with the bottom half of me.
It Happened FAST
Only maybe 5 minutes had elapsed since I felt the first of the blood in the rocking chair and when I got up from the toilet. Steve had gotten me a towel to put between my legs. After I stood, while Steve was on the phone with the neighbor, I told him to tell her to send someone over NOW. The weakness hit like a brick in the face. I walked to the door in the bathroom, turned, and fell to the floor. Looking to Steve for help, I told him to call 911. I was dying and doing it quickly. Crawling across the floor, I fell into a seated position against the bed.
ON THE FLOOR
We all want to be remembered as stating something fabulous when we die. Unfortunately, this is not how it happened for me. All I could do was to tell Steve over and over again how much I loved him.
In the meantime, my neighbor had arrived. When she saw me on the floor, she froze. This woman is superwoman. She is fantastic at everything she attempts. But, at that moment, I saw pure fear. The baby was screaming. I figure he probably knew something was wrong. Amber just stood there. I said, “Amber, can you please get the baby.” You know, she may have been wondering how to get over to the basinet, because I was in the middle of the floor. She stepped over me, and Steve had to show her the toilet. She said, “Oh God”. Then, she pulled herself together and got the baby.
“I want you to know I love you, Steve.” I repeated frequently.
A couple of times he had to leave the room to help Amber find things for the baby. I was left alone. VERY alone. I prayed quiet prayers. For the first time in my life, I was praying as if God was there in front of me. This prayer was a conversation. Could I hear God’s voice audibly? No, but I could feel His voice, and I knew what He was saying. Words of comfort and calm. So I was. Calm.
I was still hemorrhaging quite a bit. Steve laid on the floor with me until we heard the ambulance. We have 3 dogs who love to announce the coming of any blaring cop car, ambulance, fire truck, etc. Annoying generally, but I told Steve, “I have never been so happy to hear those dogs howl.” He laughed nervously.
The paramedic came into the room and stood over me. “Some women have strange periods after they give birth,” said she. “Uh, no, this isn’t a period…look at the toilet” Steve said. She stuck her head around the corner, and turned back to Steve and said, “Go tell them to bring the stretcher now!”. She stood beside me, and I leaned over on her leg and told her, “Please help me…please help me…please help me”.
The whole time I was on the floor, I fought to stay aware. There were so many times I almost passed out, but I fought and fought and fought. I wanted to have some control of the situation. Yeah, right.
The guys came into the room with the stretcher. They picked me up and put me on, and then they lifted my legs. Ah…that was so much better.
As they were wheeling me out of the room, I was telling Amber where the bottles were (that we never used because I was nursing) and where the formula was they gave us from the hospital. For the first time, I was ok with the fact Asher was going to have to take formula. Up until this point, he had only breast milk: even through all of the previous drama. This was different. I knew I wouldn’t see him for a while, and he had to eat. The paramedic told me to concentrate on myself because that baby would be fine. He needed his mother.
In the ambulance, they tried to start another IV. I had lost so much blood already that finding a vein was difficult. They cut off my sweatshirt. Very sad for me, because that was my daddy’s adidas sweat shirt from the early 80’s. I loved that sweat shirt, but I didn’t have the strength to take it off.
The first IV didn’t work, and it hurt like hell. It was the size of a drill bit, or at least it felt that way. The woman paramedic found a vein the first try. (Women rock) My blood pressure was something like 70 over 50. Once they had me stable, we got going.
The Ride in the Ambulance
The drive to the hospital was interesting. We were flying, sirens were blaring, and I knew we were running all kinds of red lights. You have to go over Chapman Mountain to get to the hospital from here, and as we were going over it, I looked up into the sky. It was a cold November day, and there were big puffy clouds covering up only some of the bright blue sky. I wondered how it would feel to die. What actually happened?
I was frightened.
The calm feeling from earlier was gone. As the tires rolled along, I knew I was closer and closer to death. I was not ready. I had a new baby, a husband who is great, but who would be in a terribly difficult situation with me gone, a mother who loved me, a sister who would be devastated, and my daddy who would miss his little girl. As the clouds passed by, I could feel the ambulance take the exit towards the hospital.
MENU OF SUFFERING
When we arrived, the hospital nurse outside of the ambulance began to spout off all of the tragedies of the day as if they were a restaurant menu. “Yeah, we have had a busy morning! A stroke, a heart attack…” and she rattled off several other life threatening situations. All I could think was how I was not alone this day in my fear.
They rolled me into the ER. About 10 nurses surrounded me and moved me to the ER bed. The stretcher was covered in blood. Though the ride to the hospital was mostly quiet except for the paramedic asking me if I was still with her, I did mention to her that I was still bleeding a lot. I knew it was going to be bad, even with the towel, but I didn’t know it would be that bad.
All Hands on Deck
The nursing staff cut off my nursing tank while an RN started another IV. Two IV’s going on full blast with fluids. My blood pressure was 55 over 30. There was one nurse to my right who was such a sweetheart. I looked at her name tag and said, “Hi Jackie”. I don’t know if her name was Jackie, but it was something that started with a “J”. She looked at me with this confused look. I said, “I read your name tag.” She smiled and said, “I didn’t think I recognized you”. Another nurse, Josh, said, “I know…it’s confusing when they do that.” They laughed. A moment to laugh at was exactly what I needed.
Once they had me set up, Jackie and Josh began to clean me up. Jackie removed the towel. She asked if I wanted it as she held it up. There was no hope for that poor towel, so I said, “No”. The ER doctor came in and told me my doctor was on his way. After the ER doctor left, I looked over at Jackie and said, “I am really scared”. I could tell she was, too. She was touched by this and was fighting back tears. She said, “It’s going to be ok, dear.”
RELIEF AT THE SIGHT OF YOUR FACE
The gynecologist came into the room, and I was really doing poorly. I felt relieved seeing his face.
Steve had arrived. He had to stay behind to get everything ready for our neighbor who was watching Asher. The gynecologist told me all the things they were to do, and the ER doctor kept reminding him there was a lot of blood. She instructed him to look. He lifted the sheet and said, “Oh, that is a lot of blood. Is she ready? Let’s go”.
Jogging Through The Halls
They wheeled me through the hospital with a slight jog. My poor husband had packed me a bag and had the breast pump bag with him, too. The bags were falling off his shoulders, and they were going so fast, he could barely catch up. He would catch up, tell me I would be ok, he loved me, and fall back again. If it had not been such a dramatic situation, I would have laughed out loud.
As the doctor was calling down for blood, running down the hall, and telling me we would be there soon, I suddenly started having labor pain type of pains. It was severely painful. “It hurts, it hurts,” I cried tearless cries. I couldn’t move I was so weak. The tram worker had the tram held for us, and we got on the train to get to the women’s center OR. My husband said my fingernails had turned purple, and I was whiter than the sheet. My body was dying.
I Love You
I said, “I love you” for the last time to my husband as I was wheeled into OR. The anesthesiologist introduced himself, and I said, “I know you. You were there for my c-section. I’m so glad it’s you.” The little operating table they had hoisted me onto was so narrow. I kept telling the OR nurse I was going to fall. They finally got the arm straps in place, placed the mask on my face, and I was out.
OPERATION AND ICU
The events that unfolded while I was out I didn’t learn about until later. I was in surgery for an hour and a half, I had received 4 units of blood, my blood pressure was dangerously low, they had to bring in another doctor for consultation, and they had taken my uterus.
When I woke up, I was in ICU. They wouldn’t let anyone back to see me for 2 hours. My dad had arrived, and my sister and mother were on their way. Mom had to fly to get to me. Several of our friends were there with Steve. The doctor came in and said the surgery went well, and though he had tried, he could not save my uterus. I was so stoned on medication, it wasn’t for another day or so that I realized the gravity of what had happened.
The ICU nurse was an angel. She helped me when I became sick from all of the anesthesia, and she helped me find my morphine pump button when I was in agony but barely able to move. Thank you to all nurses. You are saints.
Steve came back as soon as my blood pressure stabilized a bit, and I could see the stress all over his face. I asked about Asher, and he said the baby was fine. He told me about my family, and that my dad was there. I asked him to please let my dad come back.
The nurse let Steve and Dad come in at the same time. I told my Dad I wanted some of his homemade vegetable soup so bad. He smiled and cried.
Mom and my sister Allison got there and came back. I was so cold! The nurse put a hot air blower under the sheet. After about 2 minutes, in my drunken stupor, I told mom, “My goodies are hot, my goodies are hot!” I have never used that term before, nor had I ever heard it. Crazy. Mom and Allison giggled, and I smiled. Ah…laughter was a nice change.
My gynecologist, the one I loved and who had delivered Asher, had seen early Monday morning that I was in ICU. He came in and apologized for not being there. Crazy, huh? I told him it was ok because he had to be with his family. I told him they had to remove my uterus. Of course he knew this. He said it was ok because it was either that or die. I said they made a good choice.
After about 12 hours in ICU, they took me to a room. The next few days were absolutely the worst of my entire life. I missed my son because he was not allowed to visit me in the hospital. Plus, I wanted to get pregnant again. I wanted to birth another child. I cried more in those few days than all of the tears of my life put together. Another hard choice I had to make was whether or not to continue nursing. I chose to quit, and it broke my heart. This decision was so hard I can barely even think back about it without crying. This was going to be my only naturally born child, and I did not have the strength to care for him.
They had to give me another 2 units of blood as well. This made 6 units of blood total. That is a lot of blood.
I had intense pain from 2 operations in the same place in the same month, and my hormones were a disaster. But, I was alive. The doctor told me 15 more minutes, and I would have died. Somehow, I already knew it.
They released me from the hospital 4 days later. I cried and cried. How was I suppose to care for my child? I could barely walk! I couldn’t even hold him without having significant pain. Thankfully, my mother stayed with me for the week, and my dad came back for the next week.
It has been a slow recovery. I still have some pain in the area of my incision, and I still struggle with weakness from time to time.
Keeping it together
The mental recovery was the most difficult. I cried for 2 weeks, and my husband just could not stand it. The traumatic event exhausted his mind and heart. He was almost to his breaking point.
I called my daddy and told him I couldn’t stop crying. He said something to me that changed my future coping capabilities. He said,
“Autumn, you have to gain control of yourself. You cannot and should not live your life this way. You have a beautiful baby, a wonderful husband, and it is time for you to take charge of these emotions. I know you are hurting, but you have to learn how to live again.”
I knew he was right. So, anytime after that when I just needed a good cry, I would go off by myself, let it all out, regain composure, and then get back to my family. A mild anti-depressant helped out as well. I weaned myself off of those after 3 months. The time had come to stand on my two feet and be the mom and wife I knew I could be.
I AM 37 YEARS OLD
Now, my son is 10 months old, and I am 37. I know at some point I will die.
Here is what I have learned about death by almost doing it:
- I am more prepared for what that feels like.
- I know that though you may want control of the situation, the only thing you can do is fight.
- Sometimes living after almost being dead is harder.
- I am stronger than I have ever been.
- I know that any day can be the last one.
So, I live my life unconcerned about what others think, but I walk hard and quickly towards happiness. I live as though I could die at any moment and appreciate every breath.
Happy Birthday to me. 🙂