Because a life unexamined is lived without intention.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
In The End
Recently thinking on secrets...things known only by a few. Dark cabinets in the back of the attic draped with webs and dust, hinges rusted. There is something I've never put to print. Something that my mind skitters away from with frantic heaves every time my thoughts even stumble into the periphery of it. Sitting here, I can feel my pulse accelerate; stunning, the power of the mind. As I type, I'm not sure this will ever post. But perhaps it's time that at least here, within the safety of an October afternoon...sunshine and the smell of warm bread and the sanctuary that is today and a flat screen...I can write about what happened eleven years ago.
First, I ask that you take me seriously when I say this may not be for you to read. Sometimes a story can be a seed. Roots entangle and invade and suddenly there is a previously unknown fear germinating in the back of our thoughts. What happened to me is unbelievably rare. I cannot actually guarantee that it will not happen to you, but the chances are smaller than the dot of the period after the words `next to none.` However, if you or a loved one are anticipating surgery soon or there is a pregnancy currently in your world, you may want to click off and find something else to read.
In our world of medical miracles, there are moments of catastrophe.
I was pregnant....but this was so much more than that. I went to deliver my darling Brennan. (he was quite the baby, eventually to weigh in over 10lbs) Needless to say, things didn't progress well. The alarm sounded and I was rushed in to receive a Spinal (a regional anesthesia that numbs from the chest down) and wheeled off for one of those c-sections where the mother is awake, immediate bonding made possible by marvelous modernity. When I mentioned I could still feel the contractions, the darling doc reassured me it was only in my mind as he reached out and unobtrusively pinched my belly--I yelped and he jumped nearly a foot. The look of panic on his face terrified me....this wasn't supposed to happen.
Brennan's heart rate began to drop and the room exploded in activity as I was prepped for general anesthesia. There are two parts to anesthesia; the paralytic--which, as its name implies, paralyzes your body; and the amnesia drugs--the ones which put your mind to sleep. There are no actual pain blockers--they just put you out so that you are not conscious during the procedure and therefore, remember nothing.
No one knew...could have possibly known, my tremendous resistance to amnesia drugs.
I knew nothing about anesthesia. Nothing about surgical procedures in general as I had never needed such before...
There was something in my throat, I couldn't swallow. I tried to tell the nurse at my side....but I couldn't move. Not a muscle, nothing. And then slowly I became aware I wasn't breathing. Can you imagine such a realization? My chest wasn't moving, I couldn't inhale as hard as I tried, and yet....yet I could still hear everything? At this point my logical, rational mind added up the numbers--there is no way I can not be breathing and still thinking unless... It was at that moment, that I knew I was dying. It is immensely difficult to explain the difference between the words "think" and "know." If you are in the midst of a car crash, you might gasp, "Oh no, I think I'm going to die!" It's a possibility. But when it's a knowing....the weight of such is staggering. (I had been intubated and a machine was breathing for me--I had no idea) All I had left was to pray the Lord would bring a good mother to take care of my boys.
And then the scalpel slipped inside of my flesh.
I will never watch a horror movie that shows these types of things. Lying there while they pushed organs aside, peeled back tissue to slice through the muscle beneath to save my child. There was only screaming in my mind.
The average section takes 4-7 minutes to actually remove the baby. Mine took eleven.
Later, when I discovered that the doctors had actually known--I could hardly handle that thought. The moment the knife pierced my skin, my heart rate went through the roof--and horror washed over everyone in that room. They had to save my baby....and they knew I could feel it. As a doctor who's very life and breath was spent healing and fixing and preserving---can you imagine proceeding? They couldn't give me any more drugs as they would have gone straight to my son, but as soon as the cord was cut, they dosed me with the most powerful stuff they had.
I woke screaming.
Brennan was just fine. I was not. I was discharged within thirty-six hours regardless of my physical condition because the trauma of remaining inside the hospital was absolutely overwhelming. I had to escape the white metal bed and the narrow room that smelled of antiseptic and whispered of hope as small as the windows. I had to have the lights on all of the time. I resisted sleep to the point of madness.
Later I met with the anesthesiologist. She was Romanian. She was unbelievably beautiful. She wept. Her shoulders shaking, she told me it was the worst day of her life--her entire job was to prevent pain and she had failed me. I told her I held nothing against her. No one could have known, there was no fault. I cried the whole way home at the thought of her anguish.
I requested my medical file. It's in a box upstairs right now...when I got to the doctor's notes on the second page, I stopped reading. It's there in case I ever need surgery. I pray not.
Although I did meet with a counselor for a time, the real healing I found with chubby arms wrapped around my neck and blue eyes wide that looked into mine....how would that little boy's life have been different if I hadn't been there? I had an infant and a toddler, both of whom needed a mother; there was no time for me to curl up in a ball. Sometimes I truly believe the best cure to be the ritual and routine of simply living. Morning light led to breakfast which led to dishes and baths and walks in the park and learning how to hum again. Slowly my mind healed. I still slept with the light on. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder made a strange and difficult companion to motherhood. It changed me. Sometimes I wonder at who I might have been without this....for now I knew such things existed. I held longer, closer, tighter to my loved ones. Fruit was sweeter....the sunset deeper....the stars brighter.
Every trauma leaves it's mark upon us. But in the end, it's our choices that define us. Not the marks.