It was July 10, 2005. I had been having sharp pains down my right side and I began to get concerned. I called everyone I knew who had appendicitis as a kid to ask them what the symptoms were like. Finally that Sunday the sharp pains became so strong they were hard to ignore. At the fervent urging of my mother in-law I called my general internist and asked what I should do. I was 33 at the time and had been in good health until recently. My mind darted for answers trying to solve the puzzle about what could be causing this pain. He advised I go and get it checked out. Better safe than sorry. So I did.
The waiting room
My husband drove me to the Emergency room. There we checked in and waited. In triage they ask all the questions they ask a woman. I answered the best I could including when I had my last period which I always found peculiar that even if you go in for tennis elbow they still ask about your last period from the time you are about 13 until much later. I answered that it had been about a month since that special visit had occurred but I was not late for its next scheduled arrival.
After triage they sent me back to the waiting room to sit. My eyes scanned the waiting room. I searched for the comfort of my husband Andrew’s hand. It was warm and reassuring. It had that rough can do strength that comes from being a carpenter for many years. Although I didn’t know what was wrong I knew we would face whatever it was together.
Andrew and I had only recently been wed. It was a beautiful beach wedding. We were in our early 30’s and had two wonderful boys. He had Tyler in his first marriage and I had Nico from mine. They were older now and primarily living with their other parents. We missed the boys and felt that perhaps we could try again at marriage and at children and try to do a better job of it this time around with the maturity and experience that time afforded us.
All this raced through my head for what seemed an eternity yet it was only about 20 minutes in the lightly populated emergency room waiting area. A woman from a car crash was rolled through given priority. I was glad that wasn’t me.
The human pin-cushion
I was taken back into a bed thinly veiled by a light cotton curtain that tried its best to be cheerful in a white and blue floral pattern. I disrobed out of my festive Hawaiian print mini skirt and soft cotton pink V-neck tee. The hot July heat of Arizona baked me on the way to the hospital but now I was chilled. Not only from the generous air-conditioned room it was a chill of fear of the unknown as I lay back into the bright white room ready to accept my fate whatever that may be.
My husband’s blue eyes were bright and supportive yet deeper cast a shadow of concern he had as neither one of us had explanation for the pain I was feeling. The first nurse came in to take my vital signs and all was well. The doctor came in and poked and prodded me a bit. “Are you using birth control?” I was asked. “I am not trying to prevent pregnancy,” was my reply. Having just been married we weren’t actively trying but we weren’t actively preventing it either. The doctor had me go into the restroom to provide a sample that would say whether a new life was on the way.
About 15 minutes later the doctor was back “Well you’re not pregnant.” I was accepting of the news and anticipated the diagnosis of what the culprit of the pain was. “Let’s get some blood work and find out what’s going on.”
The young nurse may have been new. Maybe she just wasn’t good at drawing blood. I have those challenging small veins that are difficult for even the most experienced nurses. It had been 8 tries later that my nerves of steel began their first signs of wear. The nurse finally looked up to see the tense expression in my face and went to get a more experience phlebotomist she must have been a Edward fan from Twilight as she quickly and successfully took the several vials of blood from my arm and left with them much like a stealthy vampire in purple kitten scrubs.
Someone owes me a drink
Unfortunately I am one of those people with very narrow veins. It is never a pleasant situation when blood must be drawn. I avoid an IV at all costs including the decision to have my son at home with a midwife in order to avoid them. So when the young nurse approached me once again having been given instruction to give me an IV. I being peace loving and not prone to confrontation pushed out the words “No offense.” I started, “but I have small veins can you make sure an experienced nurse preps my IV?”
The human pin-cushion portion of the exam gave way to that which caused me to be much more empathetic to turkeys being stuffed for Thanksgiving. There was a committee down there trying to figure out what was going on. They were going to start investigating in other areas around the back at which time I jokingly stated “Hey my policy is dinner at least a drink, I am pretty sure someone owes me a drink at this point.” Everyone laughed a little. I received a temporary stay from the anal probing by the doctor who thought it best to get a scan of me first. I let out a relieved breath. At least that is one thing I didn’t have to go through today, not yet anyway.
Facing death and the end of dreams.
Hours had past and word had spread to my family that I was in the hospital. My mother and father, father in -law and mother in-law and her sister and her sister’s husband a recently retired Lutheran minister all came to the hospital to offer me support. I was being wheeled to the MRI scanner when they arrived.
They wheeled me in my adjustable bed unit to the MRI scan room which was still occupied by the previous patient and so I was left to wait for a minute or two in the hallway. I started asking my body tough questions about what was wrong with me. Willing it to give up its secrets to me, I didn’t want to be surprised by these doctors I wanted to know. Why wouldn’t anyone say anything? Was I going to die?
Just then the door to the MRI room was opened and I was wheeled in. As if he were reading a grocery list or something as innocuous the technician ran through his shpeel ending with “Are you or do you have a chance of being pregnant?” “They told me I wasn’t.” I dutifully answered and with that I was laid on my back and like a retracting lipstick I went into the tube of the MRI machine. The bluish lights surrounded me as I closed my eyes and waited for what was next.
My body may have been hurting but my hearing worked really well. I heard mumblings from the discussion going on the observation room where the technicians sat. Something about “uterine blockage” is what I caught. “…possibly three”. “Three? Three what? Three tumors?” What? What does that mean? I willed my mind not to panic. “It’s going to be ok” I told myself. If there are tumors they can be removed. Yet my mind would not be still. It raced to outcomes of hysterectomies Andrew and I would not have our baby. I was consoled that we had the boys yet my heart mourned for the child that Andrew and I would not share together. How would I tell him? How would he react?
I reflected on my mortality as I was rolled back to the curtained area. My family was in the waiting room waiting for me. What would I tell them?
The Lord works in mysterious ways.
I had been at the hospital now for four and a half hours. Only my mother was with me at first after the MRI. My husband had gone to tell the rest of the family who was out in the waiting room that I was back from testing. During that moment I looked up into my mother’s eyes and I cried. I lost my will, my ability to be strong. The poking, the prodding, the unanswered questions, the blockages, and no baby all hit me like a tsunami drowning me in emotion.
I had composed myself by the time Andrew returned with the rest of the family not wanting to worry them but he saw it in my tear stained face. He was scared.
The family instinctively circled around me at my bedside. An instinctive ritual seen in may animals the circling around the weakest. In a bond of support and protection to offer comfort and love. I felt loved and I felt so blessed in that moment to have these wonderful people circling me and loving me. Even if I did have to die, it still felt like it would be ok if they were there with me.
I looked over at my uncle in-law and said “I know you are retired. But would you pray for me?” Together my family prayed a Muslim, a Catholic, a few Lutherans, and one or two unsure of any prescribed Faith though we knew the power of the Great Spirit of the Earth and Sky. We all prayed together in that moment not to spare me only to guide me and offer me strength and comfort in whatever my journey was to be from that moment on.
The hospital staff was gathering the paperwork to have me admitted into the hospital for further testing and observation. I would be spending the night. The words dropped on me like a prison sentence from a judge. I was not free to go home. I was not free at all I would be here, in a room, in a bed. The world felt so small, it closed in on me and made it difficult to breathe. It wasn’t death that scared me so much in that moment. It was the claustrophobic feeling of losing control of my choices that frightened me the most.
One more time
Before being wheeled upstairs to my new room, my new home for how long? I would be staying. Yet before all of that the specialist at the hospital ordered one more test. I call it the magic wand and the ultimate humiliation to top off the terrific ordeal of a day I was having. Because the ultrasound technician was a male there also needed to be a female in this close quartered 10’X10′ room to chaperone the proceedings. The room felt like a closet in the back hall converted to an ultrasound room. It was dark like a cave with black screens and green blips.
I was instructed that I would be the one to insert this strange wand and I thought to myself “Sure why not?” and a laugh bubbled from deep inside my belly. It was from my soul. A laugh erupted from me that gave everything up to the great unknown, a laugh that acknowledged the utter ridiculous macabre comedy that this day, this day would go down in my personal history as having been. And then I took a deep cleansing breath and did what I was told.
In that moment I grew still looking over to the black screen for answers as the green blips shaped themselves into three circular shapes. “My tumors” I thought to myself. Already formulating my plan of attack and imagining what fighting cancer would be like. Then the technician zoomed in and my heart dropped. It was a baby! But they said I wasn’t pregnant. Was it dead? I wondered my heart hurt and I held back tears as I started to grieve for this poor little one who hadn’t made it. Then the technician zoomed in again one second later and the distinct movement of a sparkly living belly very much alive as was the baby discovered there in my womb, very much alive and full of the possibilities of life.
“Get the radiologist over here!” the technician called out. I don’t need a radiologist, I have no degree but I know that is a baby. That is my baby. My entire being began to radiate with light and hope. I was not dying of Cancer, I was having a baby! The doctor later explained that the sharp pains going down the side of my body were from ligaments in my abdomen being stretched to make room for the new little creature that had taken up residence there.
Later we would come to find out she was a girl a healthy little girl. We named her Audrey because it means strong and noble. However that was not known then. Once I was dressed and was on my way home, I looked over at my uncle in-law the retired Lutheran minister and said “Man, you’re good!”