I began the week feeling, well, weak. But I'm 8 months pregnant and most of my ailments could be explained by the big round belly protruding from my midsection. By Monday night, though, I felt a very different, distinct "Un-wellness" come over me. In the middle of the night, I broke down and sobbed over my various aches and pains as I climbed into a tub of hot water, hoping to alleviate some of the discomfort.
A dizziness had settled in my head and I found it hard to catch my breath. It felt like I'd walked a mile, though I'd only traveled from one end of the house to the other.
So, like a good patient, I called my doctor late Tuesday morning. "I feel dizzy and short of breath. I don't mean to be overdramatic. After all, I expect to feel this way a little - with 5 lbs of baby pressing on my lungs, stomach, heart, etc. But I just feel DIFFERENT." The nurse put me on hold. She came back to the line a few minutes later. "The doctor wants you to go to the Emergency Room now."
"Can't I just come to the office?"
"Can't I just go to the maternity floor?"
I pleaded for anything but the dreaded emergency room. They gave me no choice. "The ER will be expecting you," the nurse firmly instructed. With visions of swine flu germs dancing in my head, I dropped my son off at my mom's house and drove to the ER in a fit of frustration.
Mad at myself for calling the doctor in the first place.
Mad at the doctor for sending me to a germ-ridden department of a hospital instead of the quiet comforts of my OB's office.
Mad at my own body for feeling so "icky".
Upon arrival, I was greeted by big signs that confirmed my germy fears. Hand-sanitizing stations were set up at each entrance, along with masks that were to be worn by anyone exhibiting the long list of symptoms described on the warning placards. "Fantastic," I thought. "I am surely going to leave here worse than when I arrived."
I checked in, handed over my insurance and ID, then filled out several pages of information and medical history. When it asked me for my reason for the visit, I wrote: "Dizzy, short of breath (8 months pregnant)."
I brought my paperwork back up to the admittance desk. She reviewed it momentarily until her eyes fell on the magic words. "Oh, you're pregnant! You need to go to the maternity floor."
I explained to her that I would much rather be with my round-bellied comrades, but that my doctor specifically sent me to this department. I watched her tear my registration paperwork into shreds as she explained that, "After you are 20 wks gestation, all health-related concerns are handled by the maternity ward." So... armed with directions on how to navigate the back hallways of the hospital, I was on my way.
The elevator doors opened and revealed an inviting, relaxing waiting room filled with nervous and excited families. "Much better," I thought. I waddled toward the friendly woman sitting behind the desk and explained my symptoms again. This time, I was handed a new stack of registration paperwork, along with a big flowery pen (unlike those cheap miniature pencils provided downstairs). As I sat down in the big cushioned chair began to rehash, in writing, the reason I was there, a phone rang behind the desk. I overheard a hasty, frustrated voice on the other end. I picked up portions of sentences, including, "Why is she up there?" "What... symptoms?" "Baby o.k.?"
The staff member looked at me and asked, "Is your baby o.k.?"
"I hope so," I replied.
"Well, why did they send you up here from ER, then?"
"Um... because I'm more than 20 wks pregnant and that is apparently the policy of this hospital."
I set my flowery pen down as she relayed my information to the stranger on the other end of the phone.
A few moments later, a second call came in. The gatekeeper to the maternity ward looked at me and sighed. "You need to go back to the emergency room."
Unsure whether I should be amused or irritated, I set out on my journey down to the dreaded ER. I walked back up to the lady who sent me on my fool's mission. "They sent me back down here.
No, I am not sure why.
No, you tore all my paperwork up.
Yes, I would be thrilled to fill it all out again.
And yes, if I wasn't short of breath before, I certainly am now!"
Twenty minutes later, I was ushered back to a cubicle where I could overhear the cried (or laughs...?) of a patient in no small amount of mental despair. I listened as doctors discussed my neighbor's possible risk for another seizure. And I waited as my nurse hooked me up with stickers, probes, IVs and monitors. I was told that my symptoms had nothing to do with my pregnancy. I was asked hundreds of questions about my family's medical history of heart attacks, blood clots, hypertension, cancer, and anxiety disorders.
Each one of their theories was categorically dismissed as my bloodwork and heart tests came back normal. One test finally came back with "elevated" levels. The one that detects blood clots. The doctor came back in with the news. "We need to do a CT scan to rule out any blood clots in your lungs."
Unfortunately for all of us, I was still 8 months pregnant. And radiation exposure wasn't exactly on my checklist of things to do to "prepare for baby".
But neither was dying of a blood clot in my lungs. The decision wasn't easy, but it was the best one to make. Seven minutes later, I was lying under the giant circle that would scan my body for any malicious clots.
The CT technician who wheeled me in for the test had been explaining the risks and rewards as we maneuvered down the hall. I asked him to take whatever precautions he could to protect the baby inside my belly during the procedure, and he responded with the unfortunate news that they could do nothing to shield my child. The lead aprons they used to use apparently only served to trap the radiation, allowing it to bounce around in your body for a longer period of time. The only way they could perform this test on me was the same way they would perform it on any other person. Full-on exposure.
So, I had no choice but to pray. An image popped into my head of God's arms. So, I just prayed and pictured Him wrapping His arms of protection around my belly and shielding my little girl from those penetrating rays. (And I have to say, I'd rather have that kind of protection than a lead apron any day).
In addition to the picture and the prayers, a song popped into my head while I listened to the hum of the machine. It's the Newsboys song, "It is You", and the first lines were all I could recall. But they kept coming, over and over again for the next five minutes or so:
"As we lift up our hands, will You meet us here?"
(Interesting choice of words, because during the test, I had to lie perfectly still with my hands raise straight above my head, touching the outside walls of the machine... anyway.)
"As we call on Your name, will You meet us here?"
So, I sang and prayed, "God, will you please just meet me right here, right in the middle of this circle and protect this little girl with your own arms?"
And I was completely at peace.
The results came back quickly. No clots. They felt confident enough to release me. They had done all they could do, run every test they could think of. They decided that, in my case, the symptoms could only be explained by the fact that I was, indeed, 8 months pregnant.
And if we'd all been that logical from the beginning, I might have been spared the first 4 hours of my hospital stay.
But not the last four hours...
Because another symptom was becoming harder and harder to ignore. Those pesky Braxton-Hicks contractions I'd been experiencing since Sunday.
"I don't mean to be a pain. I know you're trying to get me out of here. But I've been feeling a lot more contractions in the last few hours."
A decision was made and I found myself back on the maternity floor within a few minutes. "Hello again!" I called out to the familiar face that turned me away hours before. "I'm back!!!"
I explained the sudden onslaught of consistent contractions and was handed that flowery pen and stack of papers (I can only assume that she, too, took my original paperwork to the shredder).
After waiting and breathing through the next half hour, I was finally in a bed, listening to the steady swoosh of my little girl's heartbeat. The nurse began asking me questions, and I tried mightily to answer despite what was now starting to become significant pain. During the course of questions (which took 5-6 minutes), the nurse informed me that I'd had 3 contractions ("Yes, thank you... I know").
Over the next 1/2 hour, those pesky Braxton-Hicks became the REAL DEAL every two minutes, gaining strength and momentum. The nurse came back in. "Oh my! We've been watching you out there at the nurse's station. I think we need to call your doctor!"
Long story short.. (too late), it was determined that I was in pre-term labor. It was subsequently decided that five weeks early is just a little too early for this princess to make her debut. And a shot of something very painful and potent was literally "what the doctor ordered" to delay her arrival. An hour after the shot was administered, the contractions had faded and become inconsistent again. I was topped off with fluids and given the green light to go home and rest.
So, after 8 months and 8 hours... I was headed home with my little family of three. Exhausted. Hoping that our fourth would be patient for just a little while longer.
And it turns out that calling my doctor because something "wasn't quite right", maybe wasn't all that wrong of a choice after all.
Oh to be in the right place at the right time. Whether that's the 5th floor of the hospital or the protecting arms of the Father, I am grateful that the experience left me feeling quite alright today.
So, how's your week been? ;)