Everyone slept soundly for several hours. Suddenly I awoke and instantly realized that I was hemorrhaging. I woke Murray and calmly but urgently told him, “Go get Mom, I'm bleeding badly.” He rushed downstairs and came back with Mom hot on his heels. I told her to call for an ambulance. Neither she nor Murray understood at that point how much I was bleeding. I hadn't used the word “hemorrhage” with them. Mom asked if I was sure I needed an ambulance or if one of them could just drive me to the hospital. I knew that time was precious and I couldn't spend it explaining what I knew was happening. I said, “Hand me the phone.” Mom punched in 911, hit send, and handed me the phone.
The next while is a bit of a blur, but I maintained consciousness up until Dr McCarthy put a mask on me in the OR and told me to take 3 deep breaths. While waiting for the ambulance, I felt the familiar rush of warmth through my body – my clue that I was seconds away from passing out. I threw my feet in the air as high as I could and sternly told myself to keep it together. I prayed and prayed. Mom saw what was happening and held my feet up for me, sending Murray to grab a cold, wet washcloth for my head. I closed my eyes and prayed. I had a sense of peace, but also a sense of urgency. I kept my eyes closed and took deep breaths and prayed that Mom and Murray would also maintain consciousness. (Neither of them are very fond of the sight of blood and here I was with blood pouring out of me, completely helpless.) I prayed for the ambulance to hurry up. They arrived promptly – I'm sure it wasn't more than 5-10 minutes, but it seemed like such a long time. Mom stayed by my side and phoned Dad. Murray rushed downstairs and turned the lights on, unlocked the door, and put our dog Rusty outside on his chain so that he wouldn't be underfoot when the ambulance arrived.
I recognized both EMTs. I answered their questions correctly. Nick took my blood pressure and announced that it was not compatible with life. (If memory serves me correctly, he said it was 60s/40s. That's insanely low, and I knew that, but didn't let myself dwell on it too much.) Mom let out a soft wail in the background. I prayed even harder for her to be okay. I think she sat down on the floor and Alex talked to her from my side. They started an IV in each arm – the most painful sticks I've ever had due to my low blood pressure. Nick originally called for a helicopter, but decided it would be faster to drive me via ambulance to Daviess Community Hospital – the hospital where I work. He called for help from the volunteer first responders to get me down the narrow stairway. I remember my dad giving me a kiss as we stopped for a moment downstairs. I thanked Mom and Murray and told them they had done an awesome job.
I sang and prayed and recited Psalm 23 in the back of the ambulance. I was in so much pain, and so cold, and I knew things were bad, but I still had that sense of peace. As I was thinking of different songs to sing, a few “funeral songs” came to mind and I said aloud, “No, I'm not even going there” and tried hard to think of different songs. This happened more than once, but I refused to even entertain the thought of dying. The song that I remember singing was “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing.” Nick prayed with me as we flew down I-69. I kept track of each turn we made and therefore had a general idea of where we were. I listened to Nick on the radio with the hospital's ER. He was originally told to start dopamine. Then they radioed back immediately and said never mind, just keep fluids going wide open, they would have blood ready and waiting for me. I think I had a liter bolus going in each arm. Not sure...I didn't have my contacts in, and my glasses were still on the bedside table at home, so I couldn't really see much.
Jessica was the first nurse I saw upon arrival to the ER. It was right at shift change, so she wasn't there long before giving over to Joan. I was quickly surrounded by nurses and lab techs. Nurses were starting the blood transfusion and attempting to start IVs and lab techs were drawing what little blood they could get from me for lab work. I was placed in trendelenburg and denied pain medication until my BP was stable. I yelled out a lot from the pain – it felt like labor all over again, and from the needles. We joked later that I looked like an IV drug user when they had finished with me.
Murray and Dad arrived shortly after I did. My Aunt Hazel and Pastor Carmen followed soon after. Carmen had already sent a phone tree message, waking the entire Bethel church family to lift me up in prayer. Murray brought my phone and I had him text a few people for me to ask them to start praying. There were others that also came to the hospital that I didn't even know of until later. They brought coffee and food and sat and prayed and supported my family.
Dr Frances came very quickly and ordered a CT scan to be done so he could see if the bleeding was contained in my uterus before he took me to surgery. His plan was to put a balloon in and stop the bleeding long enough to stabilize me and send me to a bigger hospital in Evansville. The balloon worked long enough for him to tell Murray and my dad that it had worked, but while he was still talking to them, a nurse came to tell him that it had started again. They opened my incision from the c-section with intentions of doing a hysterectomy. It was then that they found the source of the bleeding – my left uterine artery. They ligated the artery and still thought long and hard about doing a hysterectomy. The decision was made to save my uterus.
When the nurse came to tell Murray that they would be doing a hysterectomy, she was teary-eyed and started with, “We were unable to stop the bleeding.” Murray's heart sank as he thought the next words were going to be that I had died. Thankfully she was just telling him about the impending hysterectomy which never had to be done! Many people were praying specifically “Stop the bleeding and save the uterus.” Those were then the exact words that Shawna used to tell Murray and my family - “They were able to stop the bleeding and save the uterus.”
The next few days were tough. I had to spend extra time on the ventilator. They extubated me in PACU, but I couldn't maintain on my own, so they had to re-intubate me and keep the machine breathing for me until that evening. I remember that – being awake in PACU and realizing I was intubated. It was the worst feeling ever. I felt like I was suffocating, but couldn't talk. I thrashed my head around and fought it, biting at the tube. It was the only thing I remember until I was extubated at 6:20pm and my sweet nurse Lourdes kept telling me to take deep breaths. I kept thinking, “I am breathing! What are you talking about?” I only fully woke up at around 11:00pm.
I was moved to the Ob floor the next day where I received the best care imaginable. The nurses were so gentle and compassionate and they listened to me and spent time with me. I ended up needing two more units of blood on Thursday as my hemoglobin had dropped back down in the 6 range. My nurse Erica sat down and had a talk with me on Thursday to help talk me out of my funk. I was so depressed and angry that my hemoglobin had dropped again, causing me to be very weak and tired. I wouldn't make eye contact with anyone. I just laid there and stewed in my misery. I was frustrated that I had taken a step backward instead of continually improving.
Mom stayed in the hospital room next to me and cared for Riaan. A friend provided us with some of her own breastmilk that she had pumped for her baby but didn't need. What an answer to prayer that was – I was praying and asking for someone's name to come to mind so that I could ask them to provide breastmilk. She had been praying for someone's name to come to mind so that she could offer to share hers. I know God had that all planned out before this even happened.
The next 5-6 weeks were not easy by any means. We were discharged from the hospital on Sunday, December 20. We went and stayed with Mom and Dad until the 24th when we went home to be our own little family for Christmas. What a huge blessing to have family close by. I don't know what we would have done without them. Murray was struggling with a cold and was trying to get better without making Riaan or me sick. I couldn't do much of anything without help. It took a long while to get my milk supply back up to where it needed to be for our growing baby. I had excruciating back pain, not to mention the pain from my incision. I had a nasty cough, too – I tried to cough up all that phlegm and not get pneumonia from being intubated, but it felt like my incision was ripping open each time I coughed.
Through all of this, God proved himself faithful. I struggled for a while with “survivor's guilt.” Why was I born in a country where we have access to proper health care? What about all those women in the countries I mentioned before who would have been dead multiple times by now and would not have a living baby to hold? There were so many things... I had an emergency c-section when Riaan was stuck in my birth canal. Otherwise, he would have died and I could have either had a fistula or died. I was given blood in a timely manner – both right after giving birth, and a week later when I hemorrhaged. It was clean and had been tested, and there was plenty readily available. When I called for an ambulance, they were there in a few short minutes, no questions asked. The ER was ready for me. I had a clean room, everyone worked together. The OR was ready for me. It was clean and well-stocked. Everyone caring for me was knowledgeable and caring and did what they were supposed to do to ensure I lived.
Why am I making such a big deal about clean facilities, available blood, and quick ambulance service? I've seen with my own eyes the conditions of some hospitals in other countries. I've seen how poorly staffed they can be – one nurse for an entire ward at a hospital I visited in Sierra Leone. Seriously. I saw no other nurses or staff around. When we lived in the rural Eastern Cape province of South Africa, we saw the struggle the hospital had with the ambulance service not being reliable. Sometimes the ambulance would arrive within an hour, sometimes they would show up the next day! When blood is needed, they send someone to the nearest city – an hour's drive one way – to get the blood because they don't have the facility to maintain their own supply.
I truly am blessed and am so thankful for the prayer warriors who lifted us up when we needed it most. My great-aunt told me at church, with tears in her eyes, “You have no idea how many prayers were prayed for you. You'll just never know.” So I say thank you. I know there were literally friends across the globe praying, including the very nurses and doctors caring for me. There were people I have never met who were praying. There were also people who gave to us financially that we never expected it from. My heart is full.
Today is a Tuesday, and it's March 15 – exactly 3 months from when I hemorrhaged. I even sat down to start writing this today at about 5:30am. At 5:30am 3 months ago, I was waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Such interesting timing... I'm now back to working full time, I've got a healthy, happy baby, and a loving husband and family. There are so many loving people in our lives who poured out to us in ways I haven't even mentioned here. You know who you are – THANK YOU!