February 2 was a Friday of firsts for me. First ambulance ride. First hospital admittance. First IV. First surgery. First time under anesthesia. First breathing tube shoved down my throat. First time a doctor has ever told me my life was in danger.
I’m not the type of person who runs to see a doctor over an ache until I’ve explored a lot of other options. But when you’re in pain so intense you can’t roll over in bed without breaking into a cold sweat, there isn’t much choice.
Two weeks ago, my in-laws took me to the emergency room for stomach and side pain. Imagine my shock when the doctor told me I was pregnant again. My first pregnancy was a breeze, aside from a few weeks of morning sickness (all-day sickness, really.) I got my first butt injection and went home with antibiotics for a kidney infection, where I got to later surprise my husband with the news.
Expecting this pregnancy would be as easy and delightful as the first was my biggest mistake.
Two days after completing the antibiotics, I went back to the ER with the same set of symptoms as before – plus a few extra. My guts were on fire. Pain radiated around my left side, shooting out through my shoulders, ribcage, and rectum. The sweats and chills returned as I crawled the familiar path to the bathroom. But once I got to the toilet, I couldn’t go.
The pain never ceased.
After no avail trying to sleep it off, I told Spence I needed to go back to the ER. We didn’t go right away, as I was feeling a little bit better and hoped it would go away on its own. Clutching my left side, I could hobble my way around without passing out. ‘Maybe the antibiotics didn’t work and it was just a more severe kidney infection,’ I thought. ‘Or maybe this was an uncommon side effect of the antibiotic, like colitis.’
The nurse who checked me into the ER entertained the idea I could be constipated and suffering from gas pains. He said gas pains sometimes shoot out from the shoulders. But I had taken a laxative the night before, had a bowel movement and still wasn’t feeling better, so I told him I still wanted to be seen.
The first ER doc I met with took on a stern expression when I told her I was about a month pregnant and had definitely missed a period. She stopped taking notes to express her concern that I may be having a miscarriage or suffering from an ectopic pregnancy. I was familiar with the term from all the reading I did during my first pregnancy. But I wanted to see all the test results before jumping to any conclusions. For the next four hours, I was not allowed to eat, drink or take any pain medication.
Less than 3% of pregnancies are ectopic.
Could I really be one of them?
About eight blood tests and two saline-filled IV bags later, the doctor decided to give me a pelvic exam. Her concern doubled when she caught me flinch and realized how much everything hurt. There was obvious spotting, but this didn’t give us a definite answer as to what was going on.
One of the blood tests confirmed an hCG level off 2,000 mlU/ml.
I was wheelchaired to a different ward for an external and internal ultrasound. The ultrasound tech didn’t say much to me, but I could tell from her facial expressions something was wrong. As she wheeled me back to my room where Spence and Rei patiently waited, she told me the doctor would be looking the pictures over to write up a report very soon.
My nurse came back to change my IV, wipe my lips with a cool towel, offer me ice chips and finally provide pain relief. I wasn’t happy to receive fentanyl. If you know me, then you know my late biological mom’s history of opioid abuse has deeply impacted my life.
But within minutes, my pain plunged from a 6 to a 2.
A second doctor came in and told me they spotted a mass above my left ovary. Nothing was seen in my uterus. It was an ectopic pregnancy. Her exact words were “life-threatening.” A nurse called for an ambulance to transport me to the hospital’s main campus where I would undergo an emergency surgery in the ObGyn unit. Everything moved so fast, I didn’t have time to process.
When the ambulance drivers showed up, I urged Spence to go about his day and told him I’d call him when I was out of surgery. I kissed him and Reila goodbye before getting strapped down to the gurney. The whole five-minute ride there, I battled thoughts that the gurney might slide out of place or the EMT drivers might drop me, since I know several friends who have broken bones this way.
Luckily, none of that happened.
A nurse greeted me and the EMT drivers at the hospital door. Immediately, I was escorted to the pre-op ward. My blood was drawn again while the anesthesiologist asked me a series of health-related questions. When the doctor came in, she told me I was about to undergo a laparoscopic ectopic pregnancy removal where they would make three tiny incisions to remove the embryo. Their main focus was on the left ovary where the mass appeared during the ultrasound.
The doctor thought it might be a blood clot or an ovarian cyst that burst and told me they would likely have to cut into my fallopian tube to remove the embryo. Worst case scenario, they slice me open c-section style and remove my entire left ovary. They urged me to sign something saying in the unlikely event I required a blood transfusion, I agree to have one. So I did.
A nurse and nursing student came in to transport me to the operating room. I guess it was around this time I started calling on my late mom and Papa to watch over me. Just as the bed started to wheel out, I heard a familiar voice: Spencer’s mom. She’d found me in the nick of time to give me a kiss and tell me she loved me. Not a bad way to head into surgery, if I do say so myself.
Two nurses, the doctor, and the anesthesiologist made me confirm my full name and birthday at least five times on my way down to the operating room. And three times, I had to confirm what I was about to undergo. My bed was lifted and locked into the surgery table for me to scooch onto it. When the wheeled bed was removed, I realized how narrow the operating table was and started getting vertigo because I couldn’t stop thinking about rolling off. Finally, a nurse strapped me down – but it didn’t ease my anxiety.
“This is just oxygen,” the anesthesiologist said, putting a mask over my face. It was an effort to breathe normally with the overwhelming smell of plastic.
“Sure it is,” I said sarcastically. But apparently, the operating table is no place for jokes. The anesthesiologist was ticked since she went over the whole plan with me in pre-op where she mentioned the anesthesia would be administered via IV.
A few more people entered the room before she said, “I’m about to administer the anesthesia.” In a matter of seconds, a feeling of warmth raced through me as if I’d been covered with a blanket fresh out of the dryer. The flower of light patterns on the bright headlamps above disappeared.
And I entered dreamland.
“How are you feeling?”
I had to remember that damned dream. Dancing hobos, sad clowns, college crusties. Tap dancing and train hopping. But it was no use. The musical dream was but a blur.
When I finally opened my eyes about 15 seconds later, I saw a new nurse smiling at me.
“I feel great!” I exclaimed. And I did. A little discomfort where my stomach was sliced open, but the pain was totally gone. “Can I have something to drink now?”
I opted for ginger ale and peanut butter crackers – my first meal of the day. A nurse who I recognized from the operating room before I lost consciousness scolded me for not telling them I was anemic. It was hard thinking over the pain.
The nurses wheeled me up to my room because the transportation crew was short-handed and backed up. 2121. Just one numerical switch away from “2112.” Damn.
The newborn nursery was right around the corner from my room. Being physically pain-free was great. But I was still mourning.
Even as I write this five days later, I can’t help feeling betrayed by my body.
Spence, Reila and the in-laws were already in the room waiting for me. The doctor had already met with them to talk about what happened. Apparently, it was a best-case scenario. My fallopian tube had ejected the embryo, so they didn’t have to cut into it, remove my ovaries or anything extreme like that. Although she wanted me to stay overnight for monitoring, she told them I could probably be discharged around 10 p.m.
When she came back to show me pictures a few hours later, she told me the same thing. Seeing inside yourself is a trippy experience, man. My ovaries or uterus weren’t even visible in the first few pictures. Blood was all over the place – thick, black, gelatinous, grape-jelly looking blood.
But when they sucked it all up, my insides looked so…clean.
They didn’t see the embryo but made an assumption it was vacuumed out with all the blood. I have to go back to get my hCG levels checked out to make sure they really did remove it successfully.
Reila slept next to me in my hospital bed after the in-laws went home as Spence waited for me to be discharged. Holding her was the best medicine. A reminder of the beautiful, sacred, miraculous journey of birth, life, and death we’re all experiencing. I thanked all the higher powers listening for giving me the gift of a beautiful, happy, healthy baby girl only five months ago.
Maybe love and gratitude are depression’s antidotes.
As she slept with her perfect button nose pressed to my shoulder, I told Reila I was sorry she wouldn’t be a big sister as soon as we expected but assured her we will never give up. We may have to get an ultrasound at the first sign of life and go in for extra routine check-ups to make sure everything is fine. But that won’t stop us.
With my husband and daughter by my side, I know we can overcome any obstacle life throws at us.
For love is, of course, the mightiest force.