I was going into my 4th month of pregnancy with my 4th child. An omen? Possibly. We were in the midst of a record-breaking heat spell in August 2007, and due to an ankle injury, I had been on bed rest for about a week. So it did not surprise me when, a few days before my near-death experience, I became winded when I crawled out of bed and eventually made my way to the bathroom.
“Maybe it’s the heat,” I remember thinking. Or it was certainly the fact that I was trying to carry 4 months of pregnancy weight around on crutches which I had not yet gotten used to. When that episode subsided and I eventually made it back to bed I remember considering adult diapers as a viable option.
A few days earlier that week, I had tweaked my ankle when I lost my balance and fell back onto the sofa. It was nothing though. Because by the weekend I was at Giant City State Park hiking with my family and it felt fine. And then it didn’t. There was a doctor’s visit and testing that revealed nothing major at the time and then a diagnosis of severe Achilles Tendonitis. And there was pain, and heat and swelling. All classic symptoms of my diagnosis. And the knowledge, thanks to some internet doctoring, that it would “get worse before it got better.” How much worse, I could never have imagined.
So there I was, a couple of days after my initial almost-fainted-when-I went-to the-bathroom spell, and again nature called. This time when I got winded, I had to sit on the commode a lot longer than the first. As I panted and tried to catch my breath to call out to my husband, my kids, or God in Heaven, all I could think was “hurry and get your undies up in case they have to call the paramedics.” Somehow I got back to the bed. Perhaps it was the unbearable pain from the swelling. Or the extreme heat. Or the lack of inactivity due to bed rest that made me so winded and out of breath. By some stroke of luck, the whole family was home and my oldest nephew was pulling up. I was able to somehow get enough breath in my lungs to tell my husband that I think I needed him to take me to the hospital (DUUUUH). Our bed was directly in front of the air conditioning vent so I was literally sitting on it. But I could not cool off, and I could not seem to catch my breath. I remember watching Q put on his shirt, and thinking that maybe if I changed my position I could get some relief. I remember trying to turn onto my right side…and then…darkness. There was no white light. No life, husband or children flashing before me. And most memorable of all, no pain. Just me drifting, drifting, drifting…until I was no longer aware that anything was even wrong. Or existed.
My next conscious recollection was of me puking into the garbage can that my husband had dragged into the room (no time to clean that bad boy out), cold water pouring over me and the stench and feeling of me having lost control of my bodily functions. I could hear my nephew on his cell phone directing the EMT’s to our house. And my husband was doing all he knew to keep me here in this life. And all I could manage out of my mouth was “what happened?”
To this day I vividly remember the EMT’s wheeling me out into the hotassness of that 2007 August day and the gratitude I felt for the oxygen mask they had placed on me. I remember apologizing to them for smelling so badly (I can laugh at it now). I remember the ashen look as the blood drained from my husband’s face when the ER doctor said your wife has a blood clot in both lungs, she could die and the baby probably won’t survive. I also remember my primary care doctor taking charge when she arrived at the hospital, calling the ultrasound technician out of bed to come in and discover that this otherwise healthy, relatively young, pregnant woman had a blood clot that started behind her left knee and went all the way to the groin.
It seems as if every week I hear about some (usually relatively young) person dying from complications due to a blood clot. It reminds me of my mortality and how close I came to that end. And it also lets me know that “when it is your time to go”, is more than a cliché. Fortunately parts of the huge blood clot in my leg broke off and went to my lungs, which caused me to pass out. Fortunately my lungs have a catcher’s mitt as big as the Eiffel tower. And thank God that I had people around me who responded quickly and thoroughly and worked hard to help keep me and my now 6 year-old baby girl here. But the truth of the matter is that all that good timing, that difficulty breathing, the DVT that turned into a double PE…THAT WAS DIVINE INTERVENTION. And no matter which God, force or element of the universe you serve, you must realize there are powers in motion that in spite of you, work for the benefit of you.
Even now, when I think back on those scary events, the thing that scared me most was being airlifted to the hospital in St Louis. I’ve been a squeamish flyer since I was a teenager and putting me in a damn helicopter was no comfort at all. I kept my eyes closed most of the entire 30 minute flight, shakily answering when I heard the medics ask me a question through my headsets. But almost instinctively, as we crossed the Mississippi, I nervously opened my eyes, saw the lights and stars and thought that all things considered, it was a beautiful sight.
After a weeklong hospital stay which included visits from every specialist known to man, I was able to return home and begin my road to recovery. Up until that point, we had not told many about the baby because we had previously suffered a miscarriage and were being cautious. So the news of the baby softened the blow of my life-threatening experience just a tad bit. We have lived so much life since that hot, wretched summer and we have so much more to live. There is a chance that I may have to be on blood thinners for the rest of my life. This means (in theory) a diet that limits vitamin K intake, which is plentiful in green leafy veggies. But you know you can’t tell a Southern gal she can’t eat the entire pot of greens in one sitting. So other healthy lifestyle modifications are necessary, such as reaching and maintaining a healthy weight and staying active. And that is a work in progress. And I do have to be extra careful using my husband’s filet knife. But all the inconveniences aside, I am here. I did not die. It was not my time. And for that I am grateful to the Universe.