Last month, we welcomed our sixth daughter, Ruth, to the world. The pregnancy and delivery were pretty unremarkable. Everything textbook and nothing really out of the ordinary.
About four hours after she was born, we were in the postpartum ward of the hospital. Vanessa’s parents had just left after meeting Ruth and we were settling into the normal couple days of being in the hospital. Vanessa said she wasn’t feeling very well. Okay, no biggie. Let’s call the nurse.
Vanessa called and asked for her nurse to come down. A few seconds later, “I really don’t feel good.” How so? Vanessa said she felt like she was going to faint. Again, “I don’t feel good”, she kept repeating. I offered her to take a sip of water because doctors always say drink plenty of fluids. I pressed the call button again. She coughed instead of swallowed and then she went unconscious. All of this was within 60-75 seconds of Vanessa saying she didn’t feel good the first time.
This was a new one for me. For a split second, I was in denial. “Vanessa, come on.” and shook her a bit. “No really, come on, open your eyes.” Nope, nothing. It was a strange thing to see, never seeing someone go unconscious before my eyes before. Her eyes weren’t quite shut and her mouth weirdly skewed.
Thankfully, when we were in labor & delivery, Ruth was coming relatively quickly but the team thought we probably had a half-hour to go. One of the L&D nurses told us to hang out, but said if Vanessa felt like the baby was absolutely coming and not slowing down, to pull the call button out of the wall to get people in the room right away. Nurses may have told us that trick before, but this time, it resonated and stuck with me for whatever reason.
Back in postpartum, Vanessa is unconscious and that seemed like a pretty good time to test out pulling the call button out of the wall.
Upon pulling it out of the wall, the chime ringing outside the room kicked up a rapid pace and a nurse we hadn’t met was in the room very soon after that— “Is everything okay?” “No, she’s unconscious!”
Pulling the call button out of the wall will bring medical staff quickly.
At that point, the nurse called out to another who had come into the room to “get people” and put some smelling salts under Vanessa’s nose. She jolted awake and then looked to immediately pass out again. I took Ruth, who was hanging out in her little bed, to the far side of the room and the room filled with people quickly.
Something newish I think to the hospital we were in, they called a “Code Rover” after the first folks started working on Vanessa. It wasn’t a thing when the twins were born and in the NICU, but from reading a bit online, it is like a Code Blue (for when someone has stopped breathing and heart has stopped), but not that severe. It alerts a team to help someone who is in a life-threatening state, but their heart and lungs are working still for the moment.
At this point, the room filled very quickly! At one point, I counted 20 people in the room and I could see more people in the hallway. With me was a medical student explaining what was happening medically and the hospital’s chaplain to make sure I was doing okay. Vanessa had a nurse at her head administering oxygen, three or four on each side doing nurse-y things, and a doctor at her foot acting as the conductor. There were a couple of nurses taking everything Vanessa had bloodied, then weighing it against fresh versions to determine how much blood she had lost. Someone else was bringing in blood, someone else was running vials down for lab testing.
They worked for awhile giving her various drugs, pushing fluids, and whatnot. I had a coworker lose their wife after childbirth—was this that happening? Both at the time and writing this weeks later, it was the scariest moment of my life.
In our family, I’m the “emergency” captain. I own situations like Olivia’s various emergency room trips and hospitalizations. Every birth, I’ve owned that I need to manage the situation since Vanessa has more important things to do. The twins were a high-risk delivery that put them in the NICU for almost two weeks and then re-admitted when they were a month old. I’ve handled all of these situations without letting emotion in, beyond a bit of dejected frustration at 4:30 a.m. of Olivia’s first asthmatic ER trip.
Except for when my dad died, this was the first unexpected immediately life-threatening situation I’ve handled. I worry and play random worst case scenarios through my head literally all the time, but losing Vanessa while holding our newborn wasn’t one that I had prepared myself for.
Not wanting to be the guy flipping out on the other side of the room, I was able to hold it together enough to tell myself Ruth needed me to keep her calm and to text Erin, a dear friend of ours who had been a L&D nurse. At first, I expected her—or at least wanted her—to tell me something about how this was all really normal and not to worry. Her first response was to sit down if I needed to, which validated that I was legitimately in a situation where it was okay to be flipping out a little. I suppose the hospital’s chaplain being paged to stand with me was validation enough, but I digress.
It was about 30 minutes before I could see Vanessa moving and she finally was able to open her eyes and look at me. In her telling of the story, she was awake ever since the smelling salts, albeit too weak to even open her eyes, but to me, she looked limp and unconscious for a long time.
The worst I heard them announce her vitals, she had a blood pressure of 60/30. She lost enough blood where they gave her a transfusion and, all said and done, took about an hour before most everyone besides a couple nurses left the room.
In the end, we were pretty lucky. Lucky that she started bleeding when she was awake, so it was obvious something was wrong. Lucky that I was in the room. I could have easily been taking something to her parents’ car with them or checking out the gift shop. Pulling the cord may have been enough to get her attention fast enough to ensure we had a happy ending.
It wasn’t until we were home for almost a week before Vanessa and I processed it together. She agreed not to scare me like that again.