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When Bad News Gets Worse

Lying on the firm, railing-lined bed, the tingling pins trickle down my arm. First my index finger feels fat, indiscernible from my hand. The rest follow suit: the thumb, the middle, the ring, the pinky fingers. The skin protecting my bicep twists in several directions, the tourniquet pinching the skin into a beet red hue. As the trainee phlebotomist sticks the needle in, then out-and in again-the blood remains elusive.

“That tourniquet is a bit tight. It hurts.” Wincing at her ineptitude, one slow tear begins the tumbling journey over my lower lid to my cheek. Sitting on the far side of the bigger-than-typical hospital room, Jason’s eyes exude a piercing apprehension as my pained face turns toward him, disguising what I can from the trainee.

Sensing my displeasure, she scrambles to make amends, quickly re-tying it. “I’m sorry. Is that better?” Nodding when I don’t mean it, the desire for her to be done outweighs my discomfort.

Resuming the arm massacre, my eyes scan the room, desperately averting from the torment. When I dare to look, the trainee retreats from my bedside; With a nonchalant sense of pride, she gathers her items, and thanks me for my time. Crimson sprinkles line her pristine white sleeve. Tiny red holes litter my inner elbow. Blue and black swirl down my forearm. With a hearty sigh, I exhale 10 minutes worth of air.

A quick glance of my watch alerts me that we have now been here two hours. 11:30pm, and we are as lost on this desolate island as ever. Alone, confused, and sullen, Jason and I need answers. We need to be safe on solid ground again.

Looking disheveled and very casual, as if having just awoken from his slumber, Dr. Gladwell hastily enters, nearly knocking down the trainee phlebotomist. The vials clink in their neat rows within the square holder, but thankfully stay put. I could not survive another round of bloodletting. Stumbling slightly, her rubber-soled tennis shoes skid on the floor, and with a final squeal, she departs. Hardly noticing the fancy footwork behind him, Dr. Gladwell hurriedly wheels a short, round stool away from its under-counter cave, and within seconds is sitting close. His cowlick, exaggerated by his spiked hair, is a fine accessory to his blue jeans and sweatshirt.

“After seeing your ultrasound pictures, I thought I should come in personally to talk with you guys.” A pulsing engulfs deep within my ears, deafening his words. Struggling to hear, I stare into his steely grey eyes. In preparation of his speech, Dr. Gladwell’s features soften, his head tilts, his eyes exude sympathy. Jason approaches the bed; with our hand lightly clasped, Jason and I brace for the disclosure.

“It appears that the bleeding you are experiencing is from a blot clot located behind the placenta, which is abrupting off the uterine wall.” With smooth motions of his hands, he expertly mimes the tearing that befalls the baby’s lifeline.

“The blot clot behind there is of concern. Normally in a situation like this, with the possibility of going into labor, we would do a cerclage, which is when we stitch up the cervix to help keep it closed. This does not guarantee to hold and slow down labor, but it helps a lot of the time.”

Stitching anything closed is crazy! I steady the trembling of my lip before it completes the metamorphosis into a sob.

“We would also normally send you home to rest and wait it out there, since there would really be no need for you to be in the hospital. However, since you are so far along at 20 weeks, and there is the potential for major hemorrhaging with the blood clot, we don’t feel it is safe to send you home, which is ultimately why I had you admitted tonight. I think the best course of action right now is for you to stay here until the risk of bleeding is minimized.”

My previously tingly fingers suffer again in a sudden iciness.  Silently gasping for each breath as I try to interpret his words, confusion clouds our growing, watery moat. Remaining yet on our ever-distancing island, a brown, murky mess infiltrates our liquid barrier. A blood clot? Risk of hemorrhaging?

My grip on Jason’s hand tightens, forcing his previously warm skin to join my icy state. Reciprocating the tight hold, Jason reiterates my newfound hysteria.

“How long will she have to stay in the hospital?”

“That’s a tough question to answer. It all depends on what happens with the blood clot. If the clot get absorbed into the body, then it could be sooner rather than later. We just have no way of knowing that.” Jason slumps a bit, defeated. Until now, we had some control. We made some choices.

Offering no satisfactory answers, no false hope, his parting words are far from soothing.“Try and get some rest tonight, and tomorrow morning you should be visited by the maternal fetal medicine doctor who will be able to give you more answers.” Swiftly standing, and giving a brisk push, the stool lands squarely under the counter back in its nook.

Listening to Dr. Gladwell’s hollow footsteps in the vacant hall diminish, I lie back, grievously melting into the pillow.

I, too, am at jeopardy.

Jason’s hand anchors mind on the bedside. Something could happen to both the baby AND me. We could BOTH die. I cannot depress Dr. Gladwell’s chilling words sloshing in my mind. As his announcement hangs low in the air, like a week-old hydrogen-filled balloon, I blackmail my mind: Distract those thoughts this minute, or else panic will ensue!

Even if for merely a few seconds, I leave behind the doctor’s perilous beliefs, my eyes hungrily consuming what I didn’t see before. A soft bloop bloop bloop accompanies the trapped sea life on the television; I watch the cheerfully colorful fish swim expert circles within their black rimmed boundaries. We have had no time, at barely 20 weeks, to have an official labor and delivery unit tour. I give myself a private showing. Words scroll merrily on the wall above my head: “The Angels Danced the Day You Were Born”. Turning away from the delightful words, my gut revolts in distaste. Lying back in the bed, my head angles dejectedly to the left. As the strength to keep the incredulous thoughts at bay vanishes, the large window on the far end of the room provides our only liberation to the life I envy, the life for which I yearn. Even at nearly midnight, cars smoothly glide down the street, unaware of the grief, pain, and dismay trapped within these cream brick walls. Five floors of somber rooms, filled with illness, death, and the excruciating sadness of family members, goes unnoticed to those who freely pass. The red tail dots slowly dwindle until the pinpoint lights evaporate into the chilly winter darkness. Under the soft yellow glow of the intertwined, black, wrought iron wall sconces, the light purple walls swaddle our torment, stifling our misery. Within the confines of this lavender box, we unwillingly ascend-or descend-the neverending staircase.

 

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