Thursday, December 6, 2012

Heidi, Part 4

The drive from the obstetrics office to the hospital was less than half a mile, and I knew we would be there quickly, too quickly for me to process what was happening or even worry that I had no change of clothes or carefully packed overnight bag with me.  I was nine weeks away from my due date, and although the idea of having our new baby had been everpresent in my mind, it was December, not February like I had been planning, and I wasn't ready for this.

Brad and I didn't know what to expect as we parked our burgundy 1984 Honda Accord in the hospital parking lot and then made our way into the only slightly familiar hospital.  I had been so excited about having a baby that we had completed our prenatal introduction to the hospital a week before Thanksgiving, so at least we knew which direction the Labor and Delivery unit was.  We took the elevator up to the second floor, and when we stepped off, there was a nurse in the hallway who asked us if we were Mr. and Mrs. Denton.  Dr. L wasn't kidding when he said they would be waiting for us.

To this day, I can see her kind face, her green surgical scrubs, and her dark, thick ponytail, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot recall her name.  I will always remember her as the angel sent to help me through what would soon become the scariest few hours of my entire life.
Gymnastics 2001

Angel Nurse took me by the arm, and in a calm, almost too-sweet voice that on any other occasion would have driven me insane, she began asking me questions about my doctor's visit just moments earlier.  She had received the alarming stats from the doctor (4+ protein, 140/110 blood pressure), so she already knew what was coming, but she was attempting to help me process what had happened and what was going to come.  I rattled off the information I could remember, recounted the weeks of epigastric pain I'd endured, adding something about coming to the hospital for a gall bladder ultrasound as she escorted us through the double doors to the Labor and Delivery area and a private room.

I sank down on the bed and Brad found the only chair--a recliner placed under the west-facing window.  It was December, but there was no snow outside, just the barren brown world begging for a fresh white blanket to cover its ugliness.  Angel Nurse opened a cupboard and handed me a teal gown, instructing me to change into it and then she would be back shortly.  Bewildered, I looked up at her from my perch on the bed.  "What?"  This was just too much.  "What is happening?"  She gently took my hand, another gesture that in a different time and place would have taken all my resolve not to brush away, and with all the kindness she could muster, she broke the news to me.

"From all the information in your file and from what you've told me, this would be my best guess.  Your blood pressure is very high--dangerously so.  So is the protein level in your urine.  You have pre-eclampsia (nowadays this condition goes by the acronym HELLP), a condition where the mother's body decides, for some unknown reason, that the baby is a foreign body that needs to be fought, much like an infection. Usually it manifests with a very quick weight gain and swelling, slight protein in the urine and elevated blood pressure.  Since the first symptom is usually swelling, which you don't have, the doctors were very surprised to find the other symptoms. The only cure for pre-eclampsia is delivery."

Before the word delivery could shock me too badly, she continued, in the same calm, sweet voice, while still holding my hand:  "The doctor will admit you to the hospital where you can be hooked up to an IV that will administer a drip of magnesium sulfate, a medication designed to lower your pressure.  You will also be hooked up to a blood pressure cuff that will monitor your pressure every fifteen minutes and an infant monitor that will track your baby's heartbeat.  And one final thing--you will be given a steroid shot very soon and a follow-up shot in 24 hours to beef up your baby's lungs.  If I were to guess, and I've seen this before, you will probably be parents within 24-48 hours.  Please change now, and I will be back."  Then she left the room, leaving me and Brad alone with the words parents within 24-48 hours hanging in the air above us.
Blessing Day, March 1991
If this information was designed to help lower my blood pressure, they were wrong.  As I changed clothes, I burst into tears, wondering and worrying and uncomprehending.  Brad, in his own state of shock, was trying to calm my fears while still addressing his own. Moments later, Angel Nurse returned and hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff as she asked me a few more questions--insurance, prenatal care, social security number.  These mindless details distracted me from what was happening around me until a technician entered the room pulling a large unfamiliar machine.  Angel Nurse explained that this was the ultrasound machine, and they were going to get some quick images of my baby.  This was the first happy news of the day--we would get to see our baby for the first time!  In today's ultrasound-happy world, this may sound ancient, but the technology was so new at the time that we were fascinated by each step--the gel squirting all over my belly, the flat edge of the wand gliding across the gel as it transmitted images to the monitor turned so we could see the images.

We were intrigued by this whole process and we watched as the technician found Baby's head and feet and hands.  Suddenly, he turned the monitor from our view as he began this stream of questioning:  "Did you feel the baby move today?  Did you feel the baby move yesterday?  Are you sure you felt the baby move today?  Are you positive?"  When I answered yes with increasing fear each time, he became more and more serious.  He then concluded the process with this statement, "You have one pocket of amniotic fluid left in your uterus.  It is between your baby's arms as they circle its head."  And then he and his magic machine left the room.

Again, this was not news that could lower my ever-rising blood pressure, or could calm my increasing fear for the safety of our baby.  Angel Nurse returned to our room, gave me my first steroid shot, charted my pressure with concern, asked me if I had had anything to eat that morning (a bowl of raisins-and-spice oatmeal was all I had been able to choke down), then left the room after a few encouraging words to remain calm and everything would be all right.  Brad had called his friend Joel to come give me another priesthood blessing, and he arrived about that time.  In the blessing, Brad tried to calm my fears by saying that all would work out, that I would be fine, but he never mentioned anything about Baby. Although I didn't notice this omission, he did, and his fears climbed as well.  Joel left and we were alone.  What was happening?

Suddenly, the door to my room opened and a technician with a small tote over his arm entered the room.  After placing an IV drip in my right hand, he took a seat on the swiveling doctor's stool, wheeled it over to the left side of the bed between me and Brad, grabbed my left arm, tied a band above my elbow, and instructed me to make a fist and pump it.  Obediently, I complied as I watched him remove a razor blade from his white medical coat and use it to cut a half-inch slice in my left forearm.  "WHAT ARE YOU DOING??"  I couldn't contain it any longer.  "I'm just seeing if your blood will clot."  "WHY????"  "I can't answer that.  You need to ask your doctor." And with that, he too left the room, carrying two small vials of my blood and the last of my composure out with him.

This third round of information shot my blood pressure even higher.  Why would they need to know if my blood would clot?  What did all of this mean?  Angel Nurse entered the room again, and I could tell by her face that something was different.  Encircling me with her arm, she stood by my side and calmly began to speak.  "Your pressure is increasing quickly.  Our last read was 188/140.  Although we are administering mag sulfate, we don't really have time to let it start working. Baby has very little fluid in the sac and is measuring extremely small for its gestational age.  The doctors have determined that they need to perform an emergency c-section as quickly as possible, not only for the safety of your baby, but for your safety as well.  Because you ate breakfast this morning, it will be impossible for us to administer a general anesthetic, for fear you will vomit and aspirate during the procedure.  Therefore, an anesthesiologist is on his way to administer an epidural so that the doctors can proceed with the surgery."

We had little time to think before I would be sent to emergency surgery, so Brad asked if he could make calls to both of our parents and tell them what was happening.  After trying my house with no answer, he called his mom and explained as quickly as he could what was going on, and then he added, "I haven't been able to get in touch with Jenny's mom.  She works at Fabricland in Twin Falls.  Could you please look up the number and call her and let her know Jenny's headed into surgery?"

I have always been deathly afraid of needles, and I had determined my delivery would be medication- and needle-free, but now, I had no choice.  The anesthesiologist entered the room very soon thereafter,  and he instructed me to sit on the edge of the bed while he prepped my back for the large needle and tube that would send numbing medication to my lower extremities and my shrinking belly.

My belly, where my precious baby had been growing for way too short of a time.  How could this be happening?

It was now 2 pm, and I had been a patient in the hospital about two hours.


  1. I didn't realize it was HELLP. That's what Sherry had. Her pain was her very enlarged liver and near zero platlets. They couldn't perform a C-section because of this stupid blood disorder we have and the blood thinners she had been on. 4 blood transfusions and 46 hours of labor and she was dying. I will forever remember Dr. H climbing up on her bed and litterally stradling her as he manually pushed down on her belly to get that 4lb baby to move down and come out. Her symptoms had only been 2days and Dr. H stepped in. Oh, the difference good care can make.

  2. Love the 4 generation photo. Grandma Olsen and her "Heidi Baby Doll"!

  3. Wow! I always knew that Heidi, had a an intense delivery, but I didn't know it was this intense! Thanks for sharing this!

    P.S. That four generation picture with Grandma Olsen is pretty awesome!

  4. I'm glad I know the end of this story ... my blood pressure is going up just reading it!

  5. I'm curious as to how you remember the details for each child. Did you write everything down at the time?

  6. I heard the birth story when Ellie was born, we all obviously know the ending, but I am at the edge of my seat, can't we have another installment now?

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