Scary Start to Life
At 23 weeks pregnant, I woke up bleeding heavily and in the early stages of labor. My husband was left behind as I was airlifted by the Coast Guard from our Alaskan cruise. Both mine and my unborn son’s life were inevitably on the line as I continued to bleed.
We had just spent the day in Glacier Bay National park and our ship was in the middle of the Alaskan sea. I had been experiencing Braxton Hicks for the past few days so I called my doctor to see if I should get checked out. He assured me that Braxton Hicks are completely normal at this stage in the pregnancy and encouraged me to just relax and enjoy the cruise. Even though he was confident in what he said, I couldn’t seem to shake the gloomy feeling that something was seriously wrong. I was a healty woman, why was this happening to me.
His reassurance quickly vanished as my contractions began picking up. Ten minutes apart turned into seven, and seven turned into five. Each one gaining in intensity. I went to bed hoping I could just somehow sleep it off, but instead, woke up in a pool of blood.
We were 60 miles from the nearest town and the medical center onboard the ship was nowhere near equipped to handle this medical emergency. I had lost more than 500 cc’s of blood (a loss of over two cups). I questioned if my son was still alive until I felt a faint, little kick.
It was stormy out, so the Coast Guard was unable to land the helicopter on the ship. I was strapped into a stretcher and hoisted up by a rope. One of the Coast Guard members told me to close my eyes as the wind from the propellers hit violently against my face. My husband watched helplessly, knowing nothing of the fate of his wife and unborn son.
I was transported to a small hospital in Sitka, Alaska. While I was there, the only form of company I experienced in this horrific event was the nurses caring for me. “You can’t deliver your baby here. Our equipment is not big enough for a baby that small,” One nurse said, unable to hide her hopelessness for our outcome.
I had already known that my son’s chances for survival were about 17%, not including all of the other severe complications that accompany being born at 23 weeks. On top of this, my life remained on the line as I continued bleeding.
My Hospital Experience
Nurses and doctors all crowded around, it seemed as though I was the only patient in that tiny, ill equipped facility. I was given an ultrasound to check the levels of my amniotic fluid. During the ultrasound, we heard his heart rate drop significantly. It was in the 80s, and I knew it was supposed to be at least 120. I thought I was watching him die. How did we know to time the ultrasound so I could witness his last few heartbeats? “I’m so sorry Marty.” The crowded room fell quiet as we all just watched and listened for every slow beat. Then to our surprise, it picked back up again.
One nurse named Vicki handed me a beanie she hand-knit for her patients. “When Marty is big enough to wear this, I want you to send us a picture of him in it.” I was given a piece of hope that I could hold in my hands in a time when no words would bring comfort. I clung onto that beanie with all the strength I could muster as I waited for the Medivac to arrive. From there, I’d be transported to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
I was diagnosed with having had a placental abruption. At this stage in the pregnancy, his chances of survival were extremely low. I was told that every day I remained pregnant meant three less days for my unborn son, Marty, in the NICU. I held onto each and every passing day, hoping and praying that day would not be my son’s birthday.
Slowly but surely, those days turned into weeks and weeks into months as I watched his chances of survival increase. I formed deep bonds with the nurses caring for me day in and day out.
Marty defied all odds and I was able to remain pregnant for another fifteen weeks. The delivery room crowded with many of the nurses and doctors who had been working with me for all of these months. They were rooting for me. In this moment, they had witnessed an absolute miracle. He was born perfectly healthy and I delivered him at full-term. Something I never would have imagined, even in my wildest dreams.
A few weeks after arriving home, I came across something that made me cry as I remembered everything that had happened. It was that piece of hope that I held in my hands as I was told the chances of Marty’s survival were very low. It was the beanie that I never imagined Marty fitting into. I picked it up and looked at it as tears streamed down my face, I placed it on his head.
Not only was it able to fit, but it was already slightly small. “We did it, Marty” I said as he looked at me with curiosity and wonder. This was a milestone I never thought I would reach. And yet here we were. Just as my nurse, Vicki, imparted hope into my unlikely circumstance, it is my desire to bestow the same unconditional love and care onto others when I, too, become a nurse.
Ultimately, my inspiration for becoming a registered nurse comes from being a patient myself and experiencing first hand, the compassion and empathy that was given to me in an extremely vulnerable and life-altering season of life. It is my desire to extend care to other patients with a deeper understanding that stems from my own, personal experience as a long-term patient. It’s time to give back everything and more that was given to me in this horrific yet beautiful season of life.