Crazy Cow Country Farm

Your daily dose of manure

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Chapter 1

             I woke up from the surgery in more pain than I ever thought a person could bear.  Can people die from pain?  At that moment I believed it possible.  I remembered Dr. Porter telling me that he was going to make an incision right over his previous entry – a six inch vertical scar that ran from my belly button to my pelvis – but for the amount of pain I was feeling, I knew pretty quickly that something had changed.  I called to my nurse, confident one was nearby because I had been left alone rarely during the past four weeks.  This one was new to me because although I couldn’t open my eyes yet, I knew the sound of all their voices and hers was one I didn’t recognize.

            “Did they take the baby?  Where’s my baby?  Where’s Darren?”  My first question, always the first question after waking from any procedure they’d tried. 

“No.  They couldn’t take him hon.  They talked with your husband and he chose to save you,” she replied.  It took a minute for her words to register in my mind and then I realized what she was telling me.

 “Why?  Why wouldn’t he have saved Darren?  What happened?”  I’d been in the hospital for so long that I had accepted I would never leave and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would die in these rooms.  I had five of the top specialists in Wichita caring for me, consulting each other for ideas, and trying desperately to keep my baby inside my failing body.  Despite not knowing what was wrong with me they all agreed on one thing, the best place for the baby was in my womb and until it proved differently so that’s where they’d fight to keep him at all costs, even to me.  All these doctors caring for me, but this poor nurse who’d never met me got to deliver the words no pregnant woman ever wants to hear.

“Your baby probably won’t make it through the night and we’re not sure you will either.  You’ve got to make peace with that and you’ve got to fight hard if you want to live,” Charlene said. 

Can you imagine telling someone that?  I’m amazed at what these nurses deal with on a daily basis.  But she was a professional – concise and totally straight with me.  My nurses rarely tried to gloss over any bad news with me and I much preferred it that way.  Sugar-coating isn’t something I do with my own words and I damn sure didn’t want anyone caring for me doing it either.  I needed straight, honest answers, even if it meant telling me they didn’t know.  And I’d surely heard that a lot over the past few weeks.

“Your baby probably won’t make it through the night….”  I knew what that meant and it terrified me. 

I usually slept during the day and stayed awake most of the night because I found comfort in the noise of the hospital floor and fear at night during the quiet.  There were times when I’d doze off at night but I never went into a deep sleep, despite the morphine, and the slightest noise or alarm would wake me.  Dr. Cline, my OB, would often stop by at all hours when he was on the floor delivering babies just to check on me and one night he came in looking like he’d been through a war.  His eyes were red and puffy and when I startled awake to find him sitting on my bed I asked what in the world he was doing coming by in the middle of the night and just why he looked so awful.  “I just spent the past several hours helping a woman deliver a dead baby,” he told me.  He said it calmly, matter of factly.  I touched his arm and murmured sympathy for him, for the mother, and for the nurses.  I knew that was always a possibility with pregnancy, we all know that don’t we?  Things can go wrong and death is always on the list of outcomes.  But somehow it never occurred to me that if a baby died in utero, it still had to come out. 

Dr. Cline explained that this baby had died several days before but the woman had carried it and only delivered just then.  I could only imagine the silence in the room except for the tears from the mother and perhaps her family.  The joyous event of birth had, for that family, forever changed.  I asked him a few more questions about the technical and medical aspects of such a delivery and he shared what he could.  I think he just needed to talk and I allowed him that.  From my perspective, anytime I saw him as a mere human was always comforting for me and gave me confidence in him.  I’d learned to disregard worrying about “bedside manner” because most of the doctors around me were curt, almost to the point of rude.  I had told Dr. Cline about one such doctor’s attitude and that I never wanted him near me again.  Dr. Cline had looked earnestly at me and said, “I know he’s not the warmest guy but he’s the best, Lisa, and right now I need him.  I’ll coordinate them all and do my best but you’ve got to let that bedside manner stuff go.”  He was right, of course.  He, himself, had let down that tough veneer most doctors carry and allowed me to see him as genuinely kind.  He’d held my life in his hands for weeks and I would live or die because of his skills and that of the team he’d assembled, that much I knew.  Then it hit me.

I looked him in the eye and understood.  There was a very real possibility I would soon be in the same situation as the mother grieving for her infant in the other room.  I didn’t ask any more questions and we sat in silence for a while longer before he quietly got up and walked away.  I listened for his cowboy boots clomping against the floor to fade out before I lost control.  The tears flowed for hours and then anger followed.  Over the next weeks as I got sicker and sicker, I thought of that night and the conversation I’d had with Dr. Cline.  If it came to that with me, I thought, I’d make them take the baby and I’d die instead.

            The pain from the final surgery was unbearable and I called to Charlene to hold my hand.  Without knowing the details of what happened and not really caring at the time, I gave up.  Right then I consciously remember giving up and wanting to die.  I remembered that night when Dr. Cline told me about the woman who delivered the dead baby and I knew I couldn’t do it.  At my strongest, I didn’t think I could do it but in my present state there was no doubt.  I thought it odd that I would know the moment I’d die.  How many people can say that?  Is it better this way, to know that moment and embrace it as it comes?  Would my life flash before me?  Would I see a light or hear a voice telling me to go towards it?  Or would I simply close my eyes and go to sleep?  I remembered Dr. Cline, telling me that he’d never seen anyone sicker live and the fact that I was 32 weeks pregnant wasn’t helping my case.  When a doctor sits on the edge of your hospital bed holding your hand in both of his and tells you something like that, you kind of lose hope.  I understood he was at his wits end, he’d been grasping at straws for weeks trying to figure out what was wrong with me, consulting specialists and other high-risk OB’s. 

It wasn’t long after that when I made the phone call to the surgeon, taking matters into my own hands and trying one last thing before losing all hope.  I had called Dr. Porter early one morning and said, as clearly as I could, “This is Lisa Hammond.  You did a bladder repair surgery on me last year.  I’ve been in Wesley for almost four weeks now and they don’t know what’s wrong with me so if you don’t operate, Dr. Porter, I’m going to die.  Oh, I’m 31 weeks pregnant too.”  Why he took the call and why he listened to me, I’ll never know, but he arrived shortly after we hung up and consulted the team assigned to me.  Operating without a clue of the situation is always risky, but on a pregnant woman?  I can only imagine the trepidation all of them felt as they agreed that perhaps it was, in fact, the only option left.

            My pain was worse now.  Local anesthetics never took effect on me and so waking from any surgery brings a rush of pain, always has.  It’s as if my body relived the surgery and I felt every incision, pull, and stitch which often resulted in my blood pressure soaring and a few times I nearly coded.  By now my nurses were well versed and had morphine boluses at the ready even though I’d had it through a drip for several weeks.  They were always authorized bolus for me after any procedure, especially a surgery and I knew Charlene could get one.

            I asked Charlene for water and got the standard answer, no.  I had an NG tube down my nose leading directly into my stomach and a central line in my neck providing nutrition for me and Darren so I was NPR, nothing by mouth.  My mom would often sneak me small sips of her Dr. Pepper and I would let the freezing cold liquid move slowly down my throat, savoring every drop.  Then we’d watch with fascination as the pump for the NG tube clicked on and the Dr. Pepper would come right back out, snaking it’s way through the tube.  Timing this illicit activity in between the staff visits had become like a game for us.  So I wasn’t surprised Charlene’s answer was no but my throat hurt so badly that this time I practically begged and she took pity on me.  She soaked a washcloth and let me suck on it.  She did this several times for me and I was so grateful to her for this kindness. 

            “What happened?  What have they done to me?”  A swollen pregnant belly always stretches and causes discomfort, mine was no exception.  For four weeks I’d felt nothing but pain, despite the morphine drip that had become my constant companion, a necessary evil and large bone of contention with Dr. Roberts, the Peritinologist brought in to advocate for my unborn baby, but this pain I was feeling had become unbearable and at level I believed would surely cause my death.  Charlene took my hand in hers and placed it between my breasts.  I recognized the bumps of metal underneath bandages as she guided my hand slowly up and over my belly, all the way to my pelvis.  Staples.  I’d been cut from my breasts to my pelvis, all along my pregnant belly. 

“Oh God, dear God, there’s no way I can live through this.  What have they done to me?” I asked.  I didn’t even bother asking the details of the surgery, didn’t ask her to explain the other tubes and bandages I felt along my sides.  Her silence only confirmed my fear and rammed home the fact that I wasn’t going to survive.

            I heard footsteps in the hall and a soft voice asked Charlene if she was coming.  Lunch probably, nurses need to get away from the patients and seek comfort in each other.  I braced myself for her to tell me that she was leaving for a short time and to press the button for someone else if I needed anything while she was gone.  Did she know that one of my greatest fears was that I would die alone and no one would find me until it was too late to perform a c-section and get the baby safely out of my body?  Even though I was hooked up to a number of machines that were being monitored at the main station, I worried about that every minute of each day.   My team of doctors tried to put me in the Intensive Care Unit, where someone in my condition would normally be housed, but since I was pregnant they didn’t want me.  A riskier option was to put me on the Women’s Floor where surgical patients, often pregnant, recovered but since I was classified as critical they didn’t want me because they didn’t have the nursing staff to provide the required level of attention.  Finally the Labor and Delivery (L&D) Department agreed to keep me, even though it was unusual to place me there since I wasn’t in labor.  A room was set up away from the laboring women and they built it into an intensive care room, providing extra staffing and rotation between the nurses.  I’d gotten to know all the nurses because of the rotation they set up and they adjusted well to the odd situation of having a long term patient but I was still afraid to be alone and each time the nurse left I tried to stay as wide awake as possible in case I needed to press the emergency button.  Charlene had been sitting with me for quite some time so I knew she was due for her break or lunch and felt tremendous guilt in realizing that this time, I knew I was dying and wanted her to stay.   

“No.  I won’t leave her.  I’m staying with her for now,” she told the voice.  I let the tears that had been welling up in my eyes drift down my cheeks.  These nurses had seen everything, tears wouldn’t bother her so I made no effort to wipe them away, but she did.

            The machines were droning on with their constant beeping.  I could feel the blood pressure cuff tighten around my arm and my finger swell in the small monitor attached to it.  The belts around my belly that monitored Darren’s heartrate were set to silent.  Although I’m sure Charlene and others at the main nurse’s station were watching them closely, they were mercifully turned down because by now I’d become schooled enough to know the rhythm they’d emit would only confirm how weak my baby had become.  I knew the danger level for his heartrate and I knew his was well below.  Usually everyone who entered my room, which was nearly 20 people before 7:00 am, asked the same first question, “Morning!  When was the last time you felt Darren move?”  It had been days since I’d felt him move inside of me and they’d quit asking.  I think all pregnant women, at some point, would surely give a million dollars to stop their baby from moving because of the interrupted sleep or pain and I know I’d thought it many times during the previous months.  Now, though, it was different.  I’d give my life to feel him move.  I talked to him and willed him to bump me or kick no matter how much it hurt.  What little strength I had, was sent to him, if that’s possible.

Why didn’t Ed tell them to save the baby?  Why would he put me through this any longer?

Dr. Cline had promised me that if I began failing for a final time, he could have the baby out in two minutes.  For some reason, this had stuck with me, even knowing it was impossible.  By the time the Resident on duty was called up and made the decision, I estimated it closer to ten or fifteen minutes – and that’s only if everything went like clockwork.  If the Resident didn’t act quickly enough, I knew enough time would pass that Darren would die with me and I let anger wash over me at the decision Ed had made during my surgery.  I thought I’d surely give him a hard time and a real what-for at some point.  And then I almost chuckled because I knew I’d never have the opportunity to have that argument with my husband. 

We’d been married less than a year and this was my first pregnancy.  I wouldn’t even live to have my first anniversary, let alone see my son grow up.  I’d never grow old with Ed, cry as Darren made a winning touchdown, or hold grandchildren.  So many things I’d never do again, so much I never got to do.  It’s hard to explain because you’d think I’d feel regret and, to some extent, I did.  But it was truly a peaceful feeling, knowing I would die.  My pain would finally end and that’s what I held on to. 

            I thought back over the past few weeks and made my decision.  “I’m done Charlene.  You’ve got to let me go.  Take the baby, please, and let me go.  Promise me you’ll tell them to take the baby,” I begged her.  “Let me go, please. I’m ready.  I can’t do it anymore.  I’ve made my peace and I want to go,” I told her. 

Charlene leaned over me and held my hand as she asked me if I wanted a bolus of morphine and told me she’d stay with me while it took effect.  I really thought she was asking if I was ready for a larger dose that would end my suffering and I answered yes.  She left the room to make the required note on my chart and then went quickly to the secure pharmacy to load a dose.  She was back in what seemed like an instant and I thanked her, then watched her empty the syringe into my central line.  My last thought as I closed my eyes was to hope Charlene would remember to call for the Resident and get the equipment ready for the c-section to take Darren before any more damage could affect him.  I remember thinking, “This is it, I’m going to die.  It’ll be over soon Darren and you’ve got to fight like hell when you get here.”  I wondered if Charlene had ever been the hand of death for anyone else and how this would affect her.  I felt the morphine enter my system and welcomed it.

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