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The Forever Reminder of a Traumatic Birth

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By J. and S. Smith

We thank the Smith family for sharing their unbelievable story with us. Due to the traumatic experience, they have asked to be referred to by initials only for reasons of anonymity.

My surgery was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. My husband, son and I woke up early that morning and started getting ready for the big event. Around 11:00 a.m. my husband and I left for the hospital and our son C stayed with my mom. We arrived at the hospital at a little after 11:30 a.m. and were met by a few of my close girlfriends that had come to be with me and pray with me before the surgery.

After checking in at the front desk, I was taken up to my room in the labor and delivery ward of the hospital. A few nurses and the resident doctor came in to begin prepping me. They started asking the general questions and attempted to get my IV started. After 2 failed attempts on one arm, they switched to the other, only to blow out a vein on the top of my hand.

The anesthesiologist came in and began asking questions about my prior experiences with anesthesia. He seemed very concerned about the fact that I was on a Z-Pac for my cough. He kept asking me how far along we were and why we were doing the c-section now. He listened to my heart and lungs and said “Humph, that’s strange.” Apparently he did not hear the murmur that almost all pregnant women have when pregnant (due to the increase in blood volume from the placenta). His main concern he said was that with a cough, he would not be able to put me under should something happen.

While he was explaining the various kinds of anesthesia (local, epidural and spinal block), my OB called and asked if we could move the surgery up a half hour. The anesthesiologist stated that the IVs haven’t even been started yet and that I would have to have 2 boluses (liters) of IV before the operation in order to maintain blood pressure throughout the surgery. The OB asked if it’s possible to get by with just one, to which the anesthesiologist replied “Yeah, it’s possible….” So the OB made the call to proceed with just one bolus.

The nurses called for the IV therapy team to get to the room STAT so that they could get an IV started and get as much IV in me as possible before the surgery. At 12:55 p.m. they finally got an IV in, but did not feel comfortable about pumping a liter of IV into me in 5 minutes. They called the OB and informed him that he would have to stay with the 1:30 time originally scheduled.

At this point, my friends and our nurse prayed with my husband and me, as we were concerned that things were not going well. I had had numerous failed IVs, blown out veins, an anesthesiologist that was not wanting to do the c-section because of my cold, and an OB that wanted to push the surgery up with half the recommended IV solution in me.

They took my husband to the OR waiting room and told him that they would come and get him as soon as the spinal block was in place. After dropping him off, I was taken to the OR where the anesthesiologist was waiting for me. He tried to insert the needle into my spine, and FAILED! He tried again and FAILED!! He tried a third time and FAILED AGAIN!!! Each time he attempted, it sent waves of pain down my back. Finally the 10th attempt at placing the spinal block took (oh yeah, and he finally had to go in sideways into my spine as opposed to going straight in). Before all of this happened, I expressed some concern to my nurses about his lack of compassion, and they assured me that he was very good and taught at several nearby schools (yet my back looks like a pin cushion).

This process took roughly 45 minutes and my husband was getting nervous because they told him they would come and get him after 15 – 20 minutes. The nurse went to get him, as I began to feel nauseous and threw up. I was given something for the nausea and began to feel better. My husband came in and here is his account…

I walked into the OR to see that surreal sight of my wife drawn and quartered on the OR table. Despite the events leading up to this point, she was looking remarkably well. Her color was good and she was smiling when she saw me. I asked how she was feeling and she told me she had thrown up but was feeling better.

I took my place next to her and rubbed her head as the surgery began. Content with the way she looked and felt, I was convinced that the worst was behind us and a textbook c-section was in store.

I carefully listened to the doctor’s comments and my wife’s, as I did not want to miss a thing. Several minutes into the surgery the doctor yells “we have a rupture, get me suction!!” Concerned, I look to our nurse for reassurance and she informs me that the doctor had just punctured the bag of water and needed to suction it out (standard procedure). That was reassuring until he started yelling that he needed suction “NOW!!!!” Apparently the suction machine had failed and my wife’s abdomen was filling up. The nurses ran over to the suction machine and tried to fix it, but couldn’t. The doctor began yelling that the baby was going to drown in there if they didn’t get the suction going now. They quickly switched canisters and the suction began. Expecting to see clear or pinkish liquid being suctioned, I was horrified to see the canister begin filling with dark red blood. Not being a doctor myself, I decided to trust that this was normal and continue to caress and support my wife.

In the minutes that followed, I found myself watching the anesthesiologist as he monitored my wife’s vitals. I noticed that her blood pressure was 97/68 and wasn’t sure how safe that was. Not wanting to concern my wife, I pointed to it and gave a thumb up and thumb down gesture to the anesthesiologist. He leaned over to me and explained that it was fine, and that if it dipped below 90, then it would be something to be concerned with.

As he is explaining this, the doctor starts yelling, “Come on, I can’t find him here. The doctor who did your last c-section shouldn’t be walking. There is so much scar tissue.” Then he yells, “Okay, here we go. C’mon people you have to be faster than that. HE’S TRANSVERSE!! I CAN’T GET HIM!!! GRAB HER AND PULL!” The resident doctor grabbed one side of the open incision, and the OB grabbed the other. They pulled and ripped her open. I was extremely alarmed and concerned for the baby as it sounded like he was in serious danger. The doctor had to grab the forceps and the vacuum extractor. When this failed, he ended up putting a leg on the operating table and began jerking. “We’re losing him! HE IS GOING TO DIE!!! QUICK GET EMERGENCY NICU UP HERE NOW!!!!!! WE’RE LOSING HIM!!! C’MON!!!!” At this point, I begin praying with my wife. Her body is being bounced on the operating table as the doctors are grasping and pulling the baby from the womb. Finally they are able to extract him, but he is not breathing. Time stands still and while it was only seconds, it seemed like an eternity. “He peed,” said the doctor. The nurses took him and did the apgar test to which he scored a 3. Twenty seconds later though, he was at an 8.

Relieved that he was out and doing okay, I left my wife’s side to go see my son. The NICU staff rushed in, but was dismissed. I took a few pictures of my son and saw what I thought was mucus or uterine blood on his arm. It turned out to be a laceration from shoulder to wrist on his left arm. In the heat of the moment, in trying to get him out, the doctor caught his arm on one of the clamps holding my wife open.

The nurses wrapped Luke up and took him over to see J. While they were doing this, the excitement finally caught up with me, and I started to feel dizzy and light headed. I went and sat in the corner for a few minutes without my mask, so I could breathe. Feeling better within a few seconds, I walked back over to my wife and rubbed her head telling her how beautiful our son was.

The feeling of happiness was short lived as the doctor begins yelling, “I can’t stop the bleeding, I need more suction!!” I looked over to the suction machine and noticed that the canister was now full of blood and knew that the second canister was broke. I grabbed the attention of one of the nurses and told her that the canister was full and the other one was broken. The two of them ran over to the machine as the doctor continued to yell for suction. The nurses began to smack, lift, reposition and adjust the second canister until finally it began to work.

Not feeling at all comfortable, I look at my wife who was still managing to smile. I kissed her forehead and turned to look at her vitals on the monitor. As I am beginning to ask the anesthesiologist a question, the monitor goes red and the words “heart rate too weak to detect blood pressure” begins to flash on the screen. As if that weren’t scary enough, the resident doctor attempted to move something inside J, to which the OB screams “DON”T TOUCH THAT!!! THAT’S THE ONLY THING KEEPING HER FROM BLEEDING OUT!!!” I look over at the suction canister and it is half filled already.

The anesthesiologist gets a blood pressure reading that is reassuring, just in time to get yelled at by the OB for another hema-stat. The anesthesiologist tells him that he cannot give J anymore, because she has had too much blood clotter already. The OB replies “Your choices are to give her another or have her bleed to death!” The anesthesiologist walks over to the phone and cups his mouth and receiver with his hand. I could not hear what he was saying, but I can only guess that it was a call to relieve himself of all liability.

He hangs up and gets the blood clotter ready. I am not sure if it was the 3rd or 4th one, but the anesthesiologist was not at all comfortable doing it. The OB yelled, “Get that hema-stat in her!! I can’t tell were she’s bleeding from.” The anesthesiologist informs the OB that the hema-stat is in, and the doctor begins cauterizing everything in sight. They finally get the bleeding to subside, after filling nearly two canisters with blood and soiling 24 rags.

The process of sewing her back together begins and the OB tells us that we should not have any more children with as many complications as J had. I look at the clock, and it is now 3:30 p.m. The surgery was supposed to take one hour and was into its second hour. The spinal block, we were told, lasts for 2 hours. So here she is, lying on a table being sewn back together, after being RIPPED open, losing 500 cc of blood, having more than the legal dose of blood clotter, being told not to have any more kids, being told that “IF YOU LIVE,” and now, she is on the verge of having her spinal wear off.

They get the last layer of tissue sewn and use 37 staples to hold the skin together. The OB takes off his hood and gown, and says that that was the first time in his 40 years of doing this, that that had ever happened. He said he was learning as he went and that he was amazed that they didn’t lose both of them. At one point, he even commented that he shouldn’t have even gotten out of bed.

As he is verbally bashing the resident doctor, the nurses do the post operation count on all of the instruments. If you think that the experience could not get any worse, you’re wrong. THEY ARE MISSING A NEEDLE. The OB demands that the emergency X-Ray staff get up there stat and that everyone start praying that it is not in J, because she could not survive them going back in after everything that transpired. The anesthesiologist is extremely concerned because the spinal block is about to wear off and with the cough, he cannot put J under. This leaves just a local as her only means of pain relief if they have to go back in. And with her extreme blood loss, it may not be that effective.

The nurses and doctors dump all of the trash out on the floor and start going through it inch by inch. As they are doing this, the X-Ray staff comes up and gets ready to take a picture when they realize that this operating table does not have a hole under it for the lead plate needed by the X-Ray machine. They decide that they will lift J off the table and slide the plate under her. The OB is livid at this because it not only puts too much stress on the incision, but there is a chance of contaminating the incision with the residue on her operating sheet.

They get the sheet taken care of and carefully roll her to one side and snap the picture. For the next 15 minutes, we wait and pray for a clean X-Ray. So far, nothing has gone right, and I am convinced that they are going to find the needle inside her. After much praying and waiting, the X-Rays come back clean. One of the nurses had thought she knew what happened, but couldn’t prove it. She had 7 written on the board for number of needles used. The doctor asked for another and she wrote +1. A second later, he asked for a second and she wrote +2. When they tallied them up, it looked like there was supposed to be 10 needles (7 + 1 + 2), when in fact, there were only 9. So, it appeared as if there was a needle missing.

They wheeled her to the recovery room and brought Luke in with us. The nurse did a post op de-briefing where she took full responsibility for the needle incident. She also told us that J would need to wear these stockings that will help prevent blood clots from forming. I had not even thought of that, but I soon realized that with having more than the legal amount of blood clotter, there was a chance that she could have a blood clot or even a stroke.

Well, the next three days were filled with numerous visits from doctors, nurses and friends. We told the story to many of them who were left speechless. The mark on baby L’s arm, will forever serve as a reminder of just how close our family came to losing two beloved members, and how gracious and loving our God was/is that He personally stayed in that operating room guiding the hands of the surgeons and staff so that in the end, J and L would come home safe and sound.

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