That Time I Almost Died
I'm a proponent of marking dates to reflect on the past: here's where I was a year ago, here's that big thing that happened five years ago today. This week marks the sixth anniversary of one of the scariest, most physically and emotionally painful experiences of my life.
I was twenty-six, engaged to my now-husband. Neither of us was ready to have kids, and I'd had an intrauterine device (IUD) implanted for three years for birth control. As is common with IUDs, I barely got a period, if at all, so was surprised when I had heavy, painful bleeding that lasted weeks, combined with by far the worst cramps I'd ever had. I thought mind-numbing cramps had finally caught up with me after years of no-to-light monthly bleeding. I made an appointment at my OBGYN and told the receptionist that no, it wasn't an emergency, thinking it had to go away soon.
Days before the appointment, I got dizzy, collapsed, then threw up. I could barely walk to the bathroom without having to sit down. I was nauseated, sore, exhausted. When my OBGYN appointment finally came around, the doctor told me that, with heavy, persistent bleeding with an IUD, they had to test for pregnancy. Neither of us expected the test to come back positive. "This is the first patient I've ever had get pregnant on an IUD," she told me, flabbergasted.
They couldn't get me in for an ultrasound that afternoon, so I had to drive the half-hour home, dazed and sobbing, still in immense pain, with no end in sight. They were able to sneak me in for an ultrasound the next day, though they still couldn't determine what exactly was going on with me. The embryo was in my left fallopian tube, a series of doctors confirmed, which would have to be removed immediately.
I waited thirteen hours in a hospital bed before finally being wheeled into surgery. They'd incised below the tattoo on my left hip, leaving three small scars on my hips and belly. It was nearly five a.m. before I was cleared to leave. They told me I could stay in the hospital for recovery, but I wanted to get the hell out of there. It was the same hospital where my mother had been in the ICU for a week, then a regular room for another week, when she sustained a traumatic brain injury the year before. It brought up those terrifying memories, of not knowing if she'd walk again, work or drive or do the things she loved. I just wanted to go home.
I tried to sleep, but the pain in my stomach was still intense and I felt deeply uncomfortable. I'd given up on sleep and was watching Doctor Who on the couch when the surgeon called. He apologized for not rushing me into surgery right away, said that they hadn't known my fallopian tube had already ruptured, that blood was pouring into my stomach, that I could have died. He said I was lucky. He told me that was the problem with pain scales, that he'd thought anyone with a ruptured fallopian tube would be writhing on the floor with pain. He said it like it was my fault.
I was supposed to have a wedding dress fitting the next day. The girl on the phone seemed confused that I wasn't enthusiastic for my dress fitting. I hadn't slept well in weeks, due to the excruciating pain, felt bloated and nauseous, my stomach still in knots. I'd never felt less like a beautiful bride.
Our wedding was scheduled for nine months after the surgery and the irony was not lost on me. Had the pregnancy been viable and I chose to carry it to term, the baby would have been arriving around the same week as our wedding. But there was no baby.
I wasn't allowed to snowboard or play hockey or even soak in our hot tub for four-to-six weeks. I spent most of the time curled up on our leather couch or old reclining chair in front of the woodstove. I couldn't concentrate or do much (especially when I was still on painkillers). I was always tired. I couldn't tell anyone, not even my fiance, that I wasn't OK.
Six years later, the scars are faint but still there. I have to check "yes" on the Have you ever been pregnant? box on the doctor's form. We could have a six-year-old. Except we don't (for which I'm honestly grateful). We now own a home in a small town we love. We have two dogs, a cat, and five chickens, an acre of land overlooking Mount Ellen, and we just bought a new fridge. We're comfortable; we're doing OK. We're in a much better position to have a kid, if we do choose to. And I'm lucky that my ability to get pregnant wasn't significantly affected. I'm lucky for a lot of things.
*You can read more about this experience in HuffPost.