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How I Spent My Friday Night

(Originally written and emailed to the "timewaste" Yahoo Group on March 8, 1999. Lightly edited and published on May 1, 2019.)

Subject: [timewaste] How I Spent My Friday Night

This time it was going to be easy.

Not like last time, when Lisa went into labor and ten minutes later, the contractions were five minutes apart, and she and I were careening down I-5 to Swedish Hospital in Seattle at 80 mph. Not like last time, when the triage nurse wanted to send us home, even though Lisa was doubled over in extreme pain, and I wanted to punish every nurse and doctor we encountered for their incompetence.

This time, it was to be a scheduled caesarean section. Sure, Lisa had placenta previa, which meant the baby's placenta was attached over the cervix, so a normal vaginal birth was too risky for both the baby and mother. That was okay by me. A caesarean is scheduled. Planned. You get an appointment, show up an hour or two beforehand, and in mere moments (in maternal labor time) you have this baby, with a nice, round head, and it's all over. Easy.

Lisa's caesarean was scheduled for the coming Wednesday, March 10th. We had a few appointments on the two days before, for amniocentesis, ultrasound and some other preliminary tests. We had also requested that the doctor performing the cesarian also do a tubal ligation on Lisa while she was in there. (Sort of like having the car mechanic fix a bad fan belt while the car is in for a tune-up. Kill two birds, right?)

So there we were, a big happy family last Friday night, the 5th. Lisa was on bed rest, so we had all congregated on our big King-size bed: Lisa, me, our 18-month old daughter, Anna, and our six-year-old son, Stephen. Our other daughter, Robin, was in the bathtub. Lisa was reading a book to Stephen and Anna had just climbed onto Lisa's lap for a round of giddy-up.

Suddenly, Lisa says, "I've got to go to the bathroom," puts the book down and gently moves Anna off her lap. Fine. Routine. I hardly take notice. But in her very next breath, she looks right at me and says, "I'm bleeding. Call 9-1-1," and gets up quickly and heads for the bathroom.

I look on the bed where she had been lying and there's a pool of blood. Not blood stains, but an actual pool. Maybe "pond" is a better word. I want to convey just how MUCH blood. Lots. Tons, or quarts.

I jump up in shock. Stephen sits there on the bed, frozen, staring at the red pool. I move toward the bathroom, then, remembering Lisa's instructions, reverse direction to the phone on my bedside stand. I dial 911.

We live in unincorporated Snohomish county, so if you do call 911, they have to figure that out and transfer you to the Sheriff Department's 911 call center. This is unnerving because it sounds like they are hanging up on you. You get another dial tone before the phone starts ringing again.

The County 911 operator answers. I rattle off the necessary information: Name, rank, serial number, address. WE NEED AN AMBULANCE NOW. There is a lot of blood. My wife. Placenta previa. The operator asks where Lisa is. In the bathroom. I look toward our bathroom for the first time since Lisa went in there. All I can see is a trail of blood on the floor. Not drips and drops, but like someone had dragged a body across the rug. Is she lying on her left side, the operator asks. No. She's on the toilet. Tell her to lie on her left side. I relay the order. Lisa does. Now I can see her legs as she's lying on the floor. They are covered in blood. I think, "Wow, that looks just like one of those murder scene photographs they show you on those crime re-enactment shows on TV."

I suddenly remember that the wind storm of a few days ago has blown down our street sign. An ambulance won't be able to find our street. I tell the operator this. Lisa says, from the bathroom floor, "Go out and flag down the ambulance." I learn later from Lisa that at that moment, she was sure she was going to die. She was sure she was going to lose the baby.

Where are the kids? Stephen is still on the bed, staring at the pool of blood, but also now shouting, "Mommy's bleeding!" Anna is in my arms. I run and dump her into her crib. Robin, who is just 4, is in the bathtub asking, "What's happening?" I get the cordless phone and hand it to Lisa. Did I mention there is blood everywhere? Lisa has the two large bath towels we keep in our master suite bathroom. One under her. One between her legs. They are both maroon with blood, completely soaked.

I run from the house, out onto the street and then down to the main road, about a hundred yards. I stand there. It's quiet. It's probably only a minute, but feels like an hour. At last, I hear the siren and see two ambulances coming up the main road. Two. Why two? I start waving my arms and jumping up and down. They slow and turn onto our street. I run back to my house, waving them in like I'm guiding jumbo jets to an airport terminal.

As the attendants figure the best way into the house with the stretcher and equipment, I run back to the bedroom. Stephen is off the bed and in his own room. He is crying hysterically. Robin is out of the bath and in her room, crying hysterically. Anna is in her crib, and yes, crying hysterically. I lead the men into our bedroom. One of them stops me and says, "We'll get your wife. You take care of your children." I comply. I tell the children to get dressed. That will keep them busy, I hope.

The next thing I know, they have Lisa in some sort of sling. I guess the gurney is just too bulky to use. They are carrying her down our hallway. They are debating whether to take her to Stevens Hospital, in Edmonds, 10 minutes away, or down to Swedish in Seattle, at least 30 minutes away (at 80 mph, I know from previous experience). I think they're crazy. "Take her to Stevens," I say firmly. Lisa agrees. They are out the door and gone.

I look back down the hallway toward the bedrooms. There is a trail of blood leading from our room, down the hall, down the front stairs, and out the front door. Where are the kids? Still crying, but getting dressed. Where are my shoes? Where are my keys? Who do I call?

I call my mommy. In Connecticut.

My mother already had tickets and was planning to arrive on Monday anyway. She is coming to stay and help us for three weeks. In a quick phone call, I tell her to get on a plane now, or soon, very soon. Just leave now. I tell her I'm taking the kids to the hospital with me, since I don't know what else to do with them.

I hear a knock at the door. Who on earth? It's our next door neighbor, Pat. "Go to the hospital," she says. "I'll watch the house." This neighbor I barely ever talk to is telling me to go, that she will take care of things here. I dress the baby. Robin is clutching her pillow, saying, "Pillow, pillow," over and over. Yes, you can take the pillow. Stephen says "Aw, how come she gets to bring a pillow?" Everyone can bring a pillow! Everyone can bring a toy! I throw some jars of baby food into Anna's diaper bag. More diapers. Wipes. We put on our coats. Just before leaving, I send an email to our best friends, Larry and Mary. (Their phone line was busy.) Subject: Emergency. Priority 1.

We pile into the Suburban. The kids clutch pillows, stuffed animals, toys, and books. Anna is happy now. We're going for a ride! I'm numb. I want to cry. I wonder what it's going to be like if I have to raise three or four kids by myself. What it will be like trying to finalize an adoption as a single father? I tell myself to stop thinking like that and to think positively instead. My cell phone rings. It's Larry. They got the email. What can he do? I ask him to meet us at the hospital. Maybe he can take the kids for me.

Meanwhile, in the ambulance, Lisa feels herself falling unconscious. She tells herself she wants to live to see her children grow up. She feels guilty because she did not feel good all day. She should have called her doctor earlier. She worries about losing the baby. Suddenly, the baby moves in her uterus. The baby moved! The baby is still alive. Lisa cries.

On the way to the hospital, Stephen puts two and two together. "Dad, I didn't feel the baby kick all day. That means the baby is dead. Mommy was bleeding a whole lot. Does that mean she's going to die too?" Robin hears this and asks, her voice trembling, "Is Mommy going to die?"

"Let's all stop asking questions," I say. "Instead, why don't we all pray to God really hard for Mommy and the baby to be okay." We all pray very, very hard for Mommy and the baby to be okay.

We get to the hospital and enter the emergency room. When I say my name, one of the admitting personnel says to follow her. She leads us through a maze of corridors to an elevator that takes us up to the 7th floor. Maternity. She says Lisa has been assigned room 711. The next day I will bet $2 on 7-1-1, straight/box, which I will lose.

There we are. Me and three kids. As the elevator doors open on the 7th floor, a nurse at the station directly opposite the doors tells me that the baby is out and crying. That Lisa is still in surgery and I can see her in Recovery afterwards.

The baby is out and crying. Tears well up in my eyes.

We go to room 711 and just stand there. Soon, another nurse comes in and gives us more information. Lisa was rushed straight to surgery. The baby was born at 8:02 pm. Lisa will be out of surgery in a few minutes, but will then be in recovery for another hour or two. I can go see the baby if I want. "Don't tell me what it is," I ask. "I want to be surprised."

I enter the Critical Care Nursery and they take me to a tiny bed with a tiny babyŚgirl, I seeŚwith a little oxygen hood over her head. She is breathing hard, on her own. She is getting plenty of oxygen. Her skin is bright red. She is making little "ih" sounds with every breath. She is beautiful.

Back in room 711, I tell the kids they have a new baby sister. Stephen is upset. He reacts the same way he does when he loses a coin toss to his sister over who will play Nintendo first. Oh well. The boys are way outnumbered in this family now. Even if you count the boy dog, it is still 3 boys and 4 girls. The boys are in trouble.

There is a knock at the door and in walks Larry with his teen daughter Grace. They are there to help. We stay a few more minutes then decide to take the kids back to our house together. Before we leave I call my Mom and Lisa's Mom and let them know everything is okay. Everything is okay.

When we got back to our house, our other neighbors were there too. There were five people in my house, scrubbing blood out of carpets, washing sheets, telling me everything was under control. My neighbor Margarette said she'd stay the night with the kids, so Larry and Grace could go home. (Grace would be back the next morning with her mom, Mary, to relieve Margarette.)

I got the kids dressed for bed. Stephen was telling anyone who would listen about all the blood. Robin kept saying, "I have a new baby sister!" I tucked them all in, kissed them all goodnight. They were quiet, even if they weren't exactly asleep. I got back in my car and returned to the hospital.

Lisa was back in room 711 when I got there. She was groggy and in a great deal of pain. I told her about our new daughter. One of the nurses had taken a Polaroid. We both looked at it. I convinced the nurse that, unless she wanted to see a command performance of that scene from "Terms of Endearment" (the one where Shirley Maclean screams at the nurses to give her daughter more pain medicine) she had better give my wife more pain medicine. She complied.

I checked in one more time on Eleanor, 5 lbs. 13 oz, 19" long, and they had removed her oxygen hood. They had her in an incubator. She was wearing the tiniest little diaper ever. She was breathing hard, but on her own, and getting plenty of oxygen. A very, very good sign. I returned to 711 and sat with Lisa until her pain was under control. I then lied down on what the nurse called a "sleep chair" and attempted to sleep myself. It was uncomfortable, and I had short, fitful, strange dreams about work, new babies, and lots and lots of blood.


Copyright © 1999–2019 Chuck Evans. All Worldwide Rights Reserved.