What Do You Mean It's Up to Her?!?
Only once in my life has time stood still. I can’t describe that brief period as bad or upsetting or even traumatic. All of those descriptors require an emotion to be present, so none of them would be an accurate portrayal. The only thing in my memory was, and still is… emptiness. Devoid of anything, including the conscious awareness of the passage of time. A zombie state. When our daughter Hollie was born 11 days after her due date, it was a challenging process that led to a caesarian delivery, but we were fortunate to have a wonderful doctor on hand to perform the operation. While the birth process didn’t necessarily turn out the way we had initially envisioned, which included the sun streaming through parting clouds as ranks of angels sang and a celestial band trumpeted her arrival, it ended well with both mother and daughter healthy. Living near the kind of population base that demanded a good sized well-staffed hospital, we ended up in good hands and began our time as a family as we had hoped. Four years later, we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our second child. In the interim we had moved to a region that was more rural and remote, and while we were hardly eking out a living in the wilderness, the communities were smaller and services scaled back from what we had experienced in our previous home. Remembering the difficulties with Rosanne’s first delivery, it was nervousness and fear that emerged when we were informed that the only obstetrician in the area was 75 years old. Worries of a frail body, jittery hands and a bit of memory loss thrust us into thinking we needed someone else to bring our next bundle of joy into the world. One of those slick Porsche driving good looking type docs from the city would do fine. Someone with access to better facilities, with more recent and up -to-date training and a well-rounded staff would be just the ticket. With that in mind, we sought and found the right profile and soon after we headed to the city, preparing for the pre-planned surgical delivery. The day that was slated to become the birthday of our soon-to-be new child dawned, and it was magnificent. Gorgeous and sunny, the kind that makes the world seem perfect and melts your troubles away. It came with a light breeze, the autumn sky warming my face without the threat of sweat forming. Given that the delivery was scheduled, there was adequate time to get ready, including for Rosanne to do her hair and get dressed for the occasion. It felt more like an outing on the town, akin to seeing a play or perhaps heading for dinner, except in this case two of us would walk out the door and three of us would come back in. The delivery of our healthy baby boy (we had no idea if we were about to welcome a son or second daughter into our world) went precisely as planned. No surprises except for the news that “this one has outdoor plumbing!”, blurted out by the delivering doctor. “You have the million dollar family”, he said with a showy smile, reminiscent of a movie star. A new baby, a healthy wife and daughter and nothing but sunshine on the horizon. “Isn’t life grand,” I thought with deep appreciation.
And I truly meant it. While not exactly bathing in hundred dollars bills every day like Scrooge McDuck, I had everything I could imagine I would ever want. A short time later we packed up the newly minted Hunter along with his excited big sister, pointed east towards the mountains and headed for home, away from the city with its fancy hospital and hot shot doctor to our small town nestled in the mountains. The best of both worlds. Access what you want and need in a more urban centre, then run away back to the peace and quiet provided by nature and a strong sense of community. Settling in, we focused on life with a newborn in the house, hectic and tiring but happy. Over the next week or so, Rosanne worked on being a wonderful mother to Hunter and allowing herself to recover. Surgery is never easy, even when done by a cool young doctor and the fact that you get a child out of the deal. She had the usual problems with the usual things — walking, holding Hunter, doing stuff around the house. Generally, she was improving, but during a walk around the block she notified me that she wasn’t feeling well. Within a day, she was assessed and told that she would need to take some medication followed by a very simple quick procedure. Somewhat concerned but chalking it up to the fact that everyone heals at their own pace and there can be a few bumps along the road, we drove to the hospital to have it done. I was sure it would be a quick fix. We arrived at the local hospital, and while Hollie, Hunter and I waited for their mom to return to us with a smile and good prognosis, a nurse appeared with the solemn instruction that things had not gone as planned and that we should go home. “She’ll be fine,” we were assured. “Come back and you can see her in the morning.” I could hear Rosanne scream. Now very alarmed, I asked what was going on. “Go home” was the stern order. “Come back in the morning.” With that she turned on her heels and departed through a door, not to be seen again. Desperately wanting to stay but also realizing I had a newborn son to take care of and a young daughter who needed attention, I slowly walked out of the hospital, the sound of Rosanne’s screams piercing me. No answers, no idea what was wrong, no ability to stay by her side, nothing I could do. No more happiness. Dread. It was three’o’clock in the morning. I was holding Hunter who was fussing, oblivious to the fact that his mother was in a hospital bed miles away. Sitting in the rocking chair half delirious from exhaustion, I was awake enough to be terrified. “How could this happen,” I wondered. “Everything was so good a few short hours ago.” I still had no idea what was wrong with Rosanne. Repeated calls to the hospital resulted in replies of “She’s being assessed” and “You can see her in morning,” all of which was horribly unsatisfying. At 4:30 I couldn’t take it any longer. Bundling Hunter into his car seat and knowing Hollie would be okay in the hands of my mother who had arrived to help, I fired up the truck and drove south towards the hospital and with some luck, answers and medical intervention. The only source of comfort was that she was in the hands of the doctors so she would be okay. Because that what doctors do. They fix sick people. So it would be okay. By five’o’clock I was standing in the hallway outside of the room that Rosanne had been assigned. She was hooked up to one of those big machines that blink and beep and have screens to show the patient’s health status, and there were five people hovering over and around her, alternately looking at Rosanne then talking in hushed voices. The local doctor that we knew looked up, saw me and broke from the medical team huddle, walking over to me with a guarded look on her face. “We’re lucky,” she stated categorically. “None of us knew what was wrong and why she was in so much pain. It didn’t make any sense, but fortunately we have a resident doctor from South Africa who recognized the symptoms. He says it’s common in countries with a lot of violence, among people who are shot, stabbed or end up in vehicle crashes. Rosanne has a condition called DIC — Disseminated Intervascular Coagulation. Her blood has stopped clotting and her body is in shut down mode, preparing to die.” My fright changed to confusion and in a strange way, relief. The problem had a name, and if it had a name, it could be fixed. Because that’s what doctors do. They fix people who have problems that have names. As quickly as the relief had come, it vanished, replaced with a higher state of confusion. “I don’t understand. She wasn’t shot or stabbed. Why does she have this?” With a look of caution, the doctor said softly “DIC is caused by massive blood loss. It can also result from surgery that… doesn’t go well. Rosanne almost bled to death. The pain had to be unimaginable. She will need an operation to correct it.” Bizarrely, with all that had happened, I still clung to a branch of hope. Whatever had almost killed my wife would be tossed out of her body by a doctor. Because it had a name and could be fixed. The blur of confusion easing somewhat and the organizational part of me kicking in, I asked her “When is the surgery?” “We aren’t sure. She’s too weak right now and needs to get some strength back before the surgeon can operate. We’ve given her several transfusions, but now it’s up to her. There is nothing more we can do.”
The clock stopped. I literally couldn’t see though my eyes were wide open. No thoughts at all, then fear, anger, and panic. This was not what was supposed to happen. The doctors had to repair her. It can’t be up to her. It had to be up to them. I couldn’t move, or think, or process. While we had been talking a nurse had taken Hunter from me and placed him right where he wanted to be — beside his mother. He knew nothing of medical conditions with long names or doctors or my fright. He just snuggled in beside the most important person in his life. I looked at Rosanne. Her face was so pale, and she looked terribly weak, but there was something else. Determination. Grit. Strength. She had no plans of going anywhere. It was the old guy that saved her. The young Hollywood doctor had botched things and she was saved by the person that we had kicked to the curb. Where we had seen 75 years old and no longer with it, reality presented 50 years of experience and someone who had seen it all. Within a short time Rosanne was back on her feet, firmly planted in the land of the living. She grabbed life and went on to work, volunteer, be a wonderful parent, travel and become a top shelf coach. She simply refused to die that day, even when her body told her she should and the medical staff figured she would. Although it wasn’t clarified in my mind for a while later, I learned some tremendous lessons in those few intense days. The first was sad, like something in me died. The faith and trust I had that the medical system could make anyone better as long as they knew what was wrong were shattered. It seems a bit naïve now as I look back, but it was like having my life jacket torn off and pushed into the choppy waters, forced to swim on my own. Experience matters. I was so quick to discount someone who had tons of relevant knowledge because of my own distorted perceptions about who was qualified to do what. In follow-up discussions with the elder doc, I was so impressed with his calm demeanour when he talked about things that were life and death. He’d seen the rare, repaired the damaged, and still had a twinkle in his eye. It’s important not to categorize people because they have (or don’t have) various degrees, certifications and a long resume. Real life experience in the trenches counts — a lot. Be careful not to throw it out too quickly, especially today when we need it so much. COVID-19 has turned our world on its head and we are navigating uncharted waters. It’s scary and uncertain, and like that young man who so vehemently believed that others would fix things, it’s easy to hang our hats on the belief that a shining knight will come to our rescue. That won’t happen. But we have something better. Ourselves and each other. Within each of us is a strength that is deep and powerful, but you have to look for it, rummage around and dig it out. It’s not conveniently sitting on a shelf where we can pick it up as needed and casually put it back when our lives go back on cruise control. Others around you have it too. At home, at work, on the street. Strength abounds. Find it, and it will be our salvation.