I was transferred to the ICU where my husband stood by my bedside with the pulmonologist all night long. It was determined that I had pulmonary edema. My sweet husband could tell you all kinds of very technical things about my PH of 7.1 (very bad) and how severe my respiratory issues were, but I think you get the picture. I was quite sick and drowning in the fluid in my lungs.
My parents had literally been home for only a few minutes when they got the call the return quickly. My in-laws also returned. It was a long night. People streamed in and out of the ICU waiting room to pray. I cannot bear the thought of the people I love most in the world thinking I was dying—and that I was leaving them with three preemies. I think it is a great gift from God that I have no memory of this. I really do not think I could handle it.
My memory picks back up the next day. I can remember hearing people I loved speaking in soft, serious voices. I heard my Mom, Carol (my mother-in-law), and my husband. I could not open my eyes, speak or move. I could only hear them. I will never forget thinking: “What is going on? Where am I? Am I dead? I am not dead. Do they think I am dead?” I wanted desperately to comfort them. I wanted them to know I could hear them. At some point, I managed to move my hand or squeeze Mom’s hand or something. It took all the energy I could muster. I heard them acknowledge it, then fell back asleep. (I have since learned that when you are under the influence of anesthesia, it is common to receive your hearing back before anything else. I had been given a paralytic during the critical hours to keep me from removing my tubes.)
I am not sure when I finally “woke up.” Because of all the drugs, I was in and out. I could not speak because of the huge tube down my throat, so I wrote notes asking what was happening. My poor hubby had to explain over and over because I was out of it and could not remember what he was telling me.
A funny side note for any of you that could use some comic relief: I was constantly starving while pregnant, especially in the latter days. The dieticians kept my room fully stocked with food (including a mini fridge). The night they removed the T-pump, the nurse suggested I not eat anything in case I had to have surgery. Around 3am I woke up FAMISHED. I hobbled to the restroom and snagged a yogurt on my way back to bed, which I devoured. The next morning, the nurse flipped out when she saw the empty yogurt cup. One of the first notes I wrote to my husband as he was explaining how I ended up in the ICU was: “Was it because I ate the yogurt?”
While I was intubated, a technician came into the room to perform an echocardiogram of my heart. (Pulmonary edema is often caused by cardiac problems.) As he was leaving, I heard him comment to my nurse, “It looks like 10-15.” This meant nothing to me, but I scribbled it down to report to my husband when he returned. When he returned to my room, I showed him the note and he assured me I must have misunderstood. I insisted that was what I had overheard. These findings confirmed that I had an acute peripartum cardiomyopathy. In layman’s terms, I had heart failure which had triggered the pulmonary complications. The numbers the technician spouted out were related to my ejection fraction (EF). The normal heart functions at 55-65%. I was in the lowest range. Generally speaking, the lower the EF, the worse the prognosis. Women with Peripartum cardiomyopathies fall in 3 categories in terms of prognosis: 1/3 die, 1/3 live as 'cardiac cripples' with diminished function and 1/3 recover fully. About 20% of women with this condition have heart transplants. This is what all the grave, tired faces coming in and out of my room knew, but no one explained to me.
I was extubated later that day. I still had not seen the babies since the brief glimpses I caught after they were born. Few visitors were allowed in and it was only for brief periods. Any excitement got my heart rate racing. I had my bed adjusted with the back straight up and refused to sleep. My husband still teases me about how unbelievable it was that I was conscious despite the loads of medication I was on. The truth is, I was petrified that if I fell asleep I would not wake up again.
to be continued