Lessons Learned at Death’s Door
I could have easily died on June 6, 1979. I have told my story to doctors who find it amazing that I am here to tell about it. I was only 31 years old. Over Memorial Day weekend (May 26-28), I was having some cramps—a bit uncomfortable, and felt discomfort standing straight up. It went in waves. The only person I told was my sister-in-law who was visiting us from Chicago. She noticed that I seemed uncomfortable. I told her I would call the doctor after the holiday. I did and set an appointment for mid June. I was due my annual OB/GYN checkup anyway. The cramps went away in a couple days and everything was back to normal. Well, until the morning of June 6.
It was nine days since Memorial Day, and I had quickly forgotten the discomfort I had felt that weekend. I remember my day very well. I woke up in the morning having severe lower abdominal pain. I decided I must just have bad gas pains. Maybe taking something for that might help. My husband drove to the pharmacy and brought back what I had requested. An hour later the pain really hit. I was doubled over. I called the doctor, and he told me to come in early afternoon.
My husband left for work, and I crawled into bed with four little boys somewhere around the house. My mom was to come to take me to the doctor. Later that morning I heard water running. Where was it coming from? Where were the kids? I crawled out of bed and heard voices outside. I looked out my upstairs bedroom window to see my four year old son and my two year old son. Both were in their pajamas. Well, not completely. The 2 year old only had his pajama top on and nothing below. My 4 year old had a hose and was hosing him down. I tried to open the window to call them inside. I had no strength, and could only open the window about an inch, and then I proceeded to call out to them to come into the house. To my surprise, I could not speak above a whisper.
Now panic set it. What was wrong? I was in pain. I couldn’t talk above a whisper. I didn’t have the strength to open the window. I called my husband, and told him he needed to come home immediately. Something was terribly wrong. He said he could not come home because the small retail store he owned had already opened. I asked if there were any customers. He replied that there were no customers, but it was store hours, and he couldn’t leave. I asked him to put a sign on the door that there is a family emergency and come home. He said for me to call a neighbor to get the kids inside. Wow, really? I proceeded to call a neighbor. I was so embarrassed. Telling her I didn’t feel well and my kids are outside, naked and being hosed down and I don’t know where the oldest is or the baby, but I think the baby is still in his crib. Diana, my neighbor, came and got all my kids gathered and dressed. She informed me that she was taking them to her house until my mother arrived.
By the time my mother arrived, I was even weaker. She suggested I take a shower. That was my mom—don’t go anywhere with dirty underwear—you may end up in an emergency room! I knew if I tried to take I shower I would pass out. She brought me soap, a washcloth, towel, and a pan of water. I took a sponge bath in my bed and dressed to see the doctor.
I was in such pain and feeling so faint that I sat on the top step and slowly moved my bottom down to the next step until I made it down to the first floor. My mom held onto me as she walked me to the car. We picked up the kids and drove them to my friend’s house who was waiting for us. As Phyllis came to the car to get the boys, I told her I would be back in a couple hours . . . little did I know.
When we arrived at the doctor’s office, I informed my mom to hold the doors open and not stop me. I was afraid if I stopped moving I would collapse to the ground. My mom was not a very healthy person, and I sure didn’t want her trying to catch me or lift me from the ground. I remember her slow little run to the door so she could open it before I got to it. As we walked to the elevator, and the doors opened. Someone knew I couldn’t stand still! I arrived in the doctor’s office, and for the first time since seeing these doctors for eleven years, they immediately took me to an examining room.
Dr. Smith walked in. I always liked Dr. Benjamin Smith. He was an older gentleman who was so calming. He patted my hand and asked what was going on. I finally was in a safe place to let it all go. I started sobbing and telling him about the pain I was in. Now I had severe pain between the shoulder blades. I was dizzy and weak and really scared. He examined me. He poked on my abdomen and asking if it hurt more when he poked or when he let go. Within minutes he told me that he thought I was hemorrhaging internally and I could possibly have an ectopic pregnancy, and I needed to go to the hospital immediately. Did I want an ambulance?
The thought of going in an ambulance was scarier to me than the severe pain I was in. I refused and let my mom drive me. My poor mom. I laid in the back seat as she sped down the highway to Missouri Baptist Hospital. The emergency room was waiting for me and was ready for my immediate admission. I was admitted to a room at 3:30 pm on
the OB/GYN floor. Doctors, nurses, lab technicians, you name it, were showing up drawing blood, taking medical history, poking and prodding. I suppose I did okay giving all that information—I had just been there a year earlier delivering my fourth child. The
doctor and nurse wheeled me to an examining room. As the nurse started to help me out of the wheelchair, I started to crumple to the ground. The nurse and doctor caught me. From that point on the orders were written in my chart that I am not allowed out of the bed.
My mom was at the hospital. My sisters arrived. Where was my husband? Oh yeah, the store was open. As the end of the work day came, my husband finally arrived. I was told they were going to perform an exploratory laparotomy. That literally meant they were going to open me from my sternum to my pubic bone and check every organ in my body to make sure they knew exactly where I was hemorrhaging.
So far, a very long day. Time seems to fly when everyone is abuzz around you. I was laying on the gurney in the hallway of the Operating Room suites for about ½ hour. It was dim and very quiet. Surgeries are not going on this time of day. I heard the doors open behind me and a man yelling, “We have the blood. You can roll her in.” It was June, and my blood type is O+. I can only get blood from other O+ or O- donors. The hospital was waiting to have enough blood supply before they opened me up.
The surgery started at 10:05 pm concluded at 1:20 am, and a total of five units of blood were given to me in surgery and in the recovery room. The adult human body has
approximately 1.2 – 1.5 gallons of blood. Five (5) pints is equivalent to slightly over ½ gallon. I had lost half of my blood supply. When I tell people I was given 5 units (pints) of blood in the operating and recovery rooms, they have commented that I am fortunate to be alive!
By this account, I shouldn’t even be here today. I had an ectopic pregnancy or also called a tubal pregnancy. This is when a fertilized egg gets stuck in the fallopian tube and does not move to the uterus. The egg starts to grow where there is no room and causes the fallopian tube to burst and bleed uncontrollably. When this was discovered in the surgery, my doctor said they found an old blood clot, which apparently had started Memorial Day weekend, and then stopped, until it started with a vengeance on June 6, 1979. How does one hemorrhage for so long and still stay conscious?
By the way, I missed baby #4’s first birthday. His birthday is June 10, just four days after this surgery. Above is a photo of the birthday party with his three brothers (the three little guys around him) and a cousin (the tall one in the back). That was difficult for me, but I am here now to celebrate all my children’s and grandchildren’s birthdays.
What are the life lessons I learned from being at death’s door?
- Life can take you by surprise.
- Anyone can die unexpectedly at any age, and it could have been me.
- Not everyone you depend on is dependable.
- My family is the best—my mom and sisters became the caretakers for 4 little boys for the next eight days.
- Giving blood is important, especially being O+.
- It takes a long time for the body to heal from trauma, and sometimes it affects the soul.
- God had much bigger plans and much for me to do on earth (that took a long time for me to learn).
- God is gracious, even in bad times. My life was spared, many people helped with meals, the kids, and being there for me.
Maybe I knew I needed to be there for all my babies. Maybe God had a plan for me I knew nothing of at the time. Maybe both of those things. It took six months to recover from this trauma to my body—six months where I could not make it through a day without getting exhausted and needing a nap midday.
Today as I was recounting this story to my husband of almost four years, I just paused and held back the tears. It all felt so real all over again. I am so grateful to be here today, to love life and embrace it, to see my children grow up, to know my grandchildren, and to be loved by my wonderful husband.
God is good all the time!