My experience in the ICU. Signs of blood loss during and after pregnancy that you might not know. And, a HUGE THANKS to all of those FRONT LINE WORKERS who save lives everyday!
The First Time
Pregnancy has never been glowing, radiant, or easy for me. After struggling to get pregnant for so long, I was thrilled to see the positive pregnancy test, but 36 long weeks of nausea, exhaustion and achiness took its toll. I had no idea that I was losing blood.
While pregnant I worked then slept and sometimes ate in between. Three days after being discharged after delivering my first child I was back in my OB’s office. I had no idea that these were a signs of ongoing blood loss and anemia.
I had read the articles and the books; I had asked the questions and thought that light headedness, dizziness, and general lethargia were normal for post-delivery. My husband was at work, so I took a shower. I collapsed in the shower and crawled back to bed. Later that day, my friend came to check on me and the baby while my husband had run to his office. She politely knocked, then left, not wanting to wake me or the baby. I had fainted in the hallway and awoke unable to get to the door. I thought it was normal.
CONVULSIONS AREN’T NORMAL AND COULD BE A SIGN OF BLOOD LOSS
Then, that night, the convulsions started and wouldn’t stop. I pressed on through the night, nursing my baby and understanding why people said that post-delivery recovery was so difficult. This is not normal. Of course, I didn’t know that until I called my OB the next morning, he asked me to come in for a check-up, and I was swarmed at the door by a group of nurses who insisted on bringing me water, ice, and ordering up a blood transfusion. I hadn’t even seen the doctor or checked in, they knew that it was bad. I had internal blood loss.
Soon thereafter I was admitted, hooked up to a few IVs and given a couple units of blood and my body self-corrected. I spent the next 4 weeks gaining back my strength in addition to delivery recovery. It was rough.
The Second Time
Fast forward to my second pregnancy. It wasn’t any easier; the same things starting happening again except worse. Nausea, exhaustion, and achiness. One Sunday afternoon about 20 weeks into my second pregnancy, I just could not seem to get up off the couch. By the next morning, I stumbled to the kitchen and collapsed on the kitchen table to ask my husband not to leave me. I told him that I was too dizzy and tired to be able to watch our toddler and could barely walk. We recognized these as some of the same signs of blood loss.
After a quick call to my OB, she recommended that I go to the ER just to get checked out. The ER asked me a few questions and just told me to rest and take fluids while they monitored me. For several hours my husband and I waited. It was apparent to me and my husband that I was getting worse. Fast. No one seemed to be able to figure it out. I had all the symptoms of blood loss, but I had no apparent signs of blood loss.
My OB, who had no reason to be in the ER except that she is an extremely caring doctor and wanted to check in on me, came in screaming that somebody better get me some blood before a pregnant mother dies in the ER. She saved my life. Within 15 minutes, I was admitted and moved to a hospital bed. They typed and cross-typed me (or something like that!!!), took my hemoglobin levels, and ordered blood.
An average woman’s hemoglobin level is somewhere between 12-15 (I am not going to get into the science, because I am not qualified). Mine was in the 4s. People die from that much blood loss especially while pregnant.
By the time that they finally ordered the blood, I could barely see, hear, or comprehend what was going on around me. At 4 months pregnant and a toddler on my lap, I sank into my hospital bed and asked my husband to take him, not sure whether I would be able to reopen my eyes ever again. It was determined that I had an internal bleed of some sort, but it was now after hours, and they had to assemble an emergency team to do exploratory upper GI surgery on a pregnant woman.
They started a unit of blood, moved me into emergency surgery, and all I remember was waking up convulsing while two nurses were chatting in recovery. When they realized that I was awake, they ran over to try to calm me down and inform me that the operation was a failure and that I was going to be transferred to another hospital when they could find a team more equipped to handle me.
I don’t remember anything else until they started asking me and my husband whether we wanted to be taken by helicopter or ambulance. All I could say was “no helicopter.” Even in my most vulnerable state, I could think clearly enough to realize that a helicopter would be loud and expensive!
The ambulance ride was horrible. It was so bumpy that I thought I was going to be thrown from the gurney. I kept my eyes so tightly shut the entire time just to keep my whole world from spinning. Upon arrival to the metro hospital, I was met by a team of specialists and a surgical team. Several hours after my first failed emergency surgery, I was being prepped again to go to the OR. Leaving my husband again was traumatic, I am sure, for him, but I was so disoriented, I am not entirely sure I knew what was going on. I was again in an enormous stark room surrounded by an enormous team of doctors, nurses, and assistants. However, the room was surprisingly energetic as they all pumped themselves up to do the surgery.
You see, they didn’t know whether I or my baby would survive. Heck, they didn’t even know if my baby was still alive. In all the chaos, the doctors had arranged for a heart monitor and ultrasound to take place after the surgery. No one even knew yet where I was bleeding. So I fell asleep, again, to the sound of coworker banter and whirring lights.
They stopped the bleed, and I came out of surgery much better than when I went in.
THE ICU: DEALING WITH ONGOING BLOOD LOSS AND PREGNANCY
Instead of the recovery unit or a regular room, my condition had not significantly improved, and I was taken to the ICU.
It is not usual to see someone from the NICU down the street come into the ICU. Most people in the ICU are not young, pregnant mothers. Watching the ultrasound tech wheel her equipment into the room was horrible. In those moments I knew that there was a real possibility that between the blood loss and the surgeries that I had lost my baby. She knew it too. She knew that if she didn’t find a heartbeat and a squirming little baby that she would have to be the one to tell me.
ICUs aren’t terribly private. My entire unit was set up in a sort of wheel where no one had doors, bathrooms, or even curtains. I was actually the only conscious person in the ICU that night. The entire ICU could see the machine and the looks on our faces.
As she started the ultrasound, I was so overwhelmed with negative emotions that I said nothing and am not sure I even answered any of her questions. We held our breath as she turned on the machine.
Within a few moments we heard the beautiful thump.thump.thump.thump.thump of a heartbeat. A few moments after that we saw the squirmy outline of a precious baby. And a few moments after that, we learned that she was a girl! Praise the Lord.
Despite our relief and joy, things did not improve quickly from there. I spent the next 4 days in the ICU until I was transferred to a regular room. My iron levels continued to drop suddenly and inexplicably. Finally, my levels recovered enough that I was able to go home on iron supplements, a high iron diet, constant supervision, and a truck full of other meds.
5 months later my miracle OB, to whom I am forever grateful, delivered my precious baby girl. My baby’s first cry was so strong that the nurse’s first response was “oh my.” (Not in a good way!). Anyone who has the privilege of knowing my baby girl might be shocked at her confidence, her volume, and her tenacity. But, I know that the only reason that she is living today is because God gifted her with that measure of strength.
I also know that the only earthly reason for me being alive today is because I have a wildly supportive husband. He may not be able to sort his laundry, but he has literally carried me into a hospital on more than one occasion, sat up through those terrible nights with me, and even arranged babysitters for me over the months of recovery after this ordeal.
If you are a pregnant momma or even a recovering momma, never ignore those symptoms. Thankfully, because we knew some strategies for keeping my iron high and signs of blood loss, I never experienced any hospitalizations with my third baby. But, don’t ignore dizziness and light headedness. Be aware of the signs of blood loss as opposed to regular fatigue. Collapsing on the floor or the shower or convulsing are all things that you should discuss with your doctor.
TO MY HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS:
Finally, a huge shout out to all of you medical workers. All of you dealing with the nausea and incoherence. All of you carefully calming our fears and shouting when necessary. You who go into an OR not knowing what the problem is or whether you can fix it but trying anyway. You are heroes, and you make true and significant changes to real and lasting lives around the world every day.
From the bottom of my heart, Thank You.