August 6, 2003
Salutations from the East Coast!
We have just survived our first month here in West Virginia. Our cross-country drive was wonderfully uneventful. I was surprised to learn that the roads all go crazy once you leave California with their curves and hills and loopy loops. Driving seemed to help control my carsickness so I did a great deal of the driving. As a result we arrived two days early! Along the way we made lots of stops. Drew loved the Petroglyphs in New Mexico but the Oklahoma City Memorial was definitely the most moving. Kaleb didn’t really care where we went as long as they had blueberry pancakes. I never thought I would say it but I am looking forward to our next driving vacation!
We hadn’t been here a week when I realized that our East Coast adventure was going to have a twist. We were standing in the middle of Sam’s Club when the carsickness hit. Hmmm… I wasn’t able to brush it off for long. Having experienced the joys of morning sickness thrice before, I realized that my East Coast visit for Chad’s birthday was going to bear fruit! Even after a positive pregnancy test, we were still in shock. What was I going to do with four little rugrats!?!?! Now we would never be able to afford to pay for baby-sitting! I had just left all my friends and family. Who was I going to invite to my baby shower? Who would watch the kids when we went into labor? Where was the hospital?!?! How were we going to explain this to our family?!?! Looking back it is funny to think of all the apprehensions we struggled with.
We decided to wait on breaking the big news to everyone until we were further along. Each day the idea of a new little person grew on us. Unpacking surfaced a number of newborn socks that helped us along the way. It also didn’t hurt that I was suddenly surrounded by pregos. There is just something about being pregnant that makes you notice that unmistakable waddle. I counted eight visibly pregnant women during a single shopping trip. Seeing these women also reminded me that pregnancy as more than feeling a little green around the gills. I was going to lose my toes. My poor button was going to be sacrificed, again. My butt was going to spread and my center of gravity was going to drop. Fourth time around, I couldn’t be happier. Chad and I decided on names though the debate was still raging whether to find out the sex beforehand. We were going to have a baby!
We were quickly approaching our second trimester mark (a huge stepping stone!) when I started to spot. This isn’t inherently bad but it isn’t exactly a good sign either. Both Bekah and Kaleb gave me a run for my money but this time it was different. I can’t really explain how except to say that it was. Chad tried to pacify me but my fears proved true.
Two weeks later the miscarriage was confirmed. We were devastated. In many ways it was easier because we hadn’t told anyone. We didn’t have to break the news to everyone but at the same time, we didn’t have anyone to grieve with us either. It felt strange to be so devastated by the loss of an unplanned little person. Logically, we were right back to where we thought we were just a month before. Unfortunately, hearts don’t work like that. Intellectually, I know that the baby was so small, there was nothing I could have done to hurt it. Emotionally, I struggled. What if I had hired a moving company instead of doing it myself? What if I had started taking my prenatals sooner? What if I had sought medical attention sooner? My grieving was also complicated because I felt guilty about mourning our loss. Many of our friends have struggled with infertility and miscarriage empty handed. I got to cuddle Bekah while I mourned our little person. It doesn’t seem fair.
After a short time of grieving, I decided it was time to move on. We had a house to unpack. The morning sickness initially prevented me from tackling the boxes so I refocused my energies. I attacked the mountain of boxes while the children slept in. By the time the kids were dressed it was lunchtime. We spent the hot afternoons exploring the roads trying to find landmarks so I could find my way home. My plan worked. My days were packed full and most nights I enjoyed an exhausted, dreamless sleep.
Our thoughts were also distracted with the upcoming visit of Auntie Holly. We have all been homesick to varying degrees and we were all looking forward to having Hol around. It was fun counting down the days to her arrival. She couldn’t get over how much Bek had changed and the boys blasted her with questions about California. Having Hol around was also a special treat for me. I really miss the time we got together last year and now I got to love on her as a sister instead of a teacher. We were looking forward to school shopping and fishing, trips to the ice cream shoppe and our local parks. So much for the plans of mice and men!
The week before Holly’s arrival I began feeling ill. I couldn’t really put my finger on it except to say that I felt puny. It wasn’t even consitantly puny. One minute I would be fine chasing the kids around the horse and the next minute I would be doubled over with stomach cramps. We have just come through a really stressful time with Chad being away and then moving the kids across the country. I knew I was pushing my body to the limit and would most likely pay the price once everything settled down and I had time to get sick. Figuring that we had at last slowed down and begun to settle in, my body was going to make sure I rested! Throughout the week I deteriorated. I felt nauseated and lightheaded. Confident that as little R&R would do the trick, I stayed close to home and looked forward to Holly’s arrival.
The day finally came and we were finally reunited with Auntie Holly. Holding her in my arms at the airport was almost as good as having actually flown "home". I wonder how long it will take for West Viginis to become "home"? We are more than an hours drive from the airport which gave us lots of time to catch up. The boys bombarded her with stories of our adventures and descriptions of the house and their new rooms. She caught us up on her summer and passed on hugs from Mom. It was so great to have her back I almost forgot how lousy I was feeling.
The first week of her stay we kept close to home. The time change mixed with home sickness was giving Holly a run for her money and I seemed to be feeling worse by the day. Determined to show her a good time, we did some exploring and I got to introduce her to some of our new friends. Her body adjusted to the time change before I was feeling better so I encouraged her to venture out with Chad. Friday night, they enjoyed a big church function while I stayed home and enjoyed some quiet time with the little ones.
They hadn’t been gone an hour when the cramping began. They had taken Drew along so Kaleb and Bek were on their own while I waited for the spell to pass. It didn’t pass! By the time Chad arrived, I was curled up on the floor in agony. Poor Chad looked like he wanted to call 9-1-1. I convinced him a hot bath and some Advil would do the trick. We made it through the night and I felt great the next morning. Chad argues that I didn’t look great but I was sure feeling better than the night before. Over the next few days we picniced, visited friends, and attended church. I was back on my way to becoming the picture of health. By the time Monday rolled around, I had completely forgotten my promise to see the doctor. Chad hadn’t forgotten and pestered me until I picked up the phone. To my delight, not one of the doctors in the area was seeing new clients until October. So sad! Chad shot me a look of disbelief. Like I would outright lie to him… I might skew the facts to get out of a doctor’s visit but certianly never outright lie. The receptionist said she couldn’t fit me it but said to go the emergency room if I needed to be seen any earlier.
Me and my big mouth! Within an hour I had been dragged in the ER. Now, nobody likes going to the emergency room but I was mad and I was hungry and I was perfectly fine. I can be sweeter than honey on a bisquet (That’s my West Virginia roots talking!) but I freely claim ownership of a little rotten streak. I have the best husband in the world but sitting in that waiting room at that very moment I would have preferred to be single. I tried flattery, whining, begging, demanding…. Chad flat refused to take me home. By the time they called my name I was more than a little put out. How dare he drag me in here. Why, I am the picture of health. Humph! I smiled with vindictive glee as we were lead to the O.B. exam room. The rest of the ER consisted of wide-open stalls but we were to have the room of honor. Chad ignored the smirks he got from the male inmates, I mean patients. I guess it ws too much to hope he would wait in the lobby. He must have known I was planning a back door escape! Begrudglingly I pulled on the lovely hospital gown and sat down to sulk. We waited. And waited. Did I mention that we waited? I did take this opportunity to point out all of the projects we could have been tackling at home.
A doctor's assistant finally graced us with her presence. Despite my reluctance to cooperate, I was touched by Virginia's compassion. She was sincerely concerned and was obviously bright enough to see that I was just fine. Her innocent inquiry to our history of pregnancies led to an earful! If I had known she was 25 weeks pregnant with her firstborn, I would have withheld some of the details. Oops! A half hour later, she was all caught up with our history of pre-term labor and the miscarriage just a few weeks before. With the paperwork behind us, it was time to start the party. "Let's take a peek."
Most women would be mortified to have their husband present for a "girlie" exam. Any other time I would have asked Chad to step out but since I here on his account, I figured he could sit there and squirm while I was poked and prodded. Did I mention I have a little mean streak that flares up when I am forced into ER when I am perfectly healthy.... After declaring everything just fine (I told you so....), she ordered some cultures and lab work. The local vampire stopped by for a bite and five vials of blood later I got the pleasure of wandering through the ER in search of the potty. It isn't bad enough that these gowns are more than a little breezy but then they expect you to venture out into the world with a potty cup. They don’t even give you a little cup you can discretely tuck away in your gown. They give you a collection cup large enough for a horse and then tell you to tramp through the place blowing in the breeze until everyone sees what you are carrying. Lesson #1: A hospital is a place of indignity.
I returned to my little room properly mortified but none too worse for wear. The nice nurse popped in to inform us it would be a "few minutes" while we waited for the results. We buckled down for the siege. If they make it a point to tell you there is going to be a "little" wait, leisure suits will be back in style before you are acknowledged again. Sure enough, we had quite a wait. For the first time since we left the house, I was appreciative of Chad's company. The O.B. exam room isn't exactly prepared for guys so Chad passed the time reading the magazines provided. He didn't just read me the articles the way one might a newspaper. He read it impersonating a hormone raging teenage girl-- on crack. To his credit, he read every word but with such hysterical inflections and sound effects that I was in tears by the time he finished. I knew there was a reason I married this guy! We laughed away the next three hours. I never realized what an amazing source of wisdom I’ve neglected every time I passed the magazine rack! In three hours we learned the secret to getting thin on a chocolate diet, how to convert our house into a model home without spending a dime, and how to reignite our passion in the bedroom. Passion in the bedroom… isn’t that what landed me in the ER? Never mind....
Centuries later, they returned to inform me that some of the tests had returned. The verdict: my baby hormone levels were higher than expected. By my calculations, we were about 13 weeks along when we miscarried. Our baby hormones were approaching the 16-week level. Since these hormones drop when you miscarry, they speculated I was farther along than I realized. Hmmm... I joke about being Fertile Mertile but Chad has been 3,000 miles away. I saw him once during that time. Unless I missed a chapter in that Sex Ed textbook somewhere along the way, I know exactly when we conceived. By this time I was starving and was ready to go home. Sure, we were farther along. Can we eat now?
I had finally convinced Chad to grab me a hamburger when a doctor popped in. Figures! Four and a half hours later the last of the test results were in. Verdict: my baby hormone levels were higher than expected but I otherwise appeared fine. HA!! I was trying to catch Chad’s eye to shoot him an "I told your so" look but he was focused on the doctor. Rats! I tuned back into the doctor just in time to hear that on the advice of another doctor, they were going to do one more test and then send me home. Burger King here I come!!
The news of my pending freedom almost helped me overlook the breezy ride to the ultrasound room. Don’t hospitals have blankets? We must have strolled through ten miles of cold hallway and passed every person in Martinsburg before we arrived. To Chad’s astonishment, they refused to let him join me during the exam. I guess they figured he already knew what was up my skirt but seeing pictures of my uterus was too much. With dinner just minutes away, I couldn’t help but smile at his frustration of being excluded.
One of the few highlights of pregnancy (aside from midnight chili fry runs) is the ultrasound. Nothing can explain the wonder of seeing your little alien move and hiccup on the screen knowing that in a few long months it would pop out a perfect precious child. I have struggled with moments of sadness since our miscarriage but I was not prepared for the wave of grief that swept over me as I laid down on that cold table. There would be nothing to see on the screen.
Looking back on it, I am glad I was preoccupied with my thoughts. The lady doing the exam looked like she had never weighed more than a hundred pounds let alone carried a child. Mechanically, she probed and pushed with her cold "camera" taking pictures of my empty uterus. When you are expecting, they adjust the screen so they can identify the various body parts for you. "Here is the backbone." "This beating blob is the heart." "Look at her suck her thumb!" "Op, he’s not modest. It’s definitely a boy!" The silence only pushed me further into my thoughts. I was jolted back to reality when Ms. Light as a Feather picked up the phone and called for the head radiologist. By this time, I had already had four people "take a peak" and I was far from thrilled to have another person pushing and prodding down there. I tried to relax and think about my big juicy whopper. Maybe I would order ½ Dr. Pepper and ½ Diet Coke! The doctor was definitely less gentle than the first gal was. I was about to suggest to him to by a stress ball instead of using his patients when he stopped and picked up the phone. Hello! Can you please chat on your own time?
I may not be a rocket scientist but three doctors whispering over a screen of your insides is not a good thing. Past experience tells me that radiologists cannot give you a diagnosis. They only take the pictures and it’s up to your doctor to break the bad news. Thinking that they had forgotten the poor girl on the table, I cleared my voice and tried to get a look at the screen. They turned the screen further from view. At least they acknowledged my existence… I was now a very hungry, very unhappy camper. I insisted on knowing what was so interesting. Lesson #2: Watch what you wish for. "Ms. Johnson, it appears that you have a sizable growth. You are so young, there is a good chance that it is benign." All thoughts of french fries went out of my head.
Benign? Benign as in opposite of malignant? As in possibly cancerous, benign? Cancer. Isn’t that what old people get? It’s what happens to chain smokers, not young healthy 24-year-olds who have never touched a cigarette.
I never did get my hamburger. They wheeled me back to my room where I broke the news to Chad. The doctor scheduled me for a MRI two days later and told me I could go home. I was almost dressed when he came back in and said to wait. The doctor he had consulted with earlier was on his way to the hospital to check me out. I had, apparently, been on his mind all day. I was ready to go home. I did not want to climb back into a drafty gown and I did not want to give anyone else a peek. I had some kind of a growth in me and I just wanted to go home and hug my kids. Dr. Brown showed up before I could make a break for it.
It is now 9:30 at night night. Aside from dying of hunger, I have felt fine all day long. I am a perfectly healthy young lady. Dr. Brown was saying something I didn’t care about when a wave of pain hit me. So much for being a picture of health... It had to have been all those exams. I had honestly forgotten how bad I felt the week before. I was sure that it hurt because Chad had dragged me into the ER. I must have caught something from that man coughing in the waiting room. Why do women marry again? I looked up to glare at Chad and saw only compassion in his eyes. "I told you so" was nowhere to be found on his face. At that moment I realized that he had really put up with all my snootiness because he was really concerned. The next wave of cramps made me forget my embarrassment and I was glad to have Chad holding my hand.
The rest of the night is a blur. Dr. Brown seemed to sense that I was no longer an attentive audience. Was I all right? As much as I wanted to go home, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him I felt dandy- not that he would have believed me. I explained the cramping would pass but an aspirin would be appreciated. Doctors are so funny. "On a scale of one to ten with ten being eternal torment, how are you feeling?"
My next memory is being wheeled down a hall on a gurney surrounded by little green men. Chad said there were nurses in surgery green garb too but the drugs had already kicked in. I do recall trying to make a run for it before I realized I was tied to the gurney. What kind of a place is this anyway? It never occurred to me that someone might suspect that I was an escapee patient. I guess the I.V. and fashionable gown might have given me away. Chad said later that he wished that he had a tape recorder. Before I started singing a song I had threatened to treat the ER to a fashion show. Senator, I have no recollection.
The next few days melted together. Some stranger told me to roll over so she could shoot my bum. Chad stroked my hair. My doctor came in and informed me I should be dead. I couldn’t sit up. I was burning hot and arctic cold at the same time. The room was silent. The phone rang but I don’t remember who I talked to. My entire body hurt.
Three days after surgery I began to feel more lucid. I remember most of the people who called and recall the kids bringing flowers. Chad came back later in the evening and explained what had happened. It turned out that we had been pregnant with twins only the second baby had snuggled up in my fallopian tube! Most ectopic pregnancies only last about a month before it is big enough to put pressure on the walls of the tube sending mom into agony. I have an incredibly high pain threshold and brushed it off. I was a bit uncomfortable during the week I moved our belongings from our house into a U-Haul, into my father-in-laws and then into the moving semi. We proceeded to drive across the country and then six days later pull everything out, load another U haul (twice) and unload it at our new house. I did most of the CA move on my own so I wasn’t surprised I was a little sore. I didn’t even really know I was pregnant yet! Once Dr. Brown dug in, he found a huge ectopic pregnancy about three and a half months along. The Friday night excitement had probably been my fallopian tube rupturing. No wonder I had been feeling puny! The doctor said I shouldn't still be alive. Apparently my ovary was damaged and between the internal bleeding and the out-of-place pregnancy, my appendix and bladder weren’t doing so hot either. Doctor Brown said that I would probably not have lived another twelve hours let alone survived long enough to return for my MRI.
Pretty sobering stuff! I have had some pretty dark moments but try to focus on the positive. I can’t imagine the chaos a set of twins would add to our zoo. My heart breaks to think that we lost two little people but I know that they are with Jesus. Sometimes it helps to remember that I will see them again but oftentimes I struggle to get past the selfishness of wanting to hold them in my arms. I wish it didn’t hurt so much to cry. I am trying to focus on the time I have been given with my rascals. It occurred to me that if Chad had not dragged me kicking and screaming into the ER, Bekah would have no memory of her mom. Kaleb might have some recollection of our crazy adventures, but Bek would only have pictures to know me by. I have always valued my time with the kids but this really brings the importance of family home.
I wold also like to publicly declare that I have the most incredible husband in the world. He patiently endured my torment in the ER quietly refusing to take me home. Exploding body parts and stuff aside, Chad probably had a harder time with the surgery than I did. I was unconscious and out of it for the most part while he had to wait to find out if I would be ok. Now that he has me back, he is even more protective than ever. I think he would staple me to the couch if he could. Anytime I get up (admittedly, often), he is there to sit me back down. He refocuses me when I am blue and loves me when the meds kick in making me more than a little loopy.
Have you ever been embarrassed by something that bothered you? Deep down you know that you have nothing legitimate to complain about but even deeper down, you are really irked anyway. I have a confession. I have only the utmost respect for Dr. Brown. The ER was preparing to send me home, probably to my demise, but he drove in from his house, in the middle of the night, while it was storming, to check on me. He took action and saved my life. I shouldn’t complain. What I have taken issue with is that he then proceeded to staple me closed! I know all of the logical reasons for using staples. They hold well... There is less scarring... They are easy to put in… Yata yata yata. The man shot me with a staple gun! Not only did he shoot me with a staple gun, but he shot me a lot. What kind of a sicko invented this procedure anyway? I was so loopy at the hospital I never thought to look at my incision. I can’t describe the mortification I felt when I removed my dressing for the first time. I knew I had been stapled but I didn’t know I had been STAPLED! I looked like a cyclops wearing braces! There must have been three dozen of these suckers holding me together. I can’t believe he stapled me!
Yesterday, I was finally liberated. After all I’ve been through, it seems silly to be apprehensive about the removal of those repulsive staples but I was none the same. I walked into the ER convinced I was the picture of health. By the time they announced my dinner date was cancelled, I was too busy planning fashion shows to be concerned with how they were going to hold me together. It is a completely different story when you have to walk yourself in, lay down on the table, and be still while a nurse approaches you with instruments of pain. I was really nervous and even considered postponing my appointment… indefinitely. Realizing I would have a difficult time passing a metal detector, I conceded and slunk into the office. If you are ever so unfortunate to be stapled like a piece of lumber, you can have peace because it really and truly doesn’t hurt to have them yanked out. Granted, I didn’t notice when my fallopian tube exploded, but you can take me word on this! So much for being staple free… Now I am scotch taped together. Really, I have strips of tape holding me together for the next two weeks. What next? Rubber bands? Paper clips? What ever happened to the good old needle and thread?
Dr. Brown keeps telling me that I have an unusual story. I have been informed that it is extremely rare for a twin to embed itself in the fallopian tube. It is even more rare to carry an ectopic pregnancy four months. Why did I have this adventure? I don’t know. Why did this happen after I left everyone and everything I knew in California? I don’t know that either. I don’t know why the twins didn’t make it, but I do know we serve a faithful and loving God. He kept us safe as we crossed the county and watched over me, even as my fallopian tube ruptured. He gave me an off duty doctor who had the insight to save my life, even as my discharge papers were being printed. Lesson #3: Look for His handiwork, even in the darkest of days and you will find comfort.
So much for living out a boring existance in West Virginia! It seems the adventure continues. I want to send out my thanks to all of our friends and family who have loved on us this week. Your phone calls (even if I don’t remember them!) and notes have lifted our spirits and encouraged our hearts. Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we heal and begin our new life here in West Virginia.
Your Stubborn and Not So Zookeeper,