Just another day at the office. I had a run of the mill check up from my OBGYN to make sure everything was going well with my pregnancy. I had just started my 29th week. I was hungry but I thought I’d just swing by the donut shop on my way back to the office from my appointment. I just knew it would be a short “how ya doing?”.. “great!’ … “k thanks bye”.. kind of appointment. I had no idea that my life would dramatically change when I walked into Dr. Vaughn’s office. God bless that man. He literally saved my life.. and my son’s.
He had seen me just a few weeks earlier and everything looked hunkydory. When I walked in the door this time I was greeted by his nurse. She looked concerned. She weighed me, like she usually does. I weighed 15lb more than I did just a few short weeks before. I couldn’t believe the scale. Both of us stood there for a second with eyes wide open. “woah..” I said… she didn’t say much, jotted down the weight, I gave a urine sample and then she showed me to the exam room to take my blood pressure. After 4 attempts, she said “oh… no wonder I can’t seem to get your blood presser measured… its EXTREMELY high.”
Me, ignorantly, “Is it! huh! Interesting.” *shrugs shoulders* High blood pressure meant jack squat to me. I just kept smiling.. in my own world of rainbows and puppies, not knowing I had developed a severe case of preeclampsia. The nurse rushed out the door and go the doctor Vaughn.
What happened next is burned into my brain. Doctor Vaughn said he barely recognized me. He said I didn’t even look like the same girl he’d seen just a few short weeks before. My feet and hands were more swollen than usual, but I figured that was just part of pregnancy. I didn’t realize it was unusual. I also didn’t realize how swollen I had gotten! Below are photos from me at the end of my 26th week and at the end of my 28th week. You can tell the difference in how swollen I was. I had dinner with my friends the night before and my friend Sandy commented (more than once) on how concerned she was about my swelling. She has had three boys, so I’d consider her an expert. She pushed me to discuss my swelling with my doctor at my appointment the next day. Little did I know I wasn’t the one that would be bringing it up.
Still in a happy frame of mind, I answered “not much really.” when doc asked me what I knew about preeclampsia, also known as toxemia. He looked at my very seriously and said “Katie, you have SEVERE preeclampsia. The protein levels in your urine are VERY high. Your blood pressure is VERY high. This is very dangerous for you.” It wasn’t his words but the look on his face that made me drop my happy demeanor and I began to hear my heartbeat in my ears. I started to get scared as he began to list the reasons why this was so dangerous. Kidney failure, seizures… death…
The only cure? Delivering my baby. I was 29 weeks and 3 days pregnant.
Photos of me at the end of my 26th week (left) and at the end of my 28th week (right)
I started to cry just a little. I was completely freaked out. In an effort to be brave and totally cool, I said “Okay. So where do we go from here?” Doc explained that I would have to walk down a long hall and I’d be at Labor and Delivery. He told me to check myself in and he’d be there in a moment. He warned me that he would likely be sending me to Dallas, which is two hours away because they have a level 4 neonatal intensive care unit and they would be able to take care of my baby.
… baby? “So.. I’m going to have to deliver early?” He paused. “Maybe. Maybe not. But just in case I want to get you to L&D right away.”
I gathered my things. Slowly. Processing it all. Crying a little, but not all out wailing. I stopped and said “I have to get a few things settled at work and then I’ll go to L&D.”
And this is when he said it. I thought he was being dramatic. I thought “there is no way this is true.” He said “Katie… you are not going back to work. You won’t be back at work for a long time, okay? You have to go to L&D NOW.”
So I began my walk down the long hall to L&D. Taking in that last moment of alone time. Breathing. Crying. Wondering if I should call my husband, Dusty. He taught at the high school right across the street from the hospital (convenient, no?). I kept thinking I would only call him if they say they are taking me to Dallas. Otherwise this is just an extended doctors visit, no biggie. I took a deep breath and walked up to the counter at L&D.
“What patient are you here to see?” the girl behind the counter asked curtly.
“Uh.. I guess…. I’m the patient?” I said… and then I burst into tears. The girl looked liked I had slapped her. She straightened up and asked a few more questions. When I told her doctor Vaughn was on his way she took my drivers license and insurance info and sent me to a room.
I decided I should call Dusty. While I was on the phone with him (trying to be super calm like this was no big deal) a nurse that was hooking me up to an IV yelled (so Dusty could hear it over the phone) “BRING A DIAPER BAG! YOU ARE GONNA NEED IT!” and laughed.
… really? This is funny to you? I could have turned that needle around and stabbed her with it.
Dusty abandoned his classroom, ran down the hall and told another teacher to watch his class and bolted out the door. He was in my hospital room in a matter of minutes. He was calm, cool and collected. He comforted me and said he was just going to talk to the nurse real quick. She explained it all to him, the dangers.. the possible outcomes… he came back in my room looking freaked, but brave. Just about that time doctor Vaughn came in, did an exam and said the baby is doing perfectly. I’m the one that is not doing so great. He sent for a helicopter to take me to Dallas. He suggested to Dusty that he go home, pack a bag for the hospital and head that way. Dallas is a 2 hour drive from where we were at in the backside of nowhere. So hugs, kisses and encouraging words were exchanged and Dusty took off like a bolt of lightning.
I was wishing my friend Tessi was in town. She was on a cruise and couldn’t be reached. I work with her and I knew she’d be my person when Dusty wasn’t there. I called my mom, thinking she’d want to go to Dallas too. I dreaded the phone call. I knew that call was going to change her life forever and I didn’t want to upset her… but I knew I had to. I don’t remember much about our conversation other than her saying “You are scaring me…” and I acted all “pshh no big deal mom, just a little extra check up!” despite my complete and total inner meltdown I was having. After I got off the phone with her a blonde chick with short curly hair came in and put my catheter in. I could have kicked her in the head… and almost did! That is when I began to realize EVERYTHING was hurting. I seemed to have zero pain tolerance. In fact, things that wouldn’t normally hurt that bad felt extreme. The doctor said that was normal for the preeclamptic. Well.. normal.. isn’t that lovely? I then shot a text over to Betty, the office manager at my work, reiterating what my doctor told me. “I’m in Labor and Delivery. I won’t be back for work today. I may not be back to work for a while. I’ll keep y’all updated. Possibly being transferred to Dallas. Preeclampsia.” In the blink of an eye Betty, and my coworker Gretta, were in my hospital room. I am so thankful they were there. Mom away from mom.
The careflite team showed up shortly after Betty and Gretta arrived and strapped me to a board and wheeled me out to the helipad. They put a headset on me and told me to raise my hand if I needed anything. Side note: I have claustrophobia. I was NOT excited about this helicopter ride. But I wanted to reassure my mom that I was okay so I took a selfie in the helicopter (see photo at the top of the page). They packed me in and off we went. About 20 minutes into the flight I raised my hand and told them I was feeling sick to my stomach. That is the last thing I remember for a while.
When I woke up I was in a hospital room and lots of family was surrounding me. Everyone looked scared. I was still thinking that delivery wasn’t probable at this point. I just thought it would be a big deal for a second and I’d go home the next day. It wasn’t till the woman who delivered my baby (still don’t know her name to this day, but she looked like an older version of Rudy from The Cosby Show) came in and asked me if I wanted a C-section or vaginal delivery. I really didn’t want a c-section. She said “it could take several hours, maybe days, for you to deliver vaginally since you are only at 29 weeks. You don’t have that kind of time. But legally I have to ask you what you want.” I had no choice… if I wanted both of us to live I’d have to choose c-section. They started me on magnesium to help the baby have a better chance at survival. And Indian doctor came in and mumbled something to me about 29 weeks… viable… very good chance of survival… I’m pretty sure I was on pain meds at this point or something because I barely remember my hospital stay prior to having the baby. Somewhere in between here a day had passed. I was on mag for less than 48 hours, my kidneys were beginning to slow way down, approaching failure. The anesthesiologist (a total prick by the way) came in and gave me the epidural. Its as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Dusty had to sit across the room, watch me scream and he couldn’t do a thing about it. It really sucked for both of us.
In the blink of an eye I was lying face up in my birthday suit in room full of people running around me. I was pretty sure I could have died from humiliation before preeclampsia. The delivery sucked. I’m pretty sure they rushed me in there without giving the epidural time to settle in. I warned them ahead of time that I still felt like I could feel stuff. The anesthesiologist poked me with a pen and said “feel that” and I said no “okay then” and he walked away. Seriously if I could still find this jerk and beat the living daylights out of him I would. So they began cutting and I started screaming. Lots of screaming… LOTS of pain. The anesthesiologist said “do you feel pain or pressure” I couldn’t really decipher because it all just hurt “Pressure??” I said. “Well I can’t help you then”. WHAT?! You can’t help me?! You are the ONE GUY that is supposed to make all of this not so horrible and YOU CAN’T HELP ME?!?! What good are you to me?! Get the hell out of here, jerk! Those were just the few thoughts in my head at the time. They finally pulled Maverick out after, what felt like, an eternity. I was still screaming but I heard Dusty yelling too. So I stopped “Katie!! Do you here that?? He’s crying! He’s breathing!!” That was the last thing I remember for a while since I guess the ass-hat that was my anesthesiologist finally came through and pushed the good stuff once the baby was out. I don’t remember the next 24 hours much at all.
For what happened next with Maverick, check out my post on our NICU stay.
I stayed in the hospital for 6 days. It took 2 weeks for my swelling to go down. It took 2 months of working with medications to get my blood pressure regulated. My kidney function was back to normal almost immediately.
Preeclampsia changed my life forever. I was bitter for a very long time. I blamed myself for a very long time. But after a while, the frustration faded. I feel blessed to have taken this journey because it all led to the coolest kid ever… Maverick.