Here is the manuscript of my East Van Talk. The *’s are where the slides were shown. It’s not error-free writing because it’s a speech.
I have a story to tell. It’s a bit of a tragic story but I’ll let you now, it has a fairly happy ending. Don’t be afraid to laugh. It will help you get through it, or at least it helped us.
Speaking of laughter, this story starts with my dad, ** so full of spunk that my Uncle Ken had to coin the term “cheer down” when my dad’s good attitude was getting out of hand. He would sing to our dog, give me his air miles to visit faraway friend, and generally annoy me with love and an unyielding curiosity about my life.
It wasn’t surprising that he outlived multiple predictions of “6 months to live” after being diagnosed with stage four cancer at age 56.
My dad died in January of 2008, about 2 ½ years after he was diagnosed. He died at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, on the exact same floor, in the exact same ward of the hospital he was born in. What a remodel!
After seeing my dad for the last time, we returned to my parents’ home which was only about a five minute drive from the hospital. When we got there, we slept and slept and slept because, you see, I was six months pregnant with our first baby and utterly exhausted. **
The next morning I woke up around 5 am with the urge pee, a very familiar feeling those days. I stumbled into the washroom half asleep, did my business and returned to my bed. Then I coughed and felt like I had wet the bed. Then it happened again. I immediately feared the worst: I had lost all bladder control and would have to wear adult diapers for the remaining three months of my pregnancy.
Yet, deep down Dane and I both knew something worse might have just happened. Then we both had the same reaction, and we ran down the hall to wake up my mom.
We were still at her house because, as you may recall, my dad died the day before.
My mom quickly got up and insisted I lay down as she “assessed” the sheets. Sniff, sniff “This is not urine” she said “Your water just broke. Call the midwife!”
Soon after talking to the midwives, I was admitted to Victoria General Hospital and given my first pair of disposable underpants.
After a variety of medical tests and a giant shot in my bum, I was moved into a room, divided by a thin curtain, shared, with 17 year old Tiffany and her four girlfriends with whom she worked at McDonalds. Tiffany was approaching delivery, and debating whether or not to even tell Curtis she was pregnant . “He will probably be a Disneyland dad anyway,” said one of her friends. “You know, only show up on the weekends.”
I lay there, trying not to judge, definitely eavesdropping and realizing, well my situation could be slightly worse. At least my baby daddy is well informed of his role in the whole thing.
At one point a social worker came in with a photo album of horrendously small babies with more tubes than appendages coming out from every which way. The babies were bright pink, had no eye lashes and their diapers came up to their armpits. They wanted to prepare me for life with a preemie in case our baby was on the way.
“If baby is born today, it will most likely remain in hospital until its due date,” she said. It was Jan 19th and my due date was April 13th. They definitely didn’t teach me this in the ONE prenatal class we had gone to.
After a few days of intolerable hospital food,** no contractions and the discovery that my dad’s funeral would go on with out me, I was flown back to the lower mainland at sunrise in a helicopter! ** There is a first time for everything I guess.
I was transported from the airport in an ambulance (no sirens) and was rolled into the front lobby of one of the busiest hospitals in the province. Just me in my faded blue hospital gown, white socks & sneakers, strapped down on my side, looking sort of pregnant with a face showing a week’s worth of ugly cries.
No showers, no mascara, no hair gel. Just me and the three nice guys in uniform who brought me to the broom closet room of the Royal Columbian Hospital. You think I’m kidding but it really used to be a closet. “Good Bye! Good Luck!” they said as they walked off with their empty stretcher.
I spent the next 2 days in the closet of the labour & delivery ward watching Veronica Mars ** and listening to other women scream through their own birth stories. Oh Veronica, your crime solving detective angst got me through a lot that month. I lay awake at night watching you make fake IDs, break into the principle’s office and give up more sarcasm than I knew what to do with. It was either YOU or the sound of my IV constantly pumping anti-biotics into through my tired, anxious body.
I did a lot of praying that week, well I guess you could call it praying. When you just cry and yell at God? I think that counts.
About a week after my water broke, and 48 hours in the closet, someone figured out I was probably not going to have this baby anytime soon. So I was sent home and began “antepartum homecare.” A lovely nurse came to our little apartment everyday to check on the baby in utero and me.
I was not allowed to do anything but lay on the couch in a “semi-reclined” position, use the washroom and take one long, hot shower per day.
Side note for science nerds: Yes, you can have your water break and keep the baby inside for weeks! Who knew?? It just takes enough anti-biotics that the pharmacist calls your doctor to make sure there isn’t a typo in the prescription.
But bed rest for the type A who had completed her first marathon the year before was needless to say, “challenging.”
I did this for 3 weeks. I learned to knit half an ugly scarf, watched too much of Paula Dean on TV (Veronica was only three seasons) and had visits from lots of friends, and my hair dresser Lisa ** because she figured all this laying around would probably necessitate a haircut.
The doctor’s told me that if the baby didn’t come by 34 weeks I would be induced. But at 32 weeks (or 7 months) pregnant, I went into natural labor.
With the help of my husband Dane, our excited housemate Rachel,**
my amazing midwife Candace, her very helpful student midwife Laura, 1 horribly cranky nurse, and a doctor who spent the quiet moments between contractions talking about her book club with the resident, out came the biggest… preemie… ever. ** Ben was 4 lb 13 oz and in the 90th percentile for his very young age.
Hurray, things were looking up? We had a giant preemie. But as all preemies born that early Ben had to spend a few weeks in the NICU (ICU for babies) learning how to suck, swallow & breath without getting confused. Ben found a home next to a cute baby we lovingly called Mr. Shum because his parents hadn’t chosen a first name yet.
I was released from the hospital without Ben after a few days. This is probably the part of the story when there is the least amount of laughs. Leaving a hospital without my baby is one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I really, really hated being in the hospital.
I was getting ready to go back to Children’s hospital to visit this guy ** and deliver my pumped milk (We did this twice a day everyday), but my left hip was really sore. So I booked into see my chiropractor b/c I figured I had just tweaked something while giving birth. Then I noticed that my left calf was swollen. Very swollen. **
Well, my dad died, my water broke three months early and I have a preemie in the NICU. What the hell was wrong with my calf? So I did the second most common thing after googling “swollen calf” – I called my mom. **
With an uncharacteristic gasp, my usually calm mother instructed me to go see my doctor asap. My doctor instructed me to go drop off my milk at the hospital and then come back because she scheduled me an ultrasound. As I walked into Children’s I couldn’t get down the hall because my leg had become so swollen and painful. I dragged myself into the NICU where one of the baby nurses yelled, “DVT! Take her to Emerg, this is how I lost my mother!” Thanks lady.
You see I was in the NICU in Children’s Hospital which is connected to Women’s. So a nurse kindly wheeled me into the “emergency” part of Women’s Hospital, called Assessment because most of what they do is assess women in labor and see if they are ready to be admitted. This, was not my issue.
I proceeded to spend the next FIVE hours waiting in a wheel chair. Despite the fact you can die from a blood clot, it was apparently easy to ignore me because I was quiet and not in labour. The nurses just kept sending a twenty-something resident to check my calf with a tape measure. I looked up at him and his Dr. Nimrod name tag (no joke) and say, “Um don’t I know you from somewhere?” Sure enough, he was a life guard at UBC pool. Awkward.
Luckily, my OBGYN, whom I secretly called Dr. Dale “Hot Shoes” Steel** raced in from the set of the latest medical drama to perform an emergency c-section.
He spotted me —- I pointed at my leg —and then I vaguely remember what happened next, “YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH A PRESUMED DVT (blood clot)? WHY IS THIS WOMAN SITTING HERE?” I was quickly whisked away to an ultrasound…back in the children’s hospital (because there was no room at women’s).
Complete with mobiles and murals, a resident with a Mickey Mouse tie gave me an ultrasound and told me he “thought” I had a DVT but he would check with his colleague (the real doctor).
Once she politely changed his incorrect setting on the machine, what first looked like ** normal blue lines with a slight red bulge turned into something more like this.**
“You have a DVT,” she said, “a massive one.” Blood clots typically run the length of your left calf. Mine was from my ankle all the way up into my pelvis (hence the hip pain I mentioned earlier). Blood clots much smaller than mine have killed many people.
I spent the next week in the hospital gradually shifting from enough morphine to make me puke to trying to walk to the bathroom with crutches! Although Dane was amazing** – things were kind of rough.** I had to learn how to inject myself with blood thinners twice a day and wear an itchy, tight white stocking on my leg for an undetermined amount of time.
Then after about six days of this, an unannounced nurse rolled Ben into my hospital room and said, “Surprise! congratulations your baby is now released from the NICU. Remember, I can barely walk and am heavily medicated for pain, not to mention they had just told Dane that morning that it would probably be another week. We officially had another roommate.**
The three of us hung out there for a few more days and then the pain had subsided enough to go home, our next test was passing the car seat challenge. ** Ben had to sit in his car seat in the nurses office for an hour to prove his worthiness (ie could he breath well enough?).
Eventually they just felt sorry for us and knowing we lived 10 mins away, let us go home. With the diagnosis that my leg would hurt and my activity limited for the rest of my life, with no real path to improvement, we took our giant preemie and headed home. **
So yes, my dad died, my water broke 3 months early, I had a preemie, and then a massive DVT.
I almost died, so why am I laughing?
Because that was all we could do. When you have an experience like we had, it is very easy to stay trapped in your sad story. You are so entrenched in it that it becomes comfortable. And when you get comfortable it is hard to get out.
We spent a long time just waiting for the other shoe to drop, or maybe the fourth or fifth shoe? I’m not sure how that metaphor works out in this case.
But we always assumed the worst would happen to us for a long time because, how could this much horrible stuff happen to one family? Well it did, and of course there are way worse scenarios out there.
One of the worst parts for us as Christians, was not feeling any real internal comfort or the presence of God.
All of my crying out to God, appeared to me, at that time to be ignored. I would lay on my sweaty hospital bed, doped up on pain killers crying out to God… the response….crickets.
Some people go through traumatic events feeling like Jesus was holding their hand. But it just isn’t the same for everyone. We don’t all feel that peace that surpasses all understanding and we have to come to terms with it.
Soon after we got home from the hospital for the final time, it was Easter and we attempted to practice some resurrection living. As we began to dig ourselves out of the hole, we began to look back and laugh.
We found bit of funny throughout the tough times. Whether we laughed at our cute baby or the memories of the midwives busting down the door of our hospital room and just saying “WHAT THE EFF?” (church edit), we began to laugh again. Even just realizing all we had gone through, made us shake our heads and chuckle.
We slowly began to embrace gratitude and thank God as Dane and I saw our relationship strengthen in a time that would have crushed some marriages.
We may way disagree on how to clean the kitchen, but we excel in crisis!
We also saw God’s goodness in our friendships with others. We were one of the first in our circle to have a baby, so everyone came to visit and hold, who my friend Beth called “the smallest person she had ever met.”
And we knew we had reached the surface of the hole when we could truly laugh again. It was a long journey back to God and for me, and laughter led the way.
A step in this direction happened on a warm sunny day, about six months after Ben was born. We drove to the beach to meet some friends for a picnic and this impromptu event happened. **