The Death I Missed
Before the call about Dayne’s grandmother, he and I were talking the other night about his dad and how hard it was for him to be there, watching him struggle and suffer; fight and give up for all those hours. He told me he almost understood the flashbacks I used to have when the PTSD was in full flare up – where I’d hide in closets, whimpering, only to scream bloody murder if he so much as came within a foot of me, only able to see my dad and that neighbour who was welcome to take his fill of me whenever he wanted as a 13-year-old girl. He told me he was trying, so hard, to remember his dad alive and well but the only memory he could find in his head, day or night, was either the moment his father took his last breath or the time he watched my heart monitor flat-line before his eyes.
I was nodding, rubbing his back while tears slid down both our cheeks as we talked when I suddenly stopped for a moment, frozen.
“Oh! You must mean when I was in labour with Colt and his heart beat stopped for those few, terrifying moments.” Yes, that was a terrible moment for me too, even though I don’t fully remember it, I was so engrossed with labour and what was happening with my body and the little life within that was trying to get out.
Dayne looked at me, confused. “No, babe, it wasn’t just Colt whose heart stopped…don’t joke about that. It was really scary, watching you both die like that….slipping away from me.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. What I remember is this: I was in labour all day. When Dayne finally got home around 7 that evening I was beyond pissed because the contractions were getting closer and stronger and he’d not answered his cell phone all day. (I’d been frantically calling since about 2 that afternoon). We went to the hospital and they checked me, declaring me almost 8 cm dilated so moved me right into a nice, private birthing room. (Perk of working at the hospital – health care is covered in our federal taxes here in Canada, but that only allows for a semi-private room. I got the royal treatment). Labour was painful but I was calm throughout. No drugs, no epidural…just a drifting, half dreaming state of consciousness that was somewhere between dreaming and dissociation from the pain. (haha!! Finally a good use for that shit!) I remember a lot of moments but had no idea of the time passing. I remember going into hard labour and kind of wishing I’d taken that epidural; I remember them putting my legs up on platforms that made my hips instantly cramp and I almost leapt from the bed in pain. Dayne knew…he told then and they took the leg stirrups away.
It went on for a while…I don’t know how long. I heard Dayne telling our nurse that he thought I’d fallen asleep and she told him it was okay, to let me rest. Then the only constant in the room; that constant, comforting set of bleeps of the heart monitors they’d attached to Colt’s head and my pulse began to slow. Then it really started to slow. For a moment, I couldn’t hear a single sound and I pulled myself out of my meditation and locked eyes with my foster-mother, who had unwillingly come to witness the great event of the birth of her first grandchild. (she forced herself – I never would have wanted that…i thought it was a nice thing to do for her, not something she’d hate).
“Mom? What’s wrong? What’s going on?” I heard myself say but she didn’t answer.
I heard the nurse, Bev, telling me that I was okay and not to panic. She said that when I opened my eyes I was going to see a lot of people in the room, but not to worry, they were just there to make sure the baby and I were both okay. I did open my eyes for a second and, indeed, the room was packed with medical staff. There was an adult crash team, a crash cart (Paddles out and turned on), a pediatric crash team, an obs doc dressed in scrubs with two nurses scrubbed by his side, a resident down between my legs holding a scalpel very close to my body and an attending doc, dictating her every move. I felt a ripping, tearing pain suddenly and half sat up making the first noise I’d made in hours….something like ow-ow-ow-oww-oww! and a whole bunch of strangers began to murmur comforting sounds. The next moment I remember was Bev saying to me:
“Grainne! Open your eyes! Look Grainne! Look!” and I did. And there he was, upside down, purple, drenched and heartily screaming his lungs out. Colt had joined the world.
“Oh! It’s a boy!” I remember saying (my mother was absolutely convinced he was a girl) and I looked for her but she was huddled in the corner, teary eyed and trembling. Dayne had left my side the moment they took Colt to the other side of the room for the peds and team to examine. There was a lot of suction and fussing about, but, eventually he was laid in my arms as the resident stitched up my episiotomy after injecting a ton of freezing. All I could see was him. I wanted him close to me….on my skin. They brought my cleaned up and air-way suctioned Colt, all wrapped in blankets and lay him in my arms. That moment was one of the most peaceful and happy of my life. (The outright screaming began that night and didn’t cease until he was two, but, there was peace for those first moments as he tried to figure out what the hell just happened.) We were moved to another ward and Colt and I watched the sun come up as he tried to breastfeed and I tried to help him between bouts of crying in frustration and terrifyingly scary moments when he started to choke and cough up some of the thick mucously muconium from the birth.
That is my memory. But, apparently, I missed the entire part where I freaking died.
Dayne, haltingly, recounted the moments from when he thought I’d fallen asleep and alerted the nurse, to the moments the heart monitors went down steadily together in their decline, both mine and Colts. He said that my monitor stopped first, completely, and then Colt followed. They called a double code for us and my mother and Dayne were shoved to the side of the room as crash carts and teams came running in at 3 in the morning. The adult team got me ready for defib and one of the nurses pumped breath into me while Bev gave me chest compression to keep my heart beating. He said the paddles were charged and hovering in the air, inches from my chest, the obs/gyn resident ready to slice me open to get the baby out, when the Attending told her to wait. Dayne said the heaviest silence ever hung in the air for what felt like hours but was, in reality about 20 seconds, when my heart kicked in again on its own and Colt’s followed. The very moment that happened Bev told me not to worry about all the people in my room when I opened my eyes, saw the people, closed them again; the resident sliced into me, I reacted to that pain, half sitting up and making the only sound I think I made through the entire labour. Colt was instantly released from my body after the cut and Bev was telling me to look….to open my eyes and look and my new little life who then became and yet always was, my son.
One of the docs came to my side, wiped the hair from my face, stuck there with sweat, and said “welcome back mom”. I had no idea what he meant but I more or less dismissed it. My mother remained huddled in the corner, terrified, and Dayne followed Colt wherever they took him until he was finally placed in my arms.
All in all, it was likely only a minute or two that all that chaos and heart function trouble happened but I can imagine the eternity it must have felt like from the outside. Suddenly a whole lot of memories make sense now too….I just honestly never realized what had happened. Everyone assumed I MUST have known. I mean, how do you die and not know? Well…..apparently it’s a thing. My thing, at least.
Strangely, what bothered me most about knowing the whole story nearly 13 years later, is that there was nothing there. No light, no relatives coming to welcome me to the afterlife. If anything, I felt like I was tumbling in and out of consciousness, much like I do some days when the narcolepsy gets me good. I was saying things that no one could hear but me, doing things no one but me noticed…..and I had no heart beat for a short while. I was worried about the baby not having one but it never struck me that I was in trouble. Just a big blank…dark, half sleepy, painless, unfeeling, uncaring black. I so hope that’s not what my end will be when I do finally reach it. If so, I’d so much rather stay here with the suffering and living of life.
I don’t know what else to say about all that except that it’s scary enough hearing about what I did and said in my sleep without knowing it. Being close to dead and not knowing it for over a decade…..that’s a whole next level deal.