Monthly Archives: December 2011

The real fun begins

My ob/gyn’s office got a real taste of the real me on Friday. Sort of. Not the cheerful, friendly me, but the intense demanding slightly hysterical me. I woke up in the middle of the night with a hell of a headache. Enough to make me take a Tylenol, which I know is fine, but I still resist when pregnant. By 7am, it was really bad. By 7:30am, I was throwing up and my temperature was measuring at about 95 (which we later figured out was the result of the thermometer being crap–it was just a little bit low, 96.4 or so). I called the answering service, and the woman on the line was rude, “You’ll just have to wait for the office to open.” That set me off. “As I told you just two seconds ago, I am pregnant and I had a spinal block on Wednesday. This could be serious. GET MY DOCTOR A MESSAGE NOW.” Why not go straight to the ER, I thought, and somebody else might wonder? But really, given that every nurse I talked to in the OR had no idea what my procedure even was, I wasn’t excited to go somewhere without an OB. 

So how serious could it have been? Really serious, from nothing to a spinal headache to sepsis. The latter two are rare complications, but I’m not exempt from that. 

I didn’t get a call back after 30 minutes. I called again, after my sister affirmed I should take it seriously. I also threw up again. This time, only the office staff was in, so I left a message for a nurse. No call back after 30 minutes. Called again, and this time I said I needed to talk to someone not leave a message. My doctor’s out of town, but I got her nurse on the phone. She suggested some caffeine. By that point my head was really, really bad,even keeping my eyes open felt like torture. I seriously lost it then, and as often happens down here, the nurse couldn’t understand my accent under stress. So I passed the phone to Josh, and she again suggested caffeine. He didn’t take that well, and I yelled at her from the background. Honestly I can’t exactly remember what happened next, but I know I said that this was really serious and they would either see me at the office or I would go to the ER. I don’t know why I thought that was a threat but by then I was a serious mess. I still did not want to go to the ER just randomly because it would involve lots of explanation, and I still wasn’t confident about their prep for dealing with high-risk pregnancies. Anyway, shortly after that my doctor’s partner called me back and asked me to come in right away. It took about 2.5 hours from my first phone call to being seen. 

It should’ve gone faster, but this is a small town, and I did get to the head of the queue when I got there. When I walked in to the office, it was really apparent that I wasn’t okay. He thought perhaps I had a spinal headache. It’s really hard to explain what that feels like, but apparently people who get serious migraines would have some idea. It felt like the world was crushing in on me, darkness smashing in from the front and sides of my head, while someone punched me at the base of my skull. I couldn’t see well and the pain radiated down my back and into my hips and legs. Lying down in a dark room made it a little bit better. Apparently lying down relieves the spinal headache, but the stress of the headache can trigger other headaches.

He sent me to the hospital, to see the anesthesiologist. Again with the waiting, and I was in bad shape. Samuel was done with daycare by then, so he and Josh were in the waiting room with me. They went off to get some lunch, and I sat on the couch wishing I could kill every person who spoke in my vicinity. The light and sound was unbearable. And the guy who came in talking loudly after smoking a cigarette? I really had unkind thoughts about him and was glad I’d already lost all the food I’d eaten recently.

When they got back, I was still in the waiting room. Josh went to desk and managed to get me to a room right away. Fast forward, I did have a spinal headache caused by spinal fluid leaking out of the puncture from the anesthesia on Wednesday, which in cases like mine where it’s getting worse should be treated with an epidural blood patch, which is less pleasant as it sounds. They took blood from my arm and shot it into my back with an epidural needle. The shot hurt like hell, and the sensation it produced in my back and nervous system was cold and gooey. That makes no sense but I don’t how else to describe it. It was weird. But it helped, a lot, and almost immediately. Yesterday and today I still have a dull headache, but the pain is gone. My back hurt terribly yesterday, like it was bruised from the inside out. Today it’s better.

Lessons? First, I really have to be pushy here. Second, I really hope I can avoid an epidural during delivery. For no other reason than that I do not want to go through that again.

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I thought about not posting this experience, because this complication really rarely happens and is really rarely this bad. I don’t want to scare people or spark a debate about the risks and benefits of spinal anesthesia. I had to have it for the cerclage and would do it again for that. But then I thought, you know, this blog is about me dealing with rare complications that rarely happen, and about holding on to hope and humor throughout them.

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a few leaps of faith

Somewhere between four and five years ago, I took part in a blog discussion among other women who’d lost a child at some point during their pregnancies or shortly afterward about how their experiences had changed them. Most of what followed were searches for meaning, most of us too close to the moment, too focused on just trying to go forward to really practically grasp what and how they had changed.

Since then, I’ve written a few posts on the same topic, but really, it’s only been lately that my understanding of myself since that time has become clearer. It’s been muddled considerably by the reality of the recession, which greatly altered Josh’s and my prospects for dual academic careers. I would have hated the idea that that could happen five years ago–that Natan’s life/death could become mixed up in something so mundane. I really wanted his life to have some higher spiritual meaning. But really, why? Do I put such high pressure on Samuel? No. Do I expect his life to be for the sake of feeding my cosmology? Not really. I just love him, and genuinely like him, a lot.

I continue to resist any suggestion that things “happen for a reason” or “always work out for the best” because if that were true, I’d have too much trouble reconciling my faith with the really ugly, or what I more often experience, the really annoying. I still hope I can do more to help the world and be a better person because of what I went through, just as I hope living with Samuel will also help me push myself more. 

The truth is though, I’ve accomplished a lot less since Natan died than I expected to have done. Four and a half years ago, I had no higher ambition than to be an academic and a great teacher. Those are great ambitions, and I don’t have reduced admiration for people who do that. Something I resisted though, really until recently, was the reality that the mix of experiences I’ve had since January 2007 changed me so much that I’m not suited for it anymore. I can’t pinpoint what came from my failed pregnancy, from Natan’s death, from Samuel’s birth and life, from the dehumanizing aspects of the market, from our financial struggles, from my unsatisfactory experiences in academia since I defended. I should point out that I have had plenty of wonderful experiences as well, but somehow those have really, really not felt like enough. I complain a lot about the tedium of grading, dealing with annoying or problem students, and boredom with scholarship in my field. Lots of people do the first two–the real problem for me comes with the last one. 

For a long time, when I pick up an article or book in my field, I’ve felt complete and utter disinterest. I was telling Josh recently that I came to graduate school with certain questions that only early American cultural history could answer for me. My dissertation provided me with those answers, and I’m on to new questions, but they’re not the ones I can answer by being a history professor. And I’m not sure I care whether anyone else was interested in those historical questions and whether my dissertation answers the questions they had. And I can’t seem to care enough to fake it.

That was an entirely vague paragraph, but it’s the best I can do without getting into details about my diss and what I think it did. I think I’m simply not interested in the profession. It took me a long time to come to that conclusion, because in no way do I think I should have quit graduate school or not finished my dissertation. It also took a long time, because, well, what else have I been trained to do? A well-meaning person recently forwarded me something about things to do with your history PhD other than be a history professor. My reaction, “Ugh, those are even worse.” I was a great student, yet I don’t like working with other people very much. I’m much happier in my own head, or more accurately, sitting at a computer with a cup of coffee, at home or in a coffee shop, with no one else’s expectations surrounding me and no need to bend to another person’s whims. Obviously, life doesn’t work like that. But my hope is I can find a way to live like that more often than not. 

So here goes–my craziest confession yet. I’m going to finish out this academic year where I am, obviously continuing to do the best I can by the department and my students. Then, I’m done. We’ve, through some incredible good fortune, managed this year to pay off our most considerable debts, and can afford to live frugally for the next couple of years as a one-income family. My plan: write. I have a number of ideas, all of which are crazy, none of which may work out. I have a good amount done on one of them, but with a job and a family, it’s too much to just finish without bowing out on one of those things. 

And while I’m at it, I’ll admit some other big recent news. I am 14 weeks pregnant and had a cerclage yesterday. All went well. It’s very very different being in Mississippi rather than Michigan, but my doctor’s competent and I like her. I did have to put up with a number of idiotic questions from nursing staff, “Is this your first?” First what?? “Baby.” No, of course not. No one has a cerclage put in at 14 weeks with their first. The surgery was done in the general operating room because it’s a small hospital, without room in L&D. But let’s just pray I don’t have to visit the general areas again because my patience really began to wear thin.