The Incident

{Sorry, I’m a major LOST fan and couldn’t resist using that as the title!} 😉

Part 2 of our journey to adoption (warning, it’s lo-o-o-o-o-o-ng!). You can read part 1 here.

I began 2010 in a burst of emotion. I was indescribably happy at being able to stay home with my precious, soon-to-be-4-year-old daughter. But it was a challenge adjusting to being home all day, especially since I’d worked non-stop (with the exception of maternity leave) since I was 16. At the top of our list was plans to expand our family. I couldn’t wait!

I also began January in probably the worst way: the annual appointment. You know which one – the annual appointment. No one enjoys those, can I get an amen? While there, I told my doctor of some pain I’d been having, pain reminiscent to some pain I’d had back in Shreveport when I had ovarian cysts. She did an ultrasound, and sure enough, I had cysts again. She scheduled me for a second appointment a few weeks out, to scan again the following month to see if there was any change.

During that time, I had a very strange word from the Lord. God spoke to me one day and told me I needed to begin preparing my heart to hear that I might not have any more biological children. I wanted to laugh at it and cast it aside; after all, ovarian cysts are not indications of infertility. I shared it with a few friends who, in love, questioned whether or not I was being a little overdramatic. {Those of you that know me well know I always tend to err on the side of drama. 😉 } But it set deep in my heart, and by God’s grace, even then, I knew.

I went back in February for another ultrasound and sure enough, the cysts were still there, bold as brass. My doctor said they had to come out and I had two options. 1, she could remove them surgically; or 2, I could take birth control and see if the hormones would make them fall off, and if not then we would move on to surgery. The surgery wasn’t a big procedure, just a small, laparoscopic (sp?) operation. But I opted for the pills. After all, who wants to have surgery performed on them? Not this girl! So with a disappointed heart, I began taking birth control for an undetermined amount of time. I continued to come in for ultrasounds and watched (with joy) as the cysts disappeared completely. But our plans for another member of the family had been pushed back indefinitely.

Three months passed, and I noticed another change. I was having trouble breathing. I discovered I couldn’t lay on my side at night and breathe at the same time. I began to increasingly feel like an iron band was closing around my chest. About that time I contracted a sinus infection which turned into bronchitis, and I passed off the increasing difficulty of breathing as complications from the infection/bronchitis. 2 antibiotics and 2 chest x-rays later, and my doctors were baffled at why I couldn’t breathe (possibly they knew of my penchant for drama and thought I was making it up?). The pressure continued to grow. I started seeing black at the edge of my vision any time I over-exerted myself. And by that point over-exerting myself meant walking from the front to the back of our tiny apartment without stopping.

One night, as I was walking up the stairs at church, I felt something pop in my hip. I wiggled my leg a bit and made my (slow, because I couldn’t breathe) way up the stairs. When I got home that night I did a stretch to pop my hip joint. I went to bed thinking everything would be fine the next morning.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I woke up on June 3rd to a right leg that was twice the size of my left, purple in color, and couldn’t support any weight. Boyd left work and rushed me to the ER. They diagnosed me by sight with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and started the procedure to find where the clot was. During the time they were hooking me up to the IV, my blood pressure crashed. The next several hours are a blur; I think there are many moments I don’t recall clearly. I remember them hooking me up to oxygen and getting an EKG going on my chest. I vaguely remember going back for a CAT scan, which confirmed the worst: my lungs were full of blood clots (pulmonary embolisms, or PEs). That explained why I had been having so much trouble breathing.

After spending the day in the ER, I was finally sent to CCU. My blood was so thick that the nurses couldn’t even get it up into the needles for draws. Those days passed in a haze of pain, medication, and many, many conversations with doctors over what was going on in my body. They came in twice a day and shot blood thinners into my stomach. I later found out from my cardiovascular doctor just how critical those first two days were, and that the whole goal during that time was to keep me alive. I had more EKGs, Echos, and ultrasounds of my leg. The doctors were baffled that I had no damage to my heart, not even any signs of stress.

I learned a lot during that time how PEs and the heart work. I had always thought that if a clot entered the heart, it was an automatic death sentence. Not so. It depends on where the clot lodges. The general killer is when the clot lodges just behind the right side of the heart as it goes into the lungs. The right side is the weaker side, and when a clot is there, the heart is not strong enough to pump against it and shuts down. Guess who had a clot lodged in that spot? Yep, this girl.

I don’t know by what grace I (and my heart) were spared, but I am and will be forever grateful to the Lord. He gave me a vision during that time in the hospital, that He had wrapped His hands around my heart when all that wretchedness was going on in my body. It was like an almost Job-like moment of Him saying, “Anything but the heart.” I’m not trying to turn this into some spiritual warfare issue or say that the enemy was deliberately destroying my body; I know part of the problem is that we live in a world steeped in sin and death and disease, and our only hope is Jesus Christ and His victory over those terrible things. The whole experience is such a testimony to God’s miraculous power. Four cardiovascular specialists telling me I shouldn’t be alive is a lot to overlook!

After 5 days, I was sent home with more Lovenox shots (ick!) and a prescription for coumadin (a common blood thinning drug). I also went home with the understanding that I would probably be on coumadin for only a year and then life would return to normal. I came home and got settled. Family came to stay with us, taking care of SC because I was bound to the bed. After 2 weeks, my leg could finally handle walking to the living room couch. After three weeks Boyd & my parents took me out for Chinese food, my first non-hospital outing since the beginning of June. We noticed that after only 45 minutes of being out with my leg not elevated above my heart, my ankle was swelling to elephantine proportions. I had a follow-up appointment with a new cardiovascular doctor who was going to manage my recovery, and we couldn’t wait for it to arrive so we could find out what was going on with my swelling.

July 2nd, the day after my birthday, we went to see Dr. Chi. He took one look at my leg and his face told us there was something wrong. He immediately ordered an ultrasound of my whole leg. That ultrasound was, to that point, one of the more painful experiences I’d ever had. The ultrasound revealed that the coumadin prescription, while keeping me from forming new clots, was doing nothing for the biggest problem: my entire leg was sealed off with clot. I had no blood returning out of my right leg.

He recommended immediate surgery. He set me up with Dr. Connors at Ochsner, one of the world‘s best interventionists (and can I just say what grace it was for this to happen with a surgeon of Dr. Connors’ expertise in our backyard?). He explained the surgery would be to reopen my veins in my leg. They would run a catheter up my leg, drip clot-busting drug for 24-48 (most likely 48 because of the severity of the damage), then go in “roto-rooter” style to clean out my veins. Anything that couldn’t be cleaned out would have to be manually opened with stents.

Dr. Chi also revealed a deeper problem. One of the baffling things was why a healthy, non-smoking, under-35 woman would have such a severe blood clot. My bloodwork had been sent off to the Mayo Clinic, and it came that I have one of the genetic mutations that makes you prone to clotting. {I’ll discuss these mutations more later.} The combination of the birth control & the genetic mutation was a recipe for massive DVT.

Dr. Chi told us that there were no guarantees with the surgery, that even if I had it done, I might never be able to run or stand for long periods of time ever again. He said this was a “quality of life” surgery, and while he couldn’t guarantee any specific results, he could certainly tell us how bleak the future would be if we didn’t at least attempt it. Boyd and I prayed about it and we figured it couldn’t be any worse than we already were. We called Dr. Chi and told him to set up the screening with Dr. Connors.

Dr. Connors scheduled the surgery immediately. The first attempt was unsuccessful; they didn’t have the ultrasound machine needed for Dr. Connors to follow along, and he didn’t want to do the surgery “blind” because my vein was so close to an artery, and nicking an artery to someone on blood thinners is (obviously) not a desirable thing! The second attempt, scheduled for a few days later, was successful. Dr. Connors could not go in behind my knee or at the left groin and over like he’d originally planned because the clot was so giant and thick. He finally managed to get in at my ankle and worked the catheter up my leg from my ankle to my right groin. This is why this man is one of the world’s best and has doctors travel from all over the world to work with him – even the nurses said afterwards that no one but Dr. Connors could have successfully performed a surgery that difficult! He even joked he was putting me in his book of successes. I am so, so thankful to have had him as my surgeon it’s making me tear up just typing this!

The 48 hours after the catheter insertion/clotbuster drip were the worst pain I’d ever experienced. My nerves in my lower leg had “deadened” because of lack of blood flow for a month and a half, and their “reawakening” (once the blood started flowing again in my leg) was excruciating. The CCU nurses warned me it would be bad – they just didn’t say how bad! I was on a consistent cycle of 2MG of dilaudid (for all you nurses out there) followed with phenergan so I wouldn’t throw up from all the narcotic painkillers. I got dehydrated which made my heart rate skyrocket every time I tried to move. After the 48 hours I went back to the cath lab where Dr. Connors removed the catheter and began the roto-rooter process. The veins in my lower leg had cleared; the veins in the middle of my leg had softened enough where he could manually clear them out. The veins in my upper leg were a lost cause, so he worked stents in all the way up from my mid thigh to my belly button. Have I mentioned that again he was doing this all through the incision in my ankle? I’m telling you, he is one of my greatest blessings throughout this whole ordeal!

I stayed in the hospital a few more days and was sent home with some painkillers. It took about two weeks for me to be able to move around by myself. Once again family came to stay and take care of the house and SC like they had been doing for the previous month. My first non-hospital outing after this stay was when mab took me to Chick-Fil-A and to meet Drew Brees, and I blubbered like a baby that night because it was the first time I’d felt normal in two months. What a day! It still brings tears to my eyes.

At my follow up appointment with Dr. Chi, he was pleased with my progress. He cautioned me not to get too hopeful (though I was quick to share that God had done so much already, and that I was trusting Him to do even more!). Then he brought up the subject of children. Specifically, did we plan to have any more?

I felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. I could tell by his demeanor that we wasn’t asking us because he wanted to encourage us to have more children. He began to describe the state of my body, how my veins – even post-surgery – could not sustain the increased amount of blood a pregnant woman carries. He said with the genetic mutation I have, I would have to be on Lovenox shots the entire pregnancy. I would most likely be confined to some sort of bed rest to minimize risk to the baby (if you pass a clot to the fetus, it will suffocate the baby and the mother will miscarry). He said it would take months of preparation to transition me off of coumadin to Lovenox, and multiple tests would have to be run before we could even try to have a baby. He also cautioned us to be very, very careful, because coumadin is deadly to fetus, and even if the doctors were to find out at the absolute earliest possible moment I was pregnant, it would still be too late for them to save the baby. He also told us that even with all those preventions, because of my genetic issue, he could not guarantee we’d even be able to carry a baby to term. He closed the conversation by looking over at SC, and reminding us that, especially with my genetic mutation, that she was truly a miracle and for us to cherish her.

I felt deadened leaving his office. Even though I’d expected some sort of conversation along those lines, it was still hard to go through. Boyd and I talked and prayed a long time about what to do. I think the decision was somewhat easier for Boyd. As a man who’d recently gone through an episode where he almost lost his wife, he wasn’t eager to do anything to jeopardize my life again any time soon. His resolve was good for me to see and feel. I went through a myriad of emotions. I was also terrified of accidentally becoming pregnant. I could not handle the thought of me killing a baby by medicine I was willingly (and necessarily) taking.

I had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Chi in December of 2010 to see how much progress I had made. Boyd and I decided over those in-between months that based on what the appointment revealed, we would make our decision regarding any permanence of family planning after seeing how my recovery was going. We were hoping for a miracle, that possibly God had (again) done some inexplainable work within my body that wouldn’t require a lifetime diagnosis.

Dr. Chi was pleasantly surprised with how much I had healed. More ultrasounds revealed 100% blood return out of my leg. Dr. Connors’ hard work had been an astounding success. However because of the stents I was to remain on blood thinners – for life. I was also to wear the compression hose to help with pain & blood flow because of all the dead veins in my leg. Dr. Chi encouraged me to remember how lucky I was to be alive, and to be doing so well considering the circumstances. I praised God even in the absence of the hoped-for miracle. We broached the subject of children again. He told us that ultimately, it was up to us, but gave us the same cautions as before. We left his office in peace, knowing what our decision would be. The truth was, the decision had already been made based on the outcome of my recovery. We knew that it would take nothing short of a miracle for us to biologically have more children. That particular miracle didn’t happen. We were at peace, we had bathed the situation in prayer, and we took the necessary steps to ensure that I would not become pregnant ever again, thus no longer risking harming, and possibly killing, any baby.

The sheer relief I felt at knowing I couldn’t hurt a baby with this terrible, yet (for me) life-sustaining, medication is indescribable. But the relief didn’t last long.  And the enemy was waiting in the wings, ready to pounce.

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2 thoughts on “The Incident

  1. Pingback: The Ashes « Growing because of His Grace

  2. Pingback: The Beauty « Growing because of His Grace

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