After the unbelievably sad news about Joe’s mother, I had a small, quiet dinner with the boys, and then my best friend, Gwen, came to the house, so I could join the rest of the family at the hospital. I made it to Nana’s room at about 8 o’clock. I whispered in her ear that I loved her, and that she’d always been my refuge. I kissed her cheek. I could always tell my mother-in-law anything without fear of being judged. She was such a good listener. I hoped she was listening now.
There were so many of us crowded into Joe’s mother’s small room: Joe’s dad, all six of their children, two daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, a soon-to-be-son-in-law, several grandchildren, and a few close friends. We sang “How Great Thou Art.” We prayed. We waited. We cried.
We listened, when, at about 10 o’clock, the nurse said, “We’re sorry, but she’s no longer breathing.”
We cried some more. And yet, there was much to be grateful for.
A peaceful passing. A chance to say goodbye. Jesus, thank you.
The following day brought many well-wishers to the house. They brought bagels and blessings, coffee and condolences.
Later that afternoon, Joe and I took the boys shopping; they needed matching dress shoes for the wedding. The wedding would go on, everyone decided. Nana would have wanted it that way. But minutes after arriving at the store, I was doubled-over in pain. My left side was hurting again. I could barely walk back to the car.
Joe rushed me to his dad’s house. I went to bed with a heating pad. An hour or two later, it was becoming clearer that this pain was not normal. I took some comfort in the fact that I wasn’t bleeding. The worst part of it all was not knowing what was causing the pain, or what to do about it.
Whom could I call, when no one even knew I was pregnant? Where could I go, when our doctors were all back in Missouri?
But God sent an angel, in the form of one of Christina’s best friends, Kim, to watch over me. Joe told Christina and Kim what was going on. We didn’t know it then, but Kim works for one of the largest fertility clinics in New England. Kim immediately called two OBGYN nurses she knew.
Both nurses suggested everything would be fine. If I was miscarrying, I’d be bleeding, and the pain would be in the middle of my abdomen. Also, I didn’t have any of the risk factors of an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy—which I had self-diagnosed myself as having thanks to the Mayo Clinic, my go-to online medical emergency guide. Besides, ectopic pregnancies were rare. Both nurses separately said the pain was likely being caused by a harmless cyst that would burst and go away on its own in due time.
I felt relieved. I just needed to wait this one out. I didn’t need be rushed to the ER, less than 24 hours after the family had gathered in the ER to say goodbye to mom.
Joe was relieved by the news, too. After our shopping trip had been cut short, the boys were feeling restless, so I told Joe to take them to Bonkers, a kids play place similar to Chuck E Cheese’s. The house further emptied out when Christina, her fiancé Joel, Joe’s dad and Deirdre left for a final appointment with the wedding planner. At about 6 o’clock the house was dark and quiet. Everyone had left.
Everyone except Kim.
Seeing that I was still in a lot of pain (it had been five hours now, with no let-up), Kim decided to call an ER nurse she knew. By God’s providence, the nurse was on shift that night, until 11 p.m. She told Kim to bring me in, and that she’d have a room ready.
The ride to the hospital reminded me of my trip to the hospital when I was in labor with Christian; it was very long and very painful. It was rush-hour, and we seemed to hit every light. Every bump and turn caused me to moan. Poor Kim, I thought.
Finally, we arrived. Between gasps of pain, I gave the front desk clerk my name and address. The next thing I knew someone was taking my blood pressure—which was unusually low. Then, I was being wheeled to my room. I never even saw the ER’s waiting room.
Thank you, God, for Kim, who refused to leave me alone. Thank you for her nurse-friend. I know you love me, Lord. You are with me.
Kim’s friend the nurse was wonderful. She was outgoing and kind and made me feel relaxed. Later, up on the radiology floor, I had what seemed like the longest ultrasound in the world. (Kim agreed.) I wondered what the technician was seeing as she stared through her glasses at the monitor. Answering her questions was like trying to decipher a secret code.
“When was your last period?” October 14.
“Did you have any fertility treatments?” No.
“Are you sure you’re pregnant? How do you know?” Yes. A home pregnancy test.
Kim reassured me it was probably a cyst and that the pregnancy was fine. But the last question haunted me.
Back downstairs in my ER room, we waited for the radiology report. While we were waiting, Christina, Joel, Deirdre and Joe’s dad showed up. Joe had texted me just before I had gone in for the ultrasound. He had told his Dad.
I cried and told them all to go home and get some rest, that I would be fine. I felt a rush of guilt. Why hadn’t I just trusted the two nurses Kim had called earlier, who advised me just to wait it out? Now I’d caused unnecessary drama for my poor, grieving, sleep-deprived family. If only I were a more patient, mentally-strong person.
Deirdre stayed, but everyone else obliged and left. I tried to encourage Kim to go home, too. It was getting late, nine o’clock, and she had a husband and five month-old baby at home that surely needed her. But my angel would not leave.
Not long after, the physician’s assistant who’d been working with me, along with our nurse-friend-hero (she had rushed the results of the ultrasound), came into the room.
I’ve heard before that death begins in the eyes. I’m not sure whether this is true, but I can say with certainty that bad news begins in the eyes. As soon as I saw the PA’s face, the tension across her forehead, her tightly-closed mouth, her sad eyes, I knew.
She came to my bedside. “The pregnancy is ectopic.”
I began to cry. I could see on the other side of my bed that Kim had started to cry, too.
“We could see blood pooling up in your pelvis area, and there was no evidence of a pregnancy in your uterus. I’m so sorry.”
Emergency laparoscopic surgery had been ordered, to remove the embryo, along with my left fallopian tube and probably my ovary.
I was sad, scared, and confused. Even until the last moment I had held onto a shred of hope that the pregnancy was okay. But, it was not.
And surgery? Me? I had never had surgery before, and I had always thought of myself as a healthy person. How could this be happening?
Deirdre called Joe. The boys were already in bed, and he came right over. He got to the OR floor just in time. He told me that when he had explained to the boys earlier what was going on, our four year-old, Henry, started saying the Lord’s Prayer.
The surgeon was a strong, intelligent, middle-aged woman who patted my shoulder and said, “Poor sweetie,” when I told her that my mother-in-law had just passed away. She told me that the surgery was a common procedure and that she was well-trained—Harvard, Tufts…I lost track after that.
I am in good, capable hands. Thank you, Jesus.
I said goodbye to Joe, Deirdre and Kim as they took me to surgery. I suddenly felt very alone. I started reciting the Lord’s Prayer, too. But I just … couldn’t … seem … to get the words …right.
Less than an hour later, I was awake again. Joe, Kim and Deirdre were there. They were smiling. According to Joe, the surgery had been a routine ground ball to short. Nine times out of ten, a good shortstop makes the play.
I must have had a great shortstop then, because the surgery had gone better than expected. They were able to save my ovary.
At about 11 o’clock, after some raisin toast and apple juice, I was discharged. At the car, I hugged the OR nurse who had been with me the last hour-and-a-half and who had wheeled me downstairs. She kissed my cheek as we said goodbye. I was touched by her gesture.
Nurses. Their gentle care, their loving, servant’s hearts. Jesus loves me.
Needless to say, I finished my Jesus Loves Me List sooner than expected. My one-thousandth entry read simply, “I am alive.”
I had survived a pregnancy complication that, had it progressed any further, or had it occurred a generation ago, could have been fatal. It was ironic, but in five months, I had never thought to thank God for his most basic, essential gift–life.
Even though I reached my goal of one thousand entries, I have continued my journal. There has been so much more to be thankful for. Though I missed the rehearsal dinner on Wednesday night, I was well enough to go to Thanksgiving dinner, as planned, at the Hawthorne Inn in Salem. I was present at Christina’s beautiful wedding at the same venue on Friday evening. I witnessed her vows to a man she had waited 33 years to marry. I saw, through tears and tissues, their first dance as husband and wife.
As I watched the white Christmas lights sparkle on the trees outside the oversized windows of the six-story ballroom, I realized I had probably experienced, in one week, nearly every human emotion on the spectrum–surprise, anxiety, excitement, grief, fear and finally, now, joy.
I don’t know how much longer I will continue my Jesus Loves Me List, but I know I will never stop thanking God for his love, his care, and his protection in my life.
And maybe one day, like Nana, after I’ve lived a long, happy life, and seen my children grown and married and having children of their own, I will thank Him in my death, too. I will rejoice in the end of sorrow, and the beginning of ceaseless joy with him in heaven.