As I entered the ward, I could hear that she was on a call. I gingerly parted the curtain dividing her bed from her neighbor and found her perched awkwardly on an exercise ball. She was holding her phone in one hand and a blood pressure cuff in the other while admonishing her PA for his lackluster work. I couldn’t decide which was more amusing, the call or the thought of some birthing expert shuffling an exercise ball into the room to induce labour.
We had chosen that hospital because as first-time parents we had researched everything. It had the best neo-natal ICU in the country and our selected doctor was the most qualified. We were not used to being thwarted by either fate or bureaucracy. In our paradigm hard work, preparation and perseverance were all that it took to succeed. Bringing our son into the world had, to that point, always adhered to our will. High achieving people do not have patience with grey areas.
I finally pried the now powerless mobile phone from her hand at 23:00. She had traded the exercise ball for a gurney and at last inspection her contractions were appropriately spaced, and her dilation met with expectation. The pain had become less manageable, and she grudgingly asked the anesthetist to administer an epidural. I was supportive, given that natural birth was not something I would ever experience and the assurance that there was little evidence or likelihood of ill effect on our son.
He was born without any complication at 02:00 on a Wednesday morning. The nurses did not see many natural births and told me how strong and resolute my wife was. A proper woman they said as they wheeled us back to the ward. We had arranged for a private room that would enable me to stay with my newly expanded family. I had very briefly held my son after the birth, and he now slept soundly in a cot between our beds. I joked with her that this was one of five.
We had drifted off to sleep. She was still on a gurney, hospital procedure post birth. It was higher than my own bed and a sound woke me. I looked over and saw liquid running from the edge of her bedsheet. Leaning up on my elbow I noticed that the floor under her bed was covered in an expanding pool as the liquid dropped off the bed in a steady trickle. I turned on my mobile phone torch and pointed it at the pool. It was bright red. Blood. I panicked. I fell out of bed and seized her sheet. Her entire bed was saturated with blood. Her face was deathly pale and when I grabbed her arm it was cold.
The nurse that I collected, bodily, raised the alarm. The infant was rudely woken by several pairs of urgent feet. I picked him up and held him close. She had barely regained consciousness and was staring at the swarming medical team in terror, her sunken eyes shrouded by heavy eyelids. The doctor finally noticed me, sitting motionless on the bed clutching our son. She assured me that although this scene might easily have been directed by Wes Craven, there were additional units of blood on their way and an operating theatre had been prepared.
I handed our son to a nurse and took her hand. She was calm. She told me that it would be ok. The doctor asked me to verbally consent to a hysterectomy, should it come to that. Anything to save her life. She had suffered a post partem hemorrhage. She had lost a substantial amount of blood and her heartrate and body temperature were both too low to sustain life. They didn’t have time to transfer her to a new gurney and rushed down the green linoleum corridor splashing bright red blood on it and themselves as they jostled her toward the awaiting operating theatre.
I took my son back from the nurse. I clung to him as though he were a life raft, gently rocking him forward and back as the orderlies mopped his mother’s blood from the floor and applied bleach as they steralised the room. This could not be how it ended. We hadn’t been married for very long. We hadn’t even begun to travel. She was still teaching me to swim properly. We had agreed to enter IronMan together. I felt helpless. More helpless than the infant that I now cradled in my arms. I would not put him down, despite the nurse’s gentle encouragement.
I have eventually come to understand hospitals, but the early hours of that morning were my baptism by fire. The nurses could tell me nothing. I did not know who to phone. I had absolutely no idea where they would have taken her. The minutes turned to hours. The nurses had sensed my desperation and had attempted to get information from the operating theatre. I could not bring myself to hand him over and venture out into the hospital. I was crippled with the fear that I would be told that she had not made it out of surgery.
Six hours later an exhausted doctor slipped quietly into our room and on seeing my face embraced both of us. She was alive, in ICU and in critical condition. She would have to stay there for at least four days. She had lost almost a quarter of the blood in her body. The following day would be the most perilous and if she pulled though then the danger would abate proportionally.
I reflect on that morning. I do not sleep deeply and seldom dream. Had I woken minutes later she may well not have survived. Were we thankful enough for the additional time that we had from that day to her last? It puts my grief into perspective. I still cling to that boy as though he were a life raft. Our first born.