Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Very Special Gift

I received a very special gift today. It wasn't yarn or needles or any of the fibery things I so love. I didn't get it from a friend or a family member. It didn't come from a store. I got it from a stranger at the blood bank, and it wasn't blood, either.

In order to tell you what it was, I have to indulge in a little personal history. Those of you who've been around this blog for a while probably know that I have given birth to two children, now nine and twelve years old. During my first pregnancy, I had a great deal of pain. The doctors did not know why and didn't really seem concerned. When I was eight months along, it became so severe that I ended up in the hospital on morphine. After a few days and some tests, the doctors decided to do a c-section and just get the baby out. The pain went away immediately and nothing more was said.

Until my second pregnancy. The pain returned, far stronger and sooner than the first time, and reached the intolerable stage when I was only five months along. A c-section wasn't an option that early, so more tests were done, for days and days. Finally, a surgeon told me he thought he saw something on an MRI and wanted to operate to see what it was. A little incision, a scope, no big deal. It was really early in the morning and none of my family was around, so I agreed. But I was terrified that the baby would die if he didn't have a name before we went into surgery. We hadn't chosen one, although there were several on the table. My OB was came by to see me. He had just gotten off a 24 hour shift and stayed to see me through the surgery (God bless him). I told him, "If anything happens to us, tell my husband the baby's name is Nathan." I had a very strong feeling he needed that name. The OB promised he would and they wheeled me away.

A few hours later, I awoke in recovery and immediately knew something was wrong. I felt awful, there were doctors and nurses everywhere, machines were beeping like crazy. I was hemorrhaging internally. The surgeon shouted to take me back into surgery and the entire group wheeled my bed--no time to transfer to a gurney or call orderlies--down the hall and into the elevator. My OB was standing beside me. He is a jolly man and I had never seen him look so grim. I said, "My baby's not going to make it, is he?" And he replied, "We'll have to wait and see." That's the last thing I remember.

I woke up two days later in intensive care, with eight IVs, a ventilator, and an incision running all the way up my abdomen. I was so swollen from all the fluids that had been pumped into me that I couldn't even see my wedding ring on my puffy hand. But I was still pregnant, and the baby's heart was beating. It turned out, as I learned later, that I have a rare and bizarre birth defect. It's called a "malrotated bowel." In short, my intestines never formed correctly and were bound with hundreds of adhesions that made them unable to move out of the way as the baby grew, so that they were being crushed and twisted and completely obstructed. According to conventional wisdom, this is a condition that normally causes severe pain and inability to digest and kills a person in the first few months of life if not corrected. Conventional wisdom is wrong. I never had any indication of trouble until I got pregnant. I have since found several other women online who have had similar experiences. But I digress.

So here's where things get a little weird. You can take this story any way you wish, but I assure you it is the truth. Sometime during this period, either during or after the surgery (I'm not clear on when), I had a really strange dream. I was standing in the operating room, watching my own surgery. There was a man standing beside me. He reminded me of cab driver (don't know why), but I knew he was an angel. [I should add here, I am not a religious person. I don't belong to any church or religion and I don't believe in angels.] There were doctors and nurses all around the patient, but they couldn't see or hear us. The man said, "Doctor, you know your patient is dying." He didn't speak in English, or any language I know, but I understood what he said. The doctor couldn't hear him, of course, and didn't answer. And then he said, "That's okay. That's my job." And he reached out and touched a small tube that was protruding out of the patient's abdomen. It glowed briefly, and then disappeared, and I knew the patient was going to make it.

Then the man moved away from me, out of my line of sight, and I realized there was another patient in the room who was also dying--a child, and no one was paying any attention to it, and I knew he was going to save the child.

For the next several days, I was very sick and didn't think much about the dream. But a week or so later, I had an interesting conversation with my surgeon. He told me that I nearly died on the operating table. I was bleeding out and my baby's heart rate had dropped to a dangerously low level. The neonatologist wanted to do a c-section to try to save the baby, but the surgeon thought that would kill me, so he stepped out into the hall to ask my husband "which one he wanted me to try to save." My husband told them to save me, so they didn't do a c-section and put their efforts into trying to help me. But the surgeon couldn't figure out where the bleeding was coming from and couldn't stop it. All of a sudden, it just...stopped. He said (and I quote), "It was nothing I did." And then the baby's heart rate returned to normal and everything stabilized. He said he had no explanation for any of it.

A few weeks later, when I was back home, I looked up the name Nathan. It means, "gift of god." And he truly is. Months later, I had him with me when I went for a check up with my surgeon, and the man asked me if he was brain damaged. He wouldn't believe my son was fine until he did a neurological exam. He was baffled to find the baby completely normal, despite the oxygen deprivation he suffered and the massive amounts of drugs he was exposed to as a result of my illness. He's now nine years old and perfectly healthy.

I know this is getting really long, and I apologize, but I am telling you for a reason. I'll try to finish up quickly now.

I donate blood regularly, which is why I was at the blood bank today. I started after Nathan was born, even though I'm scared of needles and faint at the sight of blood, because he and I would both have died had it not been for the generosity of the donors whose blood saved our lives during and after my surgery. I felt--still feel--that I owe a debt I can never repay. I can't even say "thank you" to the people who helped save our lives. All I can do is donate blood in the hopes that I can help someone else who needs it.

Today I was sitting in the donation chair and the nurse was checking my forms over. She said, "Oh, you're O negative, that's great!" [O negative is a "universal donor"--people of any blood type can get O negative blood, which makes it critical in situations where there's no time to type a patient's blood.] And they she looked again and told me my blood was especially rare because I am also negative for the antibodies to a certain virus that more than 85% of the population carries. These antibodies can cause illness or death if blood containing them is given to a person with a compromised immune system, such as a newborn baby or a cancer patient.

"We save blood like yours for the weakest patients, " the nurse told me. "Your blood will almost certainly go to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital."

A rush of sensation ran through me when I heard that. The rightness of it is undeniable; my son's life was saved by a blood donation before he was even born. Because of him, I donate blood. And my blood may help save the life of someone else's newborn baby. I would be happy to know my blood helped anyone, but to learn that it goes to those most vulnerable of patients is like getting all my birthday presents at once. And it brings me full circle in a way. I finally feel like I've said "thank you" to those people whose blood gave me back my life, and my son.

31 comments:

vanfox23 said...

That is a very touching and very emotional story. Thank you so much for sharing it. You have been very blessed!

Wanderingcatstudio said...

Totally crying now... beautiful story. I'm not religious, but I do believe there is a "balance" to life, and I think your story proves it. Thank you for sharing

Meghan said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story--it's truly inspiring.

Yarn It said...

Thank you for sharing such an amazing story. The saving of your life, and your son's life, is helping to save other lives and that really is a gift. You are truly blessed!!

Haley said...

thank you.

Allison said...

Wow. Just...wow. I'm completely in tears right now. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

jennie said...

What a beautiful story, and so wonderful that you continue to donate blood. There is such a desperate need for it. I am so glad that all turned out well and that you shared with all of us.

pdxknitterati/MicheleLB said...

I'm here crying while reading your incredibly moving story. You are truly blessed, and you pass that on when you donate blood. Pay it forward.

My father had had a quintuple bypass many years ago. I started giving blood because of that. I can't any more (don't have enough iron, no matter how I try). But it's so important to do it if you can.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Melanie said...

Vielen Dank für diese Geschichte!

Tracy said...

The forces of life are strange and beautiful doncha think? I too am a "peds donor" that's what they call us around here with our blood type and specifics. The only regret I have moving out here to the middle of no where is that I'm no longer on the emergency donation list. When I lived in town I was only a few miles away from the hospital and the Red Cross donation center and over the years I got several middle of the night calls for me to come in a give. I don't know what prompted me to start donating blood. I just did when I turned 18. (what kind of 18 does that?!?) After 20+ gallons (I stopped counting eons ago) it's just a way of life for me. you do what you can.

btw, I swear, once again, were twins of different mothers....granted I'm the much older twin ;o) I too have "met" the cabbie of your dream. He was just a guy I knew but didn't know and we too watched what was happening unseen by others.

kate said...

THank you for sharing. Even if it did make me cry before 8am.

Senja said...

Amazing story and what a wonderful gift you can give to others because of your unique view on life and giving back.

trek said...

That is very cool!

Number Guy isn't allowed to donate any more - despite over 4 gallons previously donated: they lived in Germany on an army base in the 80s.

I can't donate any more either. The "buffness", while a perfectly healthy weight for my height, makes me underweight for donating.

Dumb rules.

heidi said...

it's a very touching story!

how wonderful for you to give something back:)

Nature Knitting said...

Absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing your story

Sharon said...

There are many things in life that defy so-called logical explanation. Thank you for posting this deeply moving experience.

lisa said...

I work as a Blood Bank Technologist, typing, crossmatching and searching for those rare units for the sickest folk. Sometimes it gets very automatic in that we are doing things in large batches and rarely, if ever, actually SEE the folks we are helping. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of our work. And thanks a million to donors everywhere!

lisa said...

In addition, I thought I would mention that once you donate a unit of blood, it is split in to 3 or 4 components. The red cells, the plasma, the platelets and the cryoprecipitate. These components are then processed and can be shipped anywhere. (probably to Haiti today) Doctors then use the specific component to treat various disorders. Blood Bank Technologists are the experts at preparing each component for transfusion, as well as doing blood typings and crossmatches and antibody identifications as needed.

Your donation of whole blood can help up to 4 people. Please consdider donating....if you dont already!

Stephanie B said...

I didn't even realize how long your post was until you mentioned it. What a story, it is wonderful how you now help others the way they helped you.

Kim said...

Wow, tears are running down my face. You are indeed blessed. Funny though that the *angel* was a cabbie who spoke gibberish. The universe has a sense of humor in even the grimmest situations.

Maureen said...

What a truly touching story! Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us.

My veins are extremely non co-operative - they seem to go into hiding at the sight of a needle, but I still try and donate 3 to 4 times per year. There are worse pains to suffer than a the stab of a needle.

quiltyknitwit said...

Wow, what a story! No wonder you're such a giving person. I donated a pint between Christmas & New Year's Eve, and that sure felt right.

Erin said...

Wow. Just wow. Thank you for sharing that story.

I'm O negative and CMV negative too--and since I have an odd immune system myself (type 1 diabetes is an automimmune disorder), I also try to give blood whenever I can. Which reminds me, I'm overdue.

Knitman said...

You know I will not say your dream was a dream! It wasn't. Such spiritual experiences are universal, happen to all people, REGARDLESS, of their beliefs. Religion is baloney but spirituality and surviving death is not.

Knitman said...

Forgot to add that for some reason i don't understand, I cannot give blood because one of my conditions is CHD.

Tammy said...

Thank you for sharing. I chose Nathaniel as the middle name for my 3rd child because I wanted to remember, if I had another boy, that he was a "gift of God". Had I known then what I know now, I would've saved it for my 5th son. ;)

Renee said...

Amazing. Wonderful. I'm crying. Thank you for sharing. :)

Patty said...

What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing it - I have goose bumps!

Mother of Chaos said...

Wow. What an incredible experience - I'm so glad it had a happy ending!

The only needle I will volunteer to encounter is at the blood bank. I don't have a cool story for why, it's just one of those things that makes sense to me. I can help somebody out, really and directly and physically help them out, and all I have to do is suck it up and get through a quick jab?

Dude...ship it. ;-)

Life's a Stitch said...

You already know where I stand on the subject, with C's recent experience with three transfusions. Your story makes me believe in angels.

Holly said...

Thank you for posting your difficult yet beautiful experience.