On the morning of June 3, 1996, I awoke with ringing in my ears and my eyes didn’t seem to be quite right. I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with two other children to care for, so I lumbered out of bed and began the day. My fingers and my feet were swollen beyond recognition, my weight which had been 112 before baby was now 150 and climbing, and when I looked in the mirror, I hardly recognized myself. I had had to have my wedding rings cut off because of sudden swelling in my hands. My young doctor seemed unconcerned. That morning I remembered I had a doctor’s appointment at 3pm, and I sat down at the kitchen table trying to draft a grocery list to take along with me to my son’s 2pm piano lesson. I thought I might be able to get to the grocery store while he was with the piano teacher.
But as I dropped Sammy off for piano, the ringing in my ears became a growing buzzing sound, and my eyes didn’t seem to be focusing correctly. I decided to skip the grocery store after all. The doctor told me later that it probably saved my life. I drove directly to the doctor appointment after piano with the two boys in the back seat. I knew they could wait for me during the appointment. By the time I got to the doctor’s office, my eyes seemed to be worsening. I picked up a magazine in the waiting room and was alarmed that I could no longer read anything. The doctor walked in, took one look at me and did not smile a hello. He took my blood pressure and said, “you’re going to the hospital, now”. I became really frightened at that point and called my husband at work and told him to meet me at the hospital. I also called my mother to come and get the boys.
On the way to the hospital I remember wondering what was going on and asking the Lord for peace. Nobody had told me anything up until this point. What I didn’t know was that lab reports from a week earlier had come back showing that my liver and kidneys were failing. At the hospital, a very worried Tom met me, and I was taken to the labor and delivery section. “What are they doing with me?” I asked him. He didn’t know either. Finally, after what seemed a very long time, a nurse explained that the doctor was on his way in and that the baby would have to be induced immediately. It was too early, but it couldn’t be helped because our lives were in danger. They put me on an IV drip and hooked me up to monitors of every kind, one of which took my blood pressure every five minutes. A special IV was put in with anti-seizure medication. “It will make you feel like your burning up from the inside,” the nurse announced cheerfully. “And by the way, no water, period.” What a combination, I thought. Fire and no water.
By evening the labor was progressing and so was my blindness. The hallucinations I was having visually (like the face of Margaret Thatcher in the ceiling, ha! I’m a Reagan-era conservative, can you tell?) were replaced with a gray kind of mist. I asked the nurse about it and she airily dismissed me. “That’s just the medication you’re on,” she said. I was relieved but puzzled as to why my vision was going even before the IV started.
William was born in the 11th hour, and the Lord saved both our lives at the 11th hour. He was over 5 pounds (an amazing size for one so early!) and turning blue the nurse said, so I couldn’t hold him. His lungs just weren’t ready to be born so they whisked him away to the NICU. Meanwhile, everything got progressively dark. I was left hooked up to monitors all night in that room and repeatedly, I told the nurses that I couldn’t see. Not one of them believed me, I think. The next morning the doctor came by to see me, and I told him. He believed me. He shined a light into my eyes and told me, “something doesn’t look right”. All day, I waited to hear news of tiny William. The intensive care unit said he was very sick, and the only thing I could think of is that if he didn’t make it, I really wouldn’t have gotten to see him. Tom kept going between hospital floors to bring me updates. My pastor came but I couldn’t see him. He assured me that everyone was praying.
That evening, an eye specialist came in to see me and they started doing tests. “It’s the strangest thing,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Your retinas apparently were being bowed out by the fluid pressing on them from behind. You’re a lucky woman to be alive, did you know that?”
Not luck, sir. Just blessed. “Your retinas are damaged but I can’t tell you if it’s permanent or if it’s temporary,” he said.
After researching it further, the doctor told me that there was not much medical literature on such cases as they were so rare. To shorten the long saga, William began to grow stronger. Despite his early arrival, he was one plucky little boy. He was fed through a gavage tube for a week, and then moved on to tiny bottles that looked like they were made for little rabbits or something. He wasn’t jaundiced and his lungs were developing just beautifully because of Surfactant, the wonder drug. It is so wonderful what they can do with these little preemies now. I praise the Lord for that. After 15 days in the NICU, William came home.
My full vision had come back just about the same time. It came back little by little. The darkness started lifting and then one day I stepped outside and millions of little diamond-like specs appeared from the sun. The doctor said that was the light being picked up by the eye again. What a beautiful thing it was to see that light. Post Tenebras Lux.
I was told that if I had chosen the Wednesday appointment instead of the Monday appointment, I would have died because the fluid build-up was so far advanced causing the kidney/liver failure, and the blood pressure was so high that I could have gone into seizures from the pressure on the brain. The young doctor later admitted to me (when he found out I wasn’t going to be litigious about it) that he had never had a situation like mine emerge. He should have discovered the pre-eclampsia early on. It’s one of the basic things doctors are supposed to look for. The tests all pointed to it early on, I learned, but he missed it. But like the saying goes, all’s well that ends well. The Lord for some reason had a plan for both William and me, and it wasn’t our time to go yet. The experience was a sobering reminder of just how frail life is, and how gracious the Lord is, again and again.
Today, William is 12 years old. He is playing a Bach prelude downstairs that I wish you could hear. He loves football, Super Soaker battles with his dad, pipe organs and pianos, and he wants to be a military historian some day, (after hours from his organist job). He’s also studying for his amateur radio license. Best of all, he loves the Lord Jesus who rescued him 12 years ago tonight. We pray that he will be a man of godly courage and integrity and a strong witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is a living example of God’s grace. Soli Deo Gloria.
(This is Will’s 12-year-old portrait, courtesy of Babboni Photography Studios.)