It was a wonderful morning. The sun was just rising as I finished getting dressed for work. I had recently been promoted and was still basking in the “honeymoon” phase of my new responsibilities. I had a lot to be happy about too. We had just moved into a larger house, and that was due in large part because my wife and I were expecting the birth of our first child.
“I have a headache”, said my wife.
As our due date marched closer my wife, a beautiful short-haired brunette, had grown increasingly uncomfortable. Her elf-like features had disappeared under the increasing weight she carried. Today in particular, she appeared much more bloated. I discounted that to being so close to giving birth. It was obvious that she was very out of sorts this morning.
I asked her if there was anything I could do for her, and she just smiled slightly, and said she would manage. She saw the concern on my face, and tried to put me at ease. “I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, and I’ll take it easy.”
Hesitantly, I decided that she knew best, and headed off to work. The sun was shining brightly now. I had always loved the month of June, and today was no exception. The morning air had just a hint of a slight chill to it, like many early summer mornings do around here. I took in a deep breath of the dew filled air, and hopped in the car. My commute was a short one, and that was one of the perks of the new house. I was in top spirits, ready to tackle whatever the day had in store for me. As soon as I got there, I settled into my day.
About mid-morning the phone rang. It was my Mother-in-law. She said that I had better check on my wife. She had been in the middle of a conversation with her daughter when all of a sudden the line went dead. After attempting to call her back many times and failing, she called me. I was closer to our house than she was and would be able to investigate more quickly. I told everyone I needed to check on my wife at home, and would be back shortly.
A deep sense of foreboding overtook me as I turning on the ignition. What if something really were wrong? How would I handle it? What would I have to do? Instinctively I pressed down on the accelerator and zoomed home, not knowing what I would find when I got there.
Once I got home, and opened the door, that sense of something not being right swept over me. It was very quiet. I went upstairs to the main floor, and called my wife’s name. Nothing. I called again, this time there was a quiver in my voice. She was nowhere to be found in the common area. I crept into our bedroom.
She was there, covered up, sound asleep. That seemed very odd to me, since supposedly she had been in the middle of a conversation with her Mom not thirty minutes ago. I decided to wake her to see what was going on. That is the moment my idyllic day came to a crashing end.
When she opened her eyes and gazed upon me there was no recognition there. They were large and round and full of fear. No words came from her mouth, just a pained incomprehensible howl. I retreated momentarily. I was at a loss for what to do. She had fallen back into that sleep instantly. At that moment I noticed that she looked even more bloated than when I left her earlier in the morning. Something was not right here. I sought to wake her up again, I needed her to recognize me. I needed her to be all right. I was afraid, and I needed her strength right now.
I touched her shoulder ever so gently, and that’s when a new horror began. She opened her eyes, and again that groaning howl emanated from her for a few seconds. Then it happened. She went rigid and then started to quake. I had seen this happen before. Years earlier my father was diagnosed with epilepsy. This was a seizure, and a pretty bad one at that. I held her close until the violent shaking subsided. I pulled out my phone and called 9-1-1.
“9-1-1 dispatcher…what is the nature of your emergency”
There was a pause. Then I pushed myself into action. I gave them the details of my wife’s condition, and where I lived. Then I waited. I was terribly afraid. What was happening? Why didn’t my wife recognize me? Was she going to be okay? Would the baby be okay? The questions filling my mind took me to overload. In a second it was too much for me to handle and the tears started to flow freely.
I kept a watch out for the emergency responders. There was a station mere minutes from my house, but the wait was an eternity. Finally the dull whine of their sirens grew louder as they approached my house. Three burly firefighters emerged from the truck as a second higher pitched siren now floated through the air. The ambulance was nearly here as well. Wiping the tears away, I greeted the paramedics at the door and escorted them to where my wife lay.
It was a blur of activity over her as they appraised her condition and made efforts to stabilize her condition. Two more seizures would rack her body while they worked on her. As the paramedics worked on her, this was the first time I heard the word eclampsia. It seemed whatever they tried wasn’t working. They brought up a gurney and whisked her downstairs to the waiting ambulance. At this moment I called my Mother-in-law and told her what was going on. We were going to the hospital, and no one could tell me if everything was going to be alright.
On the ambulance ride to the hospital my wife went through a couple more seizures as the paramedics fought to get her stabilized. I was starting to worry about what all of this was doing to her, and our unborn daughter. No one had any answers. I had to prepare myself for what was to come.
When we reached the massive hospital a team of doctors and nurses were waiting for us. I was whisked away from my wife as they took her into the emergency room. I was taken to the administration area to give the vital information they needed. That was the last thing on my mind in that moment. I wanted answers. I NEEDED answers. There were none to give me in that moment. I answered the questions the nice older woman asked me. Her pleasant demeanor was lost on me in that space of time.
I was escorted to a waiting area where I met up with my wife’s parents. I filled them in with what I knew. I shot them details in a matter of fact fashion. I was numb beyond belief at this point. Never in my life had I had to directly come face to face with a crisis like this. We all sat down to wait. All of us were hoping some news, any news would come soon. I could hear lots of activity going on, but no one seemed to have time to tell me what was going on.
We would wait for over an hour before someone came to speak to us. Unfortunately it was not the comfort they were hoping for. The hospital sent us someone from pastoral services to give us comfort. All that did was make me even more worried about what what going on behind that curtain deep in the bowels of that emergency room. When would any news be shared?
Finally a nurse showed up and shared with me what was going on. My wife was experiencing eclampsia. The only way to stop the seizures (she’d had several more in the emergency room) was to deliver the baby. They were rushing my wife, even as she spoke to me, to a surgical room to do an emergency cesarean operation to deliver my daughter. I asked whether my wife was going to be okay or not, and if my daughter’s slightly early delivery would be a problem, but the nurse had no answers to that.
Five eternally long minutes later the nurse returned to escort me to the baby wing. My daughter had been born, and she needed her father. As I taken to see my daughter for the first time, something changed within me. There was a calm that washed over me. My daughter needed me to be brave. My daughter needed her father to be strong for her. My resolve got ever stronger the closer I got to her. She was born at 11:45 am, strong and healthy.
I held her for the first time, and that is the most incredible feeling in the world. Her mom was not awake yet though, and my strength to hold it all together was waning. How would I handle any more bad news? Almost as if she knew I needed someone, my daughter snuggled in closer to me. It was like she was telling me that I wasn’t going to be alone for this, that she was here for me. My little girl was helping me be brave again for the days ahead.
My wife would recover. The process would be a long one, and not without complications. It would be ten long days before she would leave the hospital. It would be another couple of months before she was really herself again.
This was the single greatest crisis I have ever dealt with in my life, and it was one of the greatest days I’d experienced too. Life has a funny way of doing that to us…balancing something really great with something really painful. Even ten years later, if I ever need a bit of courage, I just look to my beautiful oldest daughter and she shoots me that knowing glance. We’ve been through the fire together. Yeah, she’s got my back alright.