I worked the rest of the week, feeling tender and uncomfortable. I couldn’t breathe in deeply, and I had no appetite, but nothing seemed to be physically amiss; baby boy was doing well, my cervix wasn’t changing, and I could find no reason for my pain. It would come and go in waves, unrelated to when I was having contractions.
Friday evening, I was sobbing, crying in pain. I yelled for Brock to help me. I cried for him to call someone. I was groaning and writhing in pain on the couch, and I couldn’t get any relief. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t call my OB; instead, I called the doctor that I worked for. Dr S. I trusted him, and I knew he truly cared about me. He heard my voice and told me to go immediately to the hospital. I was only 27 weeks pregnant.
We arrived in Triage, and they hooked me up to monitors. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t talk through the pain. I wasn’t screaming, but whenever they asked me what my pain was on a scale of 1 to 10, I said it was a thirteen. I had never experienced pain like it before, and I felt like it couldn’t POSSIBLY be the pain of labor. I had already known I had an irritable uterus, which meant that I contracted all the time without any cervical change… but they didn’t know that. When they hooked me up to the monitors, they immediately saw that I was contracting every 2-3 minutes and screaming in pain. Of course, they acted like I was in full-on active labor, and that a 27 week preemie would be born any moment. Everyone went into emergency mode – even though my cervix was long and closed upon exam. I was immediately given a shot of “turbeutaline” which is a drug meant to stop the uterus from contracting. It made me shake with the worst possible case of the shivers, did not stop my contractions, and didn’t ease the pain at all.
I can’t remember how long it took them to finally give me something for the pain, but when they did it was morphine. It took the pain away, and I could breathe easily for the first time in a few days… but it also made me throw up uncontrollably. It felt like a pretty awful trade-off.
Over the course of the next few hours, they put me on a magnesium drip, inserted an IV and catheter, and began an intense schedule of vitals. In order to stop my VERY frequent contractions, they had me on the highest possible dose of magnesium. It’s really not very good for your body, so they had to check my vitals and reflexes every 15 minutes while I was on that dose. Honestly, I hardly remember any of it – it caused such a deep brain fog and loss of orientation for me that I just have glimpses of memories. I remember Brock sitting by the bed, crying in fear. I remember them trying to give me steroids for the baby’s lungs, and I refused. I remember Dr S coming in with one of the techs to do an ultrasound to check on the baby, and to check my cervix on ultrasound. Everything looked fine, and I begged Dr. S to tell them to take me off of the magnesium. Upon his recommendation, they took me off of the magnesium drip, and I returned to life.
The biggest fear the doctors in the hospital had was my pain – there was no explanation for it. My placenta looked fine on ultrasound. The baby was fine. All of my labs were fine. They didn’t see anything on x-ray. So they prescribed me some anti-spasmodics for my bowels, assumed I was just having cramps, and sent me home.
I was SO glad to be home.
Less than 24 hours later, the pain was back and just as awful as before. I felt like I was dying. I wanted to die. We returned to the hospital, returned to triage, and this time everyone was worried for me – not for the baby. I was told that they needed to figure out what was wrong; they couldn’t continue giving me such a high dosage of pain medicine without finding the cause. It wasn’t good for me OR the baby. I was offered the choice of doing a CT scan or an exploratory laparotomy (surgery) to see if they could find a cause. It was made very clear that if they couldn’t find the cause of my pain, we were heading to a c-section to deliver the baby.
Deeply in pain and unable to think critically, I chose the CT scan. It seemed like it would be less dangerous for my pregnancy than the surgery. I was scanned and then admitted and started on another course of pain medicine. Nubane this time, which thankfully didn’t make me puke. I was moved to my room close to midnight, and we knew we had to wait until morning to see the doctor and get the scan results.
At 7am, the physician-on-call for my OBGYN practice made rounds and told me that the CT was negative – they didn’t see anything wrong, no reason for my pain. He told me that they were going to consult a GI doctor to see if he could see something that the radiologist missed, but that they were going to schedule me for surgery pending the GI results.
That was the longest day of my life. Brock and I sat around waiting for the GI doctor. We talked. We cried. We watched movies. We cried. The imagination can do some pretty fantastic things when faced with the unknown and surrounded in fear. We waited and waited – there was nothing else we could do.
Around 7 pm, a full twelve hours of waiting, the GI specialist walked in. He was a tall, thin man with dark hair. His white coat hung off of him like he didn’t much care, and his eyes crinkled up at the edges. He was clearly a man who smiled often, and he walked into my room with a giant grin on his face. He introduced himself and told me that he’d taken a look at my CT scan.
Immediately my heart lightened. You do not deliver bad news with a grin.
“What? What is it?? What did you find?!” I almost shouted at him.
He sat on the edge of the bed, and explained the situation to me. “Radiologists look at CT scans all the time,” he began, “and they are looking for very specific problems. Bleeds, tumors, broken bones, anything unusual.” We nodded and listened intently while he spoke with a twinkle in his eye. “GI doctors,” he continued, “look at different things. We can’t help it. We’re drawn to it.”
He paused, and smirked.
“You’re full of shit, Mandy.”
He let that sink in for a minute. Brock and I both started laugh-crying. I mean it – crying with relief, laughing at the absurdity of the situation, and so incredibly thankful that he wasn’t telling us that I was dying. I was just full of shit.
He went on to explain to me that he had never seen a young, healthy system so backed up. He told me that my nausea and lack of appetite was likely because my large AND small intestine were so full of stool, there was no room for more food. He pointed out that the contraction medicine, anti-spasmodics and pain medication are ALL known for causing constipation and likely compounded the problem – they were easing my pain, but nothing was helping my bowels to move.
He then told me that the quickest route to relief was enema. Many.
I will spare you the details, but I spent the next 24 hours in the hospital while they cleaned out my system… and I lost 14 pounds. When all was said and done, I felt like a million bucks and only just a little bit embarrassed about the cause for my hospitalization. I went home on stool softeners, returned to work the following Monday, and continued working with patients that I adored, doctors I admired, and co-workers that made me feel like an outsider for the rest of my pregnancy.
To Be Continued.