“Are you sure you’re okay?” I yelled nervously out the passenger side car window as I watched my wife waddle toward the hospital entrance. She supported her belly with both hands.
“I’m fine,” she yelled back without looking over her shoulder. “Go park and meet me inside.”
“Okay,” I yelled. “I’ll be right there.”
She didn’t look back or respond. She just continued moving forward, one step at a time.
I whipped the car out of the hospital driveway, sped across the street, and into the parking garage. There were no spots. I circled and circled, climbing higher and higher. With each round, my anxiety grew. Almost to the roof, I found an empty place. Bolting from the car, I raced down the concrete stairs and back across the street.
There were two short women in front of me at the check-in desk. From their familiarity with the receptionist, I assumed they were hospital regulars. Both appeared to be in their late fifties. As similar as sisters on a family vacation, they were both overweight and wore matching t-shirts, shorts, and black fanny packs. They were laughing with the receptionist about something I was too anxious to decipher. With a final laugh, the two short women stepped to the side and struggled to clip their newly received security badges on their t-shirts.
“What floor, Baby?” the receptionist asked.
“Labor and delivery?” I said.
“Oh congratulations!” the receptionist replied with a large smile. “Take the elevators behind me to the ninth floor,” she said, handing me a badge.
“Thank you,” I said.
In the elevator one of the two overweight women asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Her eyes beamed from under her thick, black-rimmed glasses.
“Um, I don’t know,” I said.
“Oh, I think being surprised is the best,” the other lady remarked with glee. “I was surprised for all three of mine. Surprises are the best.” The two women giggled together.
“Sometimes,” I said.
“Is this your first?” the first asked.
I watched the elevator lights. Three. Four. Five. I wished I could do something to speed them up. “No,” I said. “I have four other kids.”
“Wow,” said the first woman. “What a wonderful family! Are you ready for five? I bet you’re so excited!”
The elevator stopped at nine. The steel doors slid open. “Congratulations!” the two women called, giggling again with one another.
I rushed from the elevator, hoping to dash into my wife’s room, but I was stopped by a second security desk. This one had three guards on duty: two women and a man. They all wore crisp blue uniforms. The women were young, their hair meticulously styled. The man was old. His beard was thick and grey, but there was no hair on his head. None of them acknowledged me.
“This isn’t some little thing. You can’t just take peoples stuff whenever you feel like it,” the man ranted, waving a long black power chord at the other two.
“As if I would steal your stupid power cord,” one of the women retorted, refusing to make eye contact.
“I didn’t say you stole it,” the man said aggressively. “I’m just saying someone did, and it’s not right. You shouldn’t be taking peoples stuff.”
“Dang, George. Chill,” the other woman said. She leaned against the windows behind the desk with her arms crossed. “She said she didn’t take it, so she didn’t take it. Why don’t you just piss off?”
“Yeah,” said the first girl. “Don’t you have, like, some work to do or something?”
“Excuse me,” I said.
All three guards turned toward me. They looked irritated by my interruption. The second woman raised her left eye brow, cocked her head to the right, and said, “Can we help you?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m looking for labor and delivery?”
The two women visibly softened. “Congratulations!” they said.
“What room number is she in?” the one sitting behind the desk asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “My wife just came up a minute ago.”
“What’s her last name, hon?” the second girl asked.
“Elkins,” I said.
The woman behind the desk flipped through cards in a small, plastic, black box. “I’m going to need your driver’s license,” she said. I handed it over and she passed me a second badge.
“She’s in room fifty-five,” the guard said reading a card from the black box. “Through the door on your left. Swipe your card before going through.”
I hurried down the hall and, after some frantic searching, found the room. I opened the door slowly. My wife was dressed in a green hospital gown. She lay on the raised, padded table that dominated the small room. Her eyes were clinched as she focused on breathing through her contractions. On her right was a bank of machines and computer screens. On her left was a small bathroom and a stand for IV bags. There didn’t appear to be any designated space for me.
“You okay?” I asked as I moved next to her and took her hand.
Her breathing was heavy. “It hurts,” she said with a whimper.
I kissed her forehead and stroked her hair. “It’s going to be fine,” I said. “Everything is going to be fine. Has the doctor come in yet?”
Before the final word left my lips, there was a knock at the door. It opened and a young woman in blue scrubs poked her head through. “Mrs. Elkins?” she asked. “I’m doctor Madeeha. Can I come in?” She didn’t look over twenty-five. I wondered how long she’d been out of med-school.
“Yes, please,” my wife said.
Behind the doctor were two nurses. The team of three went right to work. Stirrups were pulled from under the bed. A blood pressure cuff was applied to my wife’s arm. The computer monitor lit up and sprang to life with activity. A rolling cart with multiple drawers was pulled close. Once all the gear was in place, the three women positioned themselves at my wife’s feet.
“Let’s take a look at what’s going on,” the young doctor said. The nurses guided Wendy’s legs into the stirrups and helped her move down the bed.
The doctor took a short rolling stool. Her back was perfectly straight. “When was your last appointment?” she asked as she looked into my wife.
“Tuesday,” my wife said through the pain.
“Did they do an ultrasound?” the doctor asked looking to the computer screen where my wife’s digital chart shown.
“Yes,” my wife replied.
“I’m going to try and remove some of the blood so we can get a better look at what’s going on. Can you pass me some swabs?” the doctor asked the nurse. The nurse handed to the doctor a Q-tip the size of a plum.
“Did they hear a heartbeat?” the doctor asked my wife as she tossed the blood soaked Q-tip in the trash. The nurse passed her a second.
“We could see one,” my wife said softly. “There was a flutter on the screen. We could see it. But we couldn’t hear it.”
“Hmm,” the doctor said disposing of a second and then a third blood soaked Q-tip. “Let’s switch to gauze,” she told the nurse. “There’s too much blood.” The nurse passed her metal scissors with a large gauze pad attached.
My wife began to cry.
“How far along are you?” the doctor asked.
My wife couldn’t answer through her tears.
“Eight or nine weeks,” I said, clutching my wife’s hand.
The doctor disposed of the first blood soaked gauze pad and the nurse replaced it with a second. “Did they take any measurements?” the doctor asked throwing away the second pad and taking a third.
“Um,” I said. “Yeah. They said the baby was small. More like five weeks.” I tried to swallow the knot in my throat. My eyes burned with tears I refused to let loose.
The doctor threw away a fourth blood soak gauze pad and stood up. “Okay,” she said looking at my wife. “I want to do an ultrasound so we can have a better idea of what is going on in there. Is that alright?”
My wife nodded and cried silently. I squeezed her hand again.
The one of the nurses and the doctor left. The other nurse positioned a large blue pad beneath my wife’s legs. My wife cried more. Small moans escaped. I wrapped my arms around her and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I love you.”
The young doctor returned with the second nurse. Two other doctors followed them in, guiding a rolling ultrasound machine. “This is Doctor Graham and Doctor Lindsay,” the first doctor explained. They both said hello to my wife. One was an older man with grey hair, kind eyes, and a long white coat. The other was a small woman with brown hair and thin glasses. She was also cloaked in white.
“Mrs. Elkins,” the new woman said, taking the stool. “We’re going to do a vaginal ultrasound. You might feel a little pressure.”
“Get her started on some fluids,” the male doctor ordered. A nurse sprang into action preparing an IV bag. She gently pushed past me, forcing me to step back toward the bathroom.
“Let me know if this starts to hurt,” the doctor on the stool said.
My wife cringed. “It hurts,” she said with tears.
The three doctors stared at the screen and muttered together.
“Do you want to see?” the male doctor asked my wife. Not waiting for a response, he rotated the screen of the ultrasound toward her.
The IV nursed stepped aside to get a needle. I capitalized on the space and took back my place next to my wife. I clutched her hand again. She looked up at me. I met her eyes. We looked at the screen together. It was frozen lines of static.
“This is a picture of your uterus,” the male doctor explained. “Now what we would like to see is an embryonic sack attached to uterine wall. It should look like a small black spot there near the middle.” He then said to the other two doctors, “You can see the striations there? It appears there is tissue present.”
“Yes, Doctor,” the other two replied.
“Let’s go ahead and get that IV started,” the male doctor said to the room. “And I think we can wrap this up.” The doctor on the stool began cleaning and packing up the ultrasound. The original doctor moved to the computer monitor and began typing notes into my wife’s chart.
“It appears there are three options now,” the male doctor continued. “We can either let your body handle this process naturally, or we can give you some small pills that will advance the process. They will dissolve in your mouth slowly over the next few hours and the entire process will be done in twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Or we can go in surgically to advance the process with a DNC.” He paused to look at the information filling the chart. “When did you last have something to eat or drink?” he asked.
“I had a chicken sandwich for lunch. Like an hour ago?” my wife said. “That was when the bleeding and contractions started.”
All the doctors looked at their watches.
“Well,” the male doctor said. “That means you wouldn’t be able to do the DNC until around 8 tonight. Honestly, I don’t think you are going to need one. Things seem to be progressing smoothly. I think you will be fine with the pills. We’ll keep you to observe you until the bleeding slows. Then we’ll be able to send you home.”
The words “send you home” felt beautiful and reassuring. I wanted that. I wanted to take her home.
“That sounds good,” my wife said. Then she cried again.
I kissed her forehead and stroked her hair.
“You’re B negative?” the doctor typing into her chart asked.
“Yes ma’am,” my wife replied.
“You’ll need a shot of RhoGAM before you leave then,” the male doctor said. “Can we get a blood sample for the match?” he asked the room. “It will take a few hours for that to come back from the pharmacy. We’ll get you the pills and help you to stay comfortable while you wait.”
The doctors left and the nurses went to work. One pricked my wife’s left arm to draw blood and then plug in the IV. A second cleaned to room, putting it back to how it was before the doctors had arrived. A third removed the stirrups and helped my wife slide back into the bed. They chatted with each other about the events of their day as they worked. Finally, one gave my wife a small handful of pills. She put them in her cheek.
Then we were alone.
My wife cried.
I held her.
She said she was sorry.
I said she didn’t have anything to be sorry for, and we cried together.
Then we waited.
We worried about how we would tell the kids. We regretted the picture we’d taken and posted on Facebook to announce baby number five. Her IV bag ran out. And we waited.
Occasionally, she would ask me to call someone and let them know what was going on. I would go into the hallway and battle through tears as I tried to explain to our friends and family what had happen, then I would return to her side. We held each other. Hours passed. And we waited.
A new nurse came to check on us. She took my wife’s blood pressure and fiddled with things in the room. She promised the RhoGAM shot would arrive soon.
“Do you need anything?” she asked.
“No,” my wife replied.
The nurse turned to leave, but then she remembered. Turning to me she reached into her pocket and handed me a small, white card. “Oh, this is for you,” she said. “It indicates your wife got a RhoGAM shot.”
I accepted the paper and read it. It was the size of a standard business card. At the top were the words “Date of Injection of RhoGAM or MICRhoGAM”. Under that was a long number and an expiration date. Then there was a small list of reasons someone might receive shot. The box next to “at pregnancy termination” was checked. Next to the check was a handwritten the word. I stared at the scribbled it, reading it over and over. I said it aloud to myself, “Miscarriage.”
I put the card in my pocket, looked at my wife, and exhaled.
Featured image by Daveynin found via Creative Commons.
Ann Stanley says
Great story, Jeff! Wow! Rough times.
Jeff Elkins says
Thanks Ann. It’s based on Wendy and mine experience two years ago. I was shocked at how everyone assumed we were there for good reasons and then everyone avoided saying the word “miscarriage.” No one ever said it to us. I didn’t include how the nurses forgot about us during the shift change and then we left the ward in “a walk of shame” with no one speaking to us. The story was getting to long so I cut it short.
June Griffin says
A fascinating true story. A love story. A remarkable one! June
So sad. That’s an experience you can never forget – thank you for sharing it, I felt I was right there in the hospital with you.
too personal for me