A Dad's Perspective...
Posted On Monday, June 06, 2011 by Todd
I generally like telling horror stories, but this one is hard to tell.Â I always end up trying to reassure people that what happened at the end of my wife's second pregnancy is very rare, but then I have to admit that I have met many women who suffered from preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome.Â So it's not so uncommon.Â And worse, it seems inexplicable.
My wife was seven months pregnant with our second child and it was the week after we had thrown her a baby shower and a few days after another favorable doctor's visit.Â She told me she felt like she was catching a cold or something, and she went to bed saying she was ready for this pregnancy to hurry up and be over.
Our first pregnancy was marred by minor scares throughout the process, but then once the baby was born, everything was obviously okay, and we had just been nervous.Â Really the worst of it was my wife's depression that first year, and my inability to see it for what it was.Â We promised ourselves we would take action at the first sign of postpartum depression after this next one, which was a very smooth pregnancy with all of those little concerns nicely absent.
In fact, her catching a cold or some respiratory infection near the end of her pregnancy almost seemed par the course, but our guard wasn't completely down.Â I called to check in with her throughout my day at work, but she didn't pick up.Â She had told me that morning that she might go to see a doctor if her cold got worse.Â After lunch, I called our friend Anna to see if she had been able to reach my wife, Jennifer, which she had.Â Anna said that she had sounded awful (awful as in "you have a cold, you need chicken soup" awful) and that she would bring dinner for us that night.Â Perfect, I told Anna, as I would be a bit late getting home from a busy Friday at work.
I was driving home slowly in gridlock Los Angeles traffic after 7 p.m. when I got the first call that something was up.Â Anna was at our house, and no one seemed to be home.Â I told her perhaps Jennifer had picked up our 4-year-old son from preschool and taken him to dinner.Â And then the preschool called:Â Why hadn't anyone picked up our 4-year-old son?Â I called Anna back and told her to try to break into the house, and then I started driving on the shoulder of the interstate.
Anna discovered a side door to the garage we had forgotten to lock since the baby shower.Â I arrived ten minutes later, and Anna immediately handed me her cellphone with 9-1-1 on the line.Â We watched my wife convulsing in a seizure on the kitchen floor, her skin reddish purple, her eyes bulging, her tongue bitten and swelling out of her mouth.Â Her convulsions stopped just as the paramedics arrived. She was rushed to the nearby hospital in an ambulance while I followed quickly in my car.Â Two hours later, a nurse passed me in the hallway carrying what I thought was a dishrag into the NICU.Â She was carrying my 3-pound son.
In the recovery room, I sat with Jennifer most of the night, where I talked to her and held her hand.Â She didn't wake up until the next day in intensive care, but she stayed on the respirator until the day after that.Â Before I was able to speak to her, they had moved our newborn to another hospital with a larger NICU.Â When we finally had a conversation, she described her illness as a mounting headache with disorientation leading to the inability to find the phone, and she remembered falling in the kitchen more than once.Â She spent a week in intensive care recuperating from complications including pneumonia, sepsis, and ARDS in addition to HELLP syndrome. She would return a year later to the hospital for surgery on her shoulder related to the seizures and falls.
I spent that first week going back and forth between visiting the baby in a Burbank hospital and seeing my wife in a Mission Hills hospital.Â After Jennifer was released, we spent three more weeks going to the NICU to see the baby.Â Once he was released there were more precautions taken for his health and development than had been necessary with our first child, but on the whole, we're a very lucky and healthy family now.
However, the experience was scarring.Â The near death of half the family from out of the blue, from a disease stemming from the birth process itself is, needless to say, troubling.Â A few of our friends were so shaken I believe they distanced themselves from us because the event was so jarring, while others became closer still.
In 2010, we participated in the Promise Walk for the Preeclampsia Foundation in San Diego, and I remember two doctors speaking.Â One doctor thanked everyone for doing something to try to solve the problem of preeclampsia when many people might not want to dwell on such a catastrophic event in their lives that for many end in tragedy.Â I know that I am one of those lucky ones who would rather not think about the most horrific, soul-shaking moment in my life.Â But I don't want anyone else to have to go through what we did, and if telling my story helps spread information or interest to help find the cure for such problems, then it's worth it.