The Loudest Silence: When Doctor Becomes Patient 1


By Jordan Craig, MD

My last pregnancy was exactly that-my LAST pregnancy.  I wasn’t sure it would be until I went through one of the scariest moments of my life.  The story below is written by my husband. He stays home full time with our children and has supported me through med school, residency and now in private practice as a full time OB/GYN.  As I read his story, I immediately recall every moment that night.  I remember the medical details;. The lab results and imaging studies. I remember trying to make clinical decisions amidst the worst pain and repeated doses of morphine.  I remember being so sure I needed surgery that I packed an overnight bag and shaved my legs before leaving the house, exhausted and in pain.  I was 15 weeks.  The radiologist wasn’t able to make a diagnosis on MRI,  so a CT scan was necessary. The radiation exposure in pregnancy terrified me, but I knew that an untreated infection was worse for my baby.  I had worked 30+ hours before that moment when I knew with absolute certainty that I was sick. I went back to work 72 hours later.  During our medical training, we do very hard things, yet nothing prepared me for the possibility of going to sleep and waking up to find that all might be lost.  To this day, every time I hold a patient’s hand as she settles on to the OR table, I remember the moments before I went to sleep, tears streaming down my face and praying so very hard for my unborn child.  The operating room will never be quite the same.

 

“Push on my belly.”

On the surface it seemed like such a simple request from my wife. Once I completed her request, I’d never seen a her in so much pain…and I had previously witnessed her giving birth to our two children. After a little more pushing and prodding it was clear something needed to be done. When your wife is a doctor it is hard to listen to her give herself medical advice. Was all the pain and nausea simply symptoms of her first trimester of pregnancy? Could it be something more serious, like appendicitis? We needed a doctor to access the situation, someone other than her.

We hopped in the car and drove twenty bumpy and agonizing minutes to the Women’s Hospital. We arrived, checked in and were sent to triage.

After receiving a CT scan to help diagnose her belly pain, it was time to sit…and wait. While waiting in the triage room there was not much to do. My wife had been given some medicine to help with the pain, then we were told to wait as the doctors checked the results of her CT scan. Over the course of the next few hours, we flipped through several TV channels: American Pickers, Scared Straight, Wizard of Oz, and finally landed on the movie Fight Club. It had been well over a decade since I’d last seen this movie, I’d passed it up while flipping through channels many times before, but for some reason that night I was drawn to it. I clearly remember one scene where Brad Pitt’s character (Tyler Durdin) holds a gun to the back of a guy’s head and threatens to shoot him. After a few minutes Tyler lets the man go. He then goes on to talk about the new appreciation that the man will have for his life. He says,

 

“Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”

 

This struck me as a deranged, but somewhat understandable comment.

 

Three hours in triage later, the answer was clear, she had appendicitis. An appendectomy is a relatively simple procedure (at least that is what I was told) but everything becomes a little more complicated when your wife is fifteen weeks pregnant. And things become a lot more complicated when the part of the body where the surgery will be taking place is essentially right next to an unborn child. As scary and dangerous as the possibilities were, the surgery was necessary. An untreated and ruptured appendix could mean loss of the baby and potentially terrible consequences for my wife as well.

At 1AM she was wheeled away for surgery.

She returned to the room at 4AM. After she was back in the room, all was not better. She was not doing well coming out off the anesthesia. She was alternating between thinking she was the doctor and giving orders to the nurses about her care, dropping F-bombs about the entire situation and vomiting into a bucket next to her in the hospital bed. Finally, things calmed down and off to sleep she and I went.

After a trouble free surgery and a couple hours of sleep, the next morning was quickly upon us. It was time to see what type of stress the surgery had put on the baby and to check the baby’s heartbeat. Our doctor that morning was someone that had our complete trust. Just a year earlier he’d delivered our second child and once someone delivers your baby, there is a life-long bond you carry with that person. Our doctor arrived in the room wheeling in a Doppler machine. He pressed the microphone to my wife’s belly, no sounds were heard. “Don’t panic, don’t panic,” was all I could say to myself, over and over.  I gauged our obstetrician’s behavior to help me know how to react. He was calm, so I stayed calm.

Maybe there was something wrong with the machine. In came the ultrasound machine. After a minute of fumbling around to get it set up, we could see the baby. The baby was not moving and no heartbeat could be seen or heard. Panic began. So many thoughts raced around in my head. “Calm down, be strong for your wife,” I told myself. “Stay calm, stay calm.” Again, I looked at the doctor to help measure my own reaction, this time I could see the fear and sadness in his eyes. I gripped my wife’s hand even tighter.

What happened next was the saddest moment of my life. The doctor removed his hands from the machine, looked into our tired eyes and said, “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

That’s it.

There was nothing left to do but cry.

While this was going on, another doctor, a close friend of my wife’s, ran to grab a different type of ultrasound probe. They decided to try a different probe, hoping for different results. Through the tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts, we barely even paid attention what she was doing, then, all of the sudden the ultrasound showed MOVEMENT!

Wonderful, beautiful movement! Our little baby was fine and kicking away.  I have never felt a greater range of emotions than I felt that morning. From the deepest darkest place I didn’t even know existed to a mountaintop high feeling of pure joy.

Amazing! Unbelievable! Miraculous!

We continued to cry, but now it was for different reasons. Once the doctor left the room, we spent a great deal of time trying to come to grips with all that had happened in the last 24 hours. One thing that kept flashing back to in my mind was the scene from the movie Fight Club we’d watched the night before.

Tyler Durden made a good point. Never in my life have I appreciated the joy that is watching a baby move inside my wife’s belly quite like I experienced that morning. And even though it was a stale bagel with a plastic tub of peanut butter smeared on it, Tyler got it right… my breakfast tasted better than any meal I have ever tasted.

-Pete

craigprofileDr. Jordan Craig is a general OB/GYN in private practice on the north side of Indianapolis. She earned her MD at Indiana University School of Medicine and completed her residency at St. Vincent’s Women’s Hospital in Indianapolis. She is currently on faculty at Marion University and is on the board of the Indiana Mother’s Milk Bank. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Craig enjoys running, practicing yoga, and swimming–she was a collegiate swimmer in undergrad and still holds some records–as well as cooking and spending time outdoors with her three children, her husband, and their two dogs. Her husband is a stay-at-home dad and writes a popular parenting blog, A Dad’s Influence.


 

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