We had a bit of an adventure yesterday. Not the good kind. But
before I go on, I’ll hasten to say that the baby is fine, and I’m okay,
and all will be well.
I seem to have contracted some kind of stomach bug or food
poisoning. No one else in the family is sick (a good thing). I woke up
early yesterday and the vomiting started right away, along with other
kinds of g/i nastiness. When Scott got up and saw what kind of shape I
was in, he called his office to say he’d be taking the day off. Which
turned out to be a very good thing.
Jane had an early-morning orthodontist appointment scheduled. This
was going to be a big day for her: she was supposed to get braces.
Scott decided to take her himself since I clearly wasn’t up to it. He
dropped the other three girls off at a friend’s house, as planned, and
took Wonderboy with him. But: no braces after all: not this day. The
orthodontist had decided, upon reviewing Jane’s X-rays, that a consult
with an oral surgeon is necessary. Why this information couldn’t have
been transmitted over the phone instead of requiring a long car ride
and an hour and a half of my husband’s time is a mystery: but that’s a
subject for another post.
At any rate, home came Scott, Jane, and Wonderboy about an hour
ahead of schedule. This, too, turned out to be a good thing. I had
spent their absence alternately lying on the bathroom floor and
hovering over the toilet. I had put in a call to my OB to make sure
this illness wasn’t putting the baby in any risk and was awaiting the
It took two more phone calls before we finally got the doctor on the
phone. By this point it was about noon. In addition to the g/i misery,
I had begun having contractions. I was also having stomach cramps, but
the contractions (which included the kind of burning lower-back pain I
have only ever experienced during labor) were real and unmistakable,
and they were coming every seven or eight minutes. I am only 22 weeks
pregnant, so needless to say this was a bit alarming.
Also, by the time the doctor finally called, my hands and feet were tingling. Pins and needles. Very strange sensation.
The doctor did not believe they were contractions: stomach cramps,
he insisted. Since I was having both, I knew the difference. He wasn’t
buying it. Said colon cramping might feel similar to uterine
contractions. Advised me to drink lots of fluids (I told him I couldn’t
keep anything down, not even Gatorade) and get some rest, and said it
would take at least twelve hours of throwing up before I got so
dehydrated that it would be problematic. But, he added appeasingly, if
you get scared enough, just head over to the hospital and check in at
Labor and Delivery. Even if all I needed was hydration, I’d have to
check in at L&D instead of the ER because I am past twenty weeks.
We didn’t wait anything like six more hours (I had at that point
been throwing up for six already): between the contractions and the
tingling extremities, Scott wanted me to get some i/v fluids right
away. So we arranged for Rose, Bean, and Rilla to stay at the friend’s
house for a while longer, dropped Jane and Wonderboy off at another friend’s house, and drove to the hospital.
By then things were getting kind of scary. The contractions were fierce and regular,
the stomach cramps were brutal, the tingling had extended to my arms
and legs, and—scariest of all—my fingers were contracted into
claw-hands, and I couldn’t get them to stay open.
Scott told me later that I was somewhat incoherent during the car
ride. All I remember is the pain, and not being able to open my hands.
He pulled up to the entrance of L&D and left me in the car while
he ran in to ask for a wheelchair. My leg muscles were cramping too, by
that point. I threw up into a bowl balanced precariously between my
claw-hands. He came back with no wheelchair (none available) and helped
me hobble into the lobby. Wicked contractions. Don’t much care to
The nurses took me into triage and first made sure that I wasn’t in
labor. All good there: no dilation or anything. Baby’s heartbeat
sounded great. They hooked me up to a monitor, and sure enough, I was
having uterine contractions. The nurse even felt one with her hand on
my belly. So: not in labor, but suffering from extreme dehydration or
something else severe enough to cause muscular contractions all over my
body including the place we don’t want contractions to occur for
another 18 weeks. The nurse prepared to hang a bag of i/v fluid.
Just then, another nurse came into the room, or maybe she was a
resident. She had just gotten off the phone with my OB. He said that
since I was definitely not in labor, they needed to send me to the ER
for hydration. He had said, and this new person relayed, that the
claw-hands and everything else were probably caused by erratic
breathing, and that I should remain calm.
I pointed out that any erratic breathing was because of the
pain and the fact that I couldn’t straighten my fingers: not the other
way around. In severe pain, you pant, you breathe funny. I hadn’t
started hyperventilating and then developed muscle
contractions. The contractions came first. I was trying to breathe
slowly, but then another contraction would grip me.
At any rate, the verdict was that I needed to be taken to the ER.
Also, I should be given some Tums. This will come into the story later,
in an unimportant but mildly amusing way.
My nurse wanted to just get the i/v started first but she was told
no, they would do that in the ER. They got me into a wheelchair and an
aide took me on a fifteen-minute journey to another check-in desk.
Scott was right behind her with my bag. Sitting in the chair, my
contractions were even more intense. I had four of them on the way to
the ER, and two more at check-in.
Before we got to the ER, while we were waiting for an elevator which
Scott told me later turned out to be the wrong elevator, and we had to
come back and find another one, I felt myself growing dizzy and
lightheaded, as if I were going to pass out. I knew I need to get my
head down and I would be all right. I leaned forward in the wheelchair,
but the kindly aide thought I was slumping over from the pain, and she
took my shoulders and pulled me back upright. The room swirled. I made
myself as sideways as I could in the chair, and the dizziness subsided
a little. Then another contraction hit, and that was all that existed
in the universe.
"Your doctor says they aren’t contractions; they’re stomach cramps," said the ER supervisor who was checking me in.
"He’s wrong," I gritted out. "I’m having stomach cramps too. I have had—five children—and I know—what a contraction feels like!"
He typed "patients says she is in labor" into his computer. I saw it
on the screen and said, "No, I’m not in labor. I am having
contractions. I want you to make them stop."
He made the change, which was the last thing I paid attention to
before another contraction took over. After a while they got me into a
curtained room, and a bed, and all the ER docs and nurses began to
freak out because they thought I was in labor. "Why did they send her
down here?? Do we have a delivery kit?"
"You don’t need one," I said, or at least I think I did. "I’m not
having the baby now. It’s too early. You have to make the contractions
Scott asked if we could get i/v fluids going immediately. There was
some hesitation: they needed a doctor’s orders for that. I don’t
remember things clearly from this period because by then the
contractions were two or three minutes apart, and they were REAL, and
all of a sudden my hand was on fire like it had been dipped in acid,
and I was yelling "My hand is burning!" and no one seemed at all
concerned about that, they were so busy tracking down the gosh-darn
delivery kit. Finally Scott figured out what was wrong and murmured
that it was okay, they were just taking my blood pressure (for the
third time that day), and I understood through the fog of pain that the
burning was just what happens when your tingling hand gets tinglier
from the squeezing of the blood pressure cuff.
And then there was some blood-drawing for labs and a brief
catheterization for urine, and by brief I mean an eternity of pain, and
the ER doctor checked me again to confirm that I was not in active
labor, cervix high and closed as it should be at 22 weeks, and they got
the i/v running, beginning the hydration at last. I still couldn’t
unclaw my hands.
"I bet you’re a natural childbirth person, aren’t you," said the
very nice tech who was doing a lot of the bustling in the room. I
nodded: contraction: couldn’t speak. "I thought so. Your breathing is
Which made me realize I was doing my Bradley breathing techniques
and that was probably the opposite of what I should be doing at that
moment, because the Bradley method is all about relaxing into the
contraction and letting the muscles pull your cervix open. So then I
almost wanted to laugh, because panicky pain-breathing was wrong and
calm breathe-through-it breathing was wrong, and holding my breath was
wrong. I couldn’t do the math.
About halfway through the bag of fluids, word came that I was to be
transferred back to Labor & Delivery. The ER was uncomfortable
dealing with a pregnant woman who was having contractions. But they
kept the i/v running, and that was the important thing.
The nice tech wheeled me back to L&D and they got me back into
the same triage bed as before. "You again!" exclaimed the nurse.
Lots of chatter back and forth above my head. Scott was called away
to deal with more paperwork. We learned later that three separate
accounts had been opened for me: first L&D admission; ER admission;
2nd L&D admission. This would cause all sorts of confusion and
delays before long.
I was on my second bag of i/v fluid. My hands were beginning to
uncurl a little. It seemed to me the contractions were coming farther
apart now: a very good thing. The baby’s heartbeat still sounded good.
I was still dry-heaving occasionally but even that was less violent.
Still a lot of pain, but getting better, I hoped.
Scott and I were left alone in the triage room for long stretches of
time. Eventually my OB paid us a visit. Really dreadful stomach cramps,
he commiserated, again pooh-poohing my insistence that there were also
real contractions. The nurses believed me; the entire ER staff was in
terror over them; but the doctor never did buy it. But, he said,
clearly I was dehydrated and in pain too severe to let it go, and he
ordered a medication to ease the effects of the stomach virus or food
poisoning or whatever it was.
So that’s how they discovered that there were three separate
accounts for my name, and since my bloodwork had been initiated by the
ER, the lab results were stuck under a now-closed account. The L&D
nurses had kept pulling up my file on the computer to see if my labs
were back, and being surprised that it was taking so long, when in fact
the labs had been sitting there for hours by this point: in another
When they finally figured it out, they were all somewhat dismayed to
discover that my potassium level was low. Dangerously low, in fact.
Hey, guess what? This morning I looked up symptoms of low potassium.
Muscle contractions, tingling extremeties, weakness. You don’t say!
Anyway. My OB was hastily consulted and equally hastily ordered a
very large dose of high-concentration potassium. This was to run via
i/v over the course of four hours. He also ordered: Gatorade, to be
given immediately. I was throwing up less often, so everyone hoped I’d
be able to keep it down.
It took about two hours for the Gatorade to arrive. It was a small
bottle, the same kind you buy at 7-11. I laughed and wondered why we
hadn’t just had Scott run down to the vending machine hours ago. At
least then I could have picked out a tolerable flavor instead of the
horrible red punch they brought me. Not that anyone expected the
Gatorade to help with the low-potassium problem. It was just to test
whether I could keep anything down yet.
Two hours, but still the Gatorade beat the potassium. These were
very long hours with all the contracting and cramping continuing,
though growing steadily less severe than they had been. I could tell
the hydration was helping a great deal. But my nurse was worried about
the potassium taking so long to show up. She’d been given the
impression that it was urgent they bring my potassium level up
Finally she tracked it down: I think it had been sent to the ER.
The first bolus was hung and began to drip into my i/v. Suddenly a
line of fire shot up my arm from elbow to shoulder. It felt like army
ants were marching up the tunnel of my vein, chewing as they went. I
was gasping and writhing, and the nurse said, "Oh, does it hurt?" and
told me she’d never administered potassium at this concentration
before, had never even heard of it being done, and maybe it was
painful in that concentration. She connected a line of saline to the
tubing, and after a while the army ants ceased their munching, and
merely crept up the tunnel on pointy little feet.
But my contractions had completely stopped by now, and I didn’t care
about much else. Baby was going to stay put. That’s why I’d come.
I said I didn’t care about much else; there was one other thing I
cared about intensely and had been caring about for quite some time. I
was freezing cold, shivering, even sometimes shaking from the cold. In
the ER they had discovered that I had a fever. Back in L&D, my temp
was 101. Not a high fever, but high enough. The nurse would not let me
have a blanket. I begged for one, but she laughed indulgently as if I
were a naughty child and said, "Not until that fever comes down!" I
asked for some Tylenol, but the doctor hadn’t ordered any, so I
couldn’t have any until they tracked him back down. I never did get
anything for the fever, although I asked a couple of nurses. "Is there
any chance the fever could harm the baby?" I asked, and my nurse said,
"Oh, let’s check your temp again and see how you’re doing," and stuck a
thermometer in my mouth, and said merrily, "Look at that! You’re down
to 99.7! If you hit 98.6 I’ll let you have a blanket!" and whisked out
of the room before I could tell her I had just taken a drink of ice
water (this was before the Gatorade arrived) and that’s probably why my
oral temp was so much lower, so quickly. But she was gone, and then I
had to lie there debating whether to make her understand about the
fever so I could have some medicine for it, or whether to suck on some
ice so that she would give me a rassafrassin’ blanket.
The first bag of potassium was hung around 6:30. Shift change was at
seven. When my i/v beeped at 7:30, ready for the next bag of potassium,
the nurse who came in was not assigned to me and therefore didn’t know
I was on blanket restrictions, and when she saw me shivering she said,
"Oh honey! Are you cold? Why didn’t you ask for a blanket?" and bustled
out and came right back in with two blankets—warm ones, fresh from the
blanket-warmer, the kind they give you in Labor and Delivery when you
have actually had a baby instead of just being a pesky, dehydrated,
potassium-depleted, ER-staff-terrifying stomach ailment patient. I
snuggled down under my deliciously warm blankets and finally, finally
began to feel human for the first time all day.
Scott had left around six to collect the children from our friends’
houses, but after he got them ready for bed, he arranged for yet
another friend to come over and stay with them while he came back to
see me. (And yes, we are exceedingly blessed in the friends department.
I don’t know what we’d have done without them yesterday. I’ve also been
given to understand that yet another friend is bringing dinner
for the rest of my family tonight. I am still subsisting on a diet of
Gatorade and chicken-and-stars soup.)
It was still up in the air as to whether I would get to go home last
night or stay until morning. They had me on a 23-hour watch but said if
my potassium levels came up high enough, I might get to go home. After
3 1/2 bags of potassium, a lab tech drew more blood. I think it was
around 10:30, just after the last bag of potassium was finishing up,
that we got the news that I was just barely over the line into the low
end of acceptable, and if I wanted to go home, I could.
I did. I have spent more nights than I care to remember in
hospitals, and one thing I know is that they are not a place for rest.
The i/v beeping, the blood-pressure checks, the banging open of doors,
the loud voices and bright lights in the halls. And after everything
that happened yesterday, I needed rest. I needed my own bed, with
blankets or not, at my discretion.
The nurse went to print up my discharge papers. She returned laughing, waving a tiny plastic-wrapped package of Tums.
"The doctor ordered these for you!"
Um, yes, eleven hours ago.
It was funny at the time, because Tums (or lack thereof) were the least of
my concerns yesterday. Became somewhat less funny today, when I checked
in with the doctor by phone, as ordered. Turned out he’d ordered those
Tums right away because he thought a calcium deficiency was what was
causing my hands to turn into claws.
His diagnosis had been wrong, which, as it turns out, is kind of a
good thing. Because if I’d really needed that calcium to correct what
was going wrong with me, eleven hours would have been an awful long
time to go without treatment in such critical circumstances.
At any rate, I eventually got the fluids and potassium that my body
was evidently in desperate need of. And I came home, and I’m doing much
better, no more contractions, no more claw-hands. Still battling the
original g/i unpleasantness, but have managed to keep some toast and
Gatorade down. I have a killer headache and I feel achy all over as if
I’d been hit by a truck. But I’m happy to be home with my family. I’m
glad the baby is fine. I’m glad I can have whatever I need right away
instead of hours later. I’m glad yesterday is over.
Scott wanted me to write it all down before I forgot it, so I did. And now I’m going to take another nap.