My sister, Jolene, has had a few “bumps in the road” when it comes to her health and the health of her family. In March 2012, she shared her story with a room full of women and our family at her church. With her blessing, I am sharing part 1 of her story. More of the story will follow on April 23rd. I know this is longer than normal, but I promise, it will touch your heart and give you faith that miracles do happen.
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Jolene’s Story – Part 1
When I was a young girl at church camp, I heard a lot of dramatic stories and thought, “Hmm, I don’t really have one.” Well, I have learned that 1. We all have a story, whether it seems dramatic or not and 2. We need to embrace it as our own. God has His hand in it. Without troubles, we wouldn’t need to rely on Him. I am so thankful that we have this book (hold up the Bible) to see all of the life stories of people like you and me, knocked down and then gently picked back up by our Lord. I would like to share part of my story.
Aaron and I were married in April 2001. By then, I knew I wanted children and lots of them. I was working as a travel agent at the time and on my way to work September 11, 2001, my outlook was altered. Part of me really wanted to have children, and part of me didn’t want to bring any into this fallen world. Well, one month after that day…I found out I was pregnant! Unfortunately, I was bleeding and it turned out to be a tubal pregnancy. I bled for 31 days. I thought that this would be the most horrible thing to happen to me. I prayed to God, “Please let me be pregnant by the time this baby would have been due.” In June 2002, I was pregnant again! Thank you, Jesus.
I had the usual morning sickness until week 12, and then it ended. Based on all of the pregnancy books that I am reading, I am a walking billboard for the typical pregnancy. That lasted 1 week.
I started throwing up with a vengeance. At 16 weeks, I was told some women just get sick the whole time and it looks like I am one of them. I didn’t want to hear that, but this was my baby and I would do whatever it takes. At 21 weeks, we had the ultrasound scheduled. We were so excited to see this baby on a screen. That morning though, I could hardly move, I had a lot of pain in my abdomen. I got in the car and went to pick up Aaron from a job so we could go together. I begged him to drop me off at the door, and I sprinted to the bathroom were I was violently ill. On a side note, vomiting in a toilet with an automatic flusher is not fun. It went off so many times, and then it stopped flushing altogether…eek. Not only that, but as I look in the toilet, I see blood, oh Lord, please do not let me panic. I went in to the ultrasound, and we couldn’t get through it, I was doubled over and could not lay flat. All of the OB doctors were out that day to a meeting, so the nurse called. I was given Maalox® and told to come back in the morning if I was worse. I had hit my pain limit and told Aaron just to take me to the ER. Something had to be done to take the pain away. When the nurse heard this, she had me see an internal medicine specialist in the clinic. Within 5 minutes, she said, “I think she has pancreatitis. She needs to be in the hospital.” Aaron responded, saying he would get the car, and the Doctor told him, “We don’t have time.” An ambulance was called, and by the time we went the 5 minutes to the hospital, I was in and out of consciousness.
Much of what I have to say now, is mostly what I have heard from family and such. At the hospital, Aaron was confronted by the Doctors, “how much has she had to drink?” “Nothing.” “Sir, your wife is an alcoholic.” “What? She is pregnant!” In their defense, pancreatitis is a disease that normally is from drinking. However, in my case, the pancreatitis was brought on by the pregnancy. Many women have their triglycerides (fat in the blood) go up when they are pregnant, mine skyrocket. When this happens, my pancreas continually produces the acid to break down these fats. I produces so much and so fast, that it leaks out of the pancreas and causes a large acid burn in my abdomen.
I was admitted into the hospital and placed in the ICU. I remember very little of this time. I did ask them to make sure the baby was okay, and they responded, “We are watching the baby, but we have to save you first.” Every organ was burned. My lungs were partially collapsing and my family was told that if my kidneys failed, there was nothing else that they could do. (Editor’s note: Jolene went into DIC, disseminated intravascular coagulation, a severe condition which causes clotting proteins to become overactive.) At this point I had a 50/50 chance of surviving and Sam had 10%. The pain was excruciating and I would scream in agony even if someone bumped the bed. I also had hallucinations from the morphine that I was on. There was a picture on the wall of flowers. I didn’t know that they were flowers until just before I left the room 2 weeks later. One day they were little bunnies, one day they were a family of rats. Another day, Aaron heard me talking, and asked who I was talking to. I responded, “Barbie.” I then looked at him and asked, “Barbie isn’t here, is she?” “Uh. No.” I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t.
As I mentioned, I was in intensive care for about 2 weeks and then sent to a regular room for another 2 weeks. As I was in there, I casually mentioned that my neck started to hurt, which I assumed was from lying in bed funny. As it turns out, I developed a blood clot in my jugular vein (side effect of DIC). I now had to start giving myself shots of blood thinner into my abdomen twice a day. I could only tolerate doing this for a week or so, as I had no fat on my stomach to stick it into. They then let me stick it in my thigh, and I must do this for the remainder of the pregnancy. In addition, I continued to have hallucinations. The one I recall the most occurred at night. I was exhausted, but my head was telling me that I could not sleep until the infomercials on T.V. were in alphabetical order. I was so excited when I got to “c” and then the crash when the next one was not “d”. The one thing that would help me sleep, was when Aaron would come in, sit down, and read scripture to me. Within moments, my muscles would soften and I would close my eyes to the gentle whisper of my husband reading the God’s Promises.
When I left the hospital (this was roughly a month after I was admitted), we were told that if I got sick again, I may very well not survive it. We were home for about a month or so, it was early November, when I had to tell Aaron that he had to take me back to the hospital, it is back. Aaron looked at me and said, “no.” How do you respond to that? I know what he was thinking. 2 of us will be going in, and only one will come back. On our way, I did mention a couple of songs I wanted at my funeral and I gave him the okay to remarry (only if she is nice). It was a short-lived conversation. I was “comfortable” with it, and he was not.
This time I was transferred to St. Mary’s downtown, where they have better care for premies. My family heard the news, and each of my family members came. My youngest sister, who was away at school, got the call from my parents telling her that my uncle was flying his plane down to pick her up so she could come say goodbye to me. I don’t ever recall seeing my brother’s cry, much less crying for me. Again, I see how I, someone who is dying, and has the hope of Christ, am okay with this, but those left behind have a much harder struggle, even though they know where my salvation lies.
Obviously, I survived. I was told that I would be there till I deliver…in 3 months or so. In the hospital I was miserable. I felt like a prisoner. I was not doing well, and I begged to go home. It is hard to watch the Doctors argue about my care. I have heard statistics of 1 in 20,000 pregnancies are affected by pancreatitis, and my doctors had never seen a case as bad as mine. In fact, they have seen patients with less severe cases not survive. If they wanted to do something for me, it would affect the baby. If they wanted to do something for the baby, it would kill me. I often felt like I was watching a tennis match, only this was for my life. The week before Thanksgiving, they discharged me, but only if I was placed on TPN, which is intravenous feeding through my chest. My heart lifted. While I was at home, I had a home nurse come weekly, blood draws every few days, and Aaron had to be home by a certain time to change my TPN bag. This sometimes was a struggle, because as we all know, plumbing problems don’t always happen between the hours of 8 and 5. My husband is a plumber 🙂 I made it through Thanksgiving, I made it through Christmas and New Year’s. On January 8th, I went back to the hospital to be induced and have a little boy. I have only gained 5 pounds this entire time. Labor lasted 25 hours, and Samuel Frederick was born at 8:40pm, January 9th,. One month early. I was able to kiss him on the cheek, and then they rushed him out of the room, he was having a difficult time breathing because his lungs were not fully developed. When he was brought back to me, he was in a traveling isolette, getting ready to go to another hospital. I remember sticking my hand in the little hole and telling him how much I loved him, and then they took him away.
I had 2 more days of recovery and they could take the tube out of my chest. It is amazing how the moment I gave birth, I felt so much better. I then was able to go stay with Sam. He was in the most intensive part of the NICU. My 7 pound bundle of joy could touch the sides of his isolette. He looked like a brute compared to the little 2 pound preemies in the same area. After a couple of weeks, we were able to go home. Sam grew and thrived, and no side effects that we could see. He looked like the Michelin Man, so cute and snuggly.