Another Twist: Coping With Pulmonary Edema
The next morning I started feeling terrible, and that feeling of breathlessness came back, and got worse and worse as the day progressed. By late morning the only way I could breathe was by leaning all the way forward. I felt like I was suffocating in every other position, especially lying flat. When I coughed up blood in the late morning, everyone freaked out, fearing a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs), which could be deadly.
What seemed like hundreds of doctors and nurses started coming in and out of my room, listening to my lungs and doing ultrasounds of my heart. In addition to not being able to breathe, I was starting to feel extremely anxious. I started dreading nursing because I wasn't able to lean forward enough to be able to breathe when I was doing it, which made me incredibly sad. All I could think about was that I wanted to go home, feeling like if we just pretended all of this wasn't happening, it wouldn't be. Stupid denial.
Finally, they decided to send me for a CT scan. My husband wheeled me downstairs with my oxygen tank to a dark, busy basement where a nasty technician told me to sign a waiver for the toxic dye they'd be giving me before the scan. It said on the form that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed for 24 hours, and I got really upset, fighting tears. I knew that having to take 24 hours off of nursing this early could be detrimental to our success, and I was really upset at how little the CT tech seemed to care (irrational, but I was kind of a wreck by that point). We called up to the postpartum floor and were told that they have to say that you can't breastfeed, but you really can, and that it was crucial that I have the scan. I reluctantly signed the form and went into the room.
When I saw that the only way to have the scan was to lie flat on my back for up to four minutes, I panicked again. I tried it twice, but each time I laid flat I would start gasping for air immediately, unable to breathe at all. It was terrifying, and there was absolutely no way for me to do it.
My husband wheeled me out into the hospital's beautiful atrium, and I remember looking around at all of the people and feeling so incredibly afraid and alone. I've been extremely lucky to have never had any real health problems of any kind besides infertility, and suddenly I knew what it was like to fear for your life. I missed my baby and wanted to go upstairs and pretend this wasn't happening. It felt so unfair that I had waited so long for a baby, and now I couldn't be with him and possibly wouldn't even make it at all.
We went back upstairs to talk to the doctors about what to do next. They tried to convince me to do the CT scan, but it really didn't seem possible. I started thinking about trying it again because I knew I had to, but it felt like voluntarily drowning myself. They gave me an Ativan (anti-anxiety medication) for what was starting to feel like a panic attack, no doubt exacerbated by the lack of oxygen in my blood. That helped but also made me a bit loopy, which at that point was probably a good thing as I had really become an anxious wreck.
Finally, one of the head pulmonologists came in and listened to my lungs (probably the 15th person that day to do so). He heard a faint crackling, the telltale sign of pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), which no one else had heard. They gave me Lovenox to break up any clots, just in case there was an embolism as well, and immediately sent me to the ICU, where I was given diuretics. I eventually passed five liters of fluid in about three hours.
That night when the Ativan wore off I suddenly became more aware of my surroundings. My parents and husband were there with me in the ICU, and everyone was staring at me, looking really worried. I started feeling like I could breathe again and could even lie back in bed a bit. They wheeled my baby up in an Isolette so I could nurse him, which was wonderful, and things started to seem hopeful again. Since getting rid of all of that fluid had let me breathe again, it was determined that it was definitely edema. Pulmonary edema can be a side effect of preeclampsia, but could also have been brought on by a combination of the Pitocin, the magnesium, and the saline drip I had been on for several days.
I stayed at the hospital for one more night after the night in the ICU, back in the postpartum ward, but this time in a private room. Apparently one of the nurses had pulled strings to get me one since I had gotten so sick and had had a terrible roommate the other night I was there.
The last night we were there The Wizard of Oz was on TV, and my husband and I cuddled up with our little guy and watched it in the dark. Pretty cheesy, but "there's no place like home" took on a whole new meaning to me after the experience I had just had.
The next morning we left, a family of three. We stepped outside in the sunshine with our new baby, and I felt so very lucky. I finally, finally have my baby!
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