Our culture loves new: new cars, new houses, new shoes, new relationships. We're kind of obsessed with newness, but nothing tops the freshness of a newborn baby. Before they even get here, we go nuts buying new things, painting the walls new colors, learning new skills to cope with the newness of their existence, and even take on new titles and roles...mommy, daddy, grandma. Then they arrive. Friends and family line the halls anxiously waiting to get a glimpse of this tiny new human. Those much anticipated first pictures flood the feeds of our social media outlets. That patented baby smell that emits from the top of their little heads intoxicates all of its holders. It's a crazy, wonderful time.
Jett, my oldest, had more of a crazy than wonderful entrance into the world. I never thought I would have children simply because I knew that you had to get an IV when you went into the hospital to have the baby, and there was no way I was going to let such a heinous thing happen to my veins. Nope. Up until this point in my life, the most invasive medical procedure I had was blood being drawn, in which I cried so hysterically that they had to call my mother from the waiting room to come calm me. Once they got the needle in my arm and finished, I began to, again, cry hysterically. Mom asked me what was the matter. I told her it hadn't hurt like I thought it would, and now I just felt stupid. The nurse laughed really hard. But cut me some slack. I was really young...only about 23.
So, my pregnancy was really like a 9 month pep talk that I gave myself. "You can do this!" By "this", I just meant the delivery. I copiously educated myself on all the ends and outs of the child birthing process, I watched documentaries (do not recommend this), found the best doctor, and accepted the fact that it was happening whether I liked it or not. I was feeling as ok-ish as I could until the day before. Jett was over a week late, and I was being induced the next morning. I had a meltdown. As Josh and my little dog, Bitty, tried to comfort me, they soon realized they were in way over their heads and called in the big gun: Mom.
I struggled for breath as I tried to articulate my feelings, but all I could really get out was that I felt like something terrible was going to happen. And I did. It was more than the anxious jitters I had been having all along. This was a deep, looming sense of danger and panic. Mom reasoned that births were natural events that happened everyday, the doctors were very capable, and that if anything did happen to go wrong, which it probably wouldn't, that we would already be in a hospital. All of these were perfectly sound statements that I eventually accepted as truths and went to bed.
Monday, November 27, 2012. 6:30 a.m. Things were happening quickly and right on schedule. I was admitted, put in my room, hooked up to the monitors, and I even survived the IV installation (miracles happen people). The nurses couldn't believe I was an induction because I have having strong, regular contractions. The doctor came in around 7:15 to check me. I was not dilating. He decided to break my water. This was excruciating and surprisingly so because I had read that most people don't feel it.
Disclaimer: Ok...if you are squeamish or pregnant, this next part is a little graphic and scary, but my doctor told me afterwards that the chance of this happening to another woman were about 1 in a million. He had never seen anything like it in his 15 years of practice and probably would never see it again. I just wanted to warn you because I am not trying to a to a pregnant woman's anxiety.
You decided to continue. Brave soul. So, the doctor told me that I would probably feel some fluid, and a few minutes after he had left the room, I felt a forceful gush. I peeked under the covers, halfway expecting to see the baby there because that was about the intensity of it. Instead to my horror, all I saw was red. I'm not just talking about a few drops. This was more blood than I had ever seen that did not come from a TV screen. I freaked out, and Mom ran to the get a nurse. She tried to calm me, but her eyes just spoke more terror into my heart. They caught the doctor who was not even out of the building yet, and within minutes they were rolling me down the hall for an EMERGENCY C-section. Up until this moment, this was my worst fear, being cut open.
The next moments were a blur of machines and tons of doctors and nurses pulling on me in every direction. Because of the amount of blood I was losing, there was no time for any of my family to scrub in and be with me. There were people all around me, but I felt terrified and alone. I remember being very cold, exposed, and scared out of mind for my baby and myself. I doubt that I will ever again feel as vulnerable as I did in those distressful minutes. Things were happening all around me and far beyond my control. Time was quickly passing and standing still simultaneously. Then it all went dark..quiet.
Recovery: I remember starting to come out of the fog. I remember my mom being in recovery trying to show me a picture of Jett on her phone and telling me that he weighted 10 lbs 2 oz. (in front of the very doctor that told me that he estimated he was about 7 lbs.) Little bit off there buddy. I think I made a joke. Jett had to be taken to the NICU because he had aspirated meconium. He would be fine, but they needed to put him on oxygen.
The next thing I remember was that they were about to take me to my room, and I was talking to the nurses as they rolled me through the halls and onto the elevator. In the middle of speaking, I noticed I began to very loudly and uncontrollably groan. My body went stiff like I was paralyzed by shooting pains pulsing through my limbs. My brain could hear my voice, but it was as if the two had become disconnected from each other. I couldn't make my screams stop. I could hear the nurse saying, "Andrea, can you hear me? Andrea, what's going on?" Yes, I could hear him, but I had no idea what was happening to me. As the elevator doors opened, my grandmother heard me and says they quickly closed the doors, and I wouldn't return for hours. I passed out shortly after the screams.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up in my room heavily sedated and on all kinds of drugs. I'm not sure who all was there, but I told my mom that I could not see. She said, "What do you mean you can't see?" I said, "Are my eyes open?" When she confirmed that they were, I said, "Then I must be blind because I can't see anything." I wasn't crying or hysterical. I said this very matter-of-factly, without any emotion. If you have learned anything about me through this, you could see how very confusing this was to my mother. Josh later told me that I was like a catatonic human. I had no personality, no emotion. I wasn't me.
The doctors were puzzled. For the next 2 days, they would run every imaginable test on me to see what could be causing my blindness. Here is the strange thing about not being able to see. People ask me if it was black. It wasn't. It was just nothingness, more like white than black. And while I could not see one single thing, I could tell who was in the room. It's like I could sense it, but not through sight. I ask my grandmother if my eyes darted around like blind peoples' do. She said that they didn't. I find this interesting.
So, here is the breakdown of how my body broke down. The average person has about 10 pints of blood in their body. My extensive blood loss would be considered a class IV hemorrhage. This means that I lost more than 40% of my blood. They had to give me 5-6 pints via transfusion. When this amount of blood is lost, the body goes into something called hypovolemic shock. Your blood pressure drops and your heart rate increases. The body is trying desperately to get oxygen to your organs. When there isn't enough, those organ start shutting down. The kidneys and the brain are the first to go. A CT scan would reveal some spots on my occipital lobe, the part of the brain that controls vision. Brain damage. Even typing it feels terrible, but that's what happened. I was told it is very similar to what happens to victims of stroke, but with some differences.
At this point I really began to wonder if I would ever be able to look at my baby boy or anything for that matter. Was I really blind? It was gradual, but slowly my vision (and my personality) began to come back to me. The next few days were really trippy. When I would look at people, it would seem that their faces were sliding off at times. I asked an ultra sound tech about the clear plastic mask she was wearing as an obvious precaution. Yeah, she wasn't wearing a mask. As I would try to read, it seemed like the letters were backwards, so I would trace the letters with my fingers to prove to my brain that they weren't. I got to "see" Jett for the first time late Wednesday night. My emotions were back, and even though when I looked at his face, all I could see was a white orb of light, I still thought he was beautiful! Each day I got better and stronger. Nurses that had seen me in my previous state were astonished at my recovery.
Before I left the hospital, my neurologist came to see me (again). For me, it was the first time because I was way out of it in our first introduction. We looked at my brain damage on the scans again and talked about neuroplasticity. A few years before I had read a book about it (for fun because I'm a nerd. You know this by now.) Basically, its the idea that the brain is changeable or "plastic". When part of the brain is damaged, it can sometimes remap it functions to different parts of the brain. The most common example refers to how this happens in stroke patients. When a stroke victim loses the ability to speak or to move part of their body, the brain can transfer those functions to be accomplished through another part of the brain. This usually happens with a lot of therapy and repetition. One of the coolest accounts that I read was a stroke patient that lost his entire ability to speak...English. This patient was bilingual though, and because we use a different part of the brain to learn a new language, the patient could still speak in their second language. It was once thought (and not too long ago) that we had a finite amount of brain cells, and they did not regenerate. It was also believed that there were limitations to the pathways/connections the brain makes. Essentially, this is talking about that old adage, "You can't teach and old dog new tricks". Turns out, this is scientifically false. According to studies and current technology, the brain is capable of change even into old age. "Even the elderly are capable of creating measurable changes in brain organization. These changes are not always easy but can happen through concerted focus on a defect area."
So, what does all this mean? For me, I believe that remapping that occurred in my occipital lobe that led to restoration of my sight was divinely orchestrated, as not one of the many physicians that tested and poked on me could provide a precise explantion in which it happened. I had a army of prayer warriors interceding on my behalf, and I have witnessed healing enough to recognize it. For that, I am eternally grateful to Jesus Christ.
But, what astounds and stuns me is his ability to make ALL THINGS NEW! Brain plasticity is so amazing to me because it is not about bringing the old damaged parts back to life. It is about creating something new! A new way to do things! I can (very literally) say that I once was blind, but now I see, but I'm not seeing the same way I saw before. My mind has been renewed. New pathways were formed that now enable my vision. And just as this is possible in my physical body, it is possible in my spirit!
It's possible in yours too. Change is achievable. I recently read that the same brain function that keeps us locked in to our bad habits, slumps, addictions can also be the means by which new good, healthy habits are formed. Think of our repetitive actions/thoughts like building a trench. The constant connection between the neurons engrains a path that eventually makes the action seem like second nature. Think of something you learned recently and how much you had to think about it when you were learning, but now you can do it with your eyes closed. That's how the brain works for the good and the bad.
I am so sick of hearing that people can't change, that situations won't change, that addictions can't be broken, and that hearts and bodies can't be healed. Lies. I don't believe that for a moment. I know the opposite to be true. Some of us just need to shift our focus and build new trenches. Trenches and pathways that lead us to a better place. That place is Jesus: the resurrection and the life, the one who makes beauty from ashes, and something from nothing! He doesn't just patch up the old broken parts of us. He makes pretty things, all bright and shiny like newborn babies!
Romans 12: 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Ephesians 4: 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Me, trying really hard to see him. :)
Hey! My name is Andrea. I'm a teacher by day in a small Texas town, but in every other aspect of my life, I consider myself a learner. This blog is about life: learning through experiences, sharing through stories, and growing through faith.