AFE Survivor Nicole
February 7, 2018
Butler Memorial Hospital, Butler, Pennsylvania
It was 7:30 in the morning. I was scheduled for a repeat c-section. I work for my OB/Gyn, so I knew the surgeon and the physician assistant personally. The PA, Liz, was with me while they were giving me my spinal. She was explaining to me that sometimes the spinal can go up too far, and it feels like you can’t breathe, but not to worry, because it’s normal. I got my spinal and laid back down. Dr Cypher asked me what kind of music I wanted to listen to. I didn’t say “country” (my favorite) because I knew he didn’t like it, so I told him to just pick something relaxing. I don’t remember what music he eventually had playing.
The spinal started to kick in, and I started feeling nauseous. They started the c-section. Dr Cypher told me I had no scar tissue from my last c-section, and I could have 5 more if I wanted to because I had healed so well! I suddenly began to dry heave. I was told this could be a side effect of the spinal, but this hadn’t happened with my emergency c-section, so I wasn’t expecting it.
We had not found out the gender of our baby. I remember Dr Cypher telling me the baby was born and he told Corey to tell me what it was. I heard Corey say, “It’s a boy!” I wasn’t looking at the baby and heard Dr. Cypher tell me to look. I turned my head, saw him holding my son, and turned away again. I continued dry heaving. This is about the time things went sour.
I couldn’t breathe. But Liz had told me this was normal, so I didn’t panic. I didn’t complain. The dry heaving got more intense. I then spoke up and told the anesthesiologist “I can’t breathe”. I remember Corey saying, “suck her mouth out, she’s choking on her vomit”. But, I hadn’t vomited. That’s when they realized that the gurgling sound I was making was coming from my lungs. They were filling with fluid. Liz told Corey, “Let’s go with the baby to the nursery while they finish up with Nicole” and he and my baby left. Neither one of us knew what was going on. He thought I was fine. (Someone had asked him if there was anyone he should call – he said my sister, so the nurse told him to call her. He did and told her we were both fine. No one told him how serious my condition was). I don’t know how either of us would have reacted if we had known.
I found out later that this was when they had called a code for me. Another doctor I work with was in the next OR room and heard the code, knew I was in that room, stopped her surgery and came over to assist. I was also told that there ended up being every anesthesiologist in house and on call in my room (about 10 in total) with a total of about 40 staff members to assist me. A call was made to Magee Women’s Hospital (the nearest specialty hospital in Pittsburgh) to consult the high-risk OB’s and to ask if LifeFlight transport was necessary. They had decided they could do no more than the local hospital could do and decided keeping me there was enough.
I remember most, if not all, of what was going on during this time. I didn’t realize the big picture, however. I remember looking up at my anesthesiologist and seeing his face so pale he looked ill. He was also sweating. I remember thinking, “Why are you sweating? It’s not hot in here!” He was wringing my IV bag in his hands to get the IV fluids in me faster; I thought “that’s odd”. He then tried putting an oxygen mask on me, but I kept turning away not wanting it on my face, feeling claustrophobic. I kept saying “I can’t breathe” and he finally held my head still so that I left it on my face. They told me I needed fluids, so they were putting a line in my neck to get the fluids in to me faster. I remember them prepping my neck with antiseptic, putting a sterile drape over my face and they pricked my neck. This made sense to me, so I wasn’t panicking. (This was a central line going straight to my heart to administer medication to raise my blood pressure, which was 30/_). What I didn’t know, was they also were putting another line in me, called an arterial line into my femoral artery (I couldn’t feel my leg due to the spinal), which was checking my blood pressure in real time.
I felt someone hold my hand. I looked over and it was Dr Cypher. This surprised me, as he is a very professional person, and a germaphobe. He doesn’t touch people’s hands, and here he was, holding my hand, without a glove on. He then took his other hand and put it on my cheek. Our faces were inches apart. He told me to take a big breath. I did. He told me to take another breath. I did. This went on for a little while. Each breath was getting easier. Each breath I felt like my lungs were opening up just a little bit more.
I remember looking up at the clock above my head. It was a little after 9:00. Dr Cypher had patients in the office at 9. I heard his voice and looked over; he was still in my room! Liz was near me, and I asked her if he realized what time it was, because he was going to be late for his office hours! She looked at me incredulously and told me to “Shut up! Are you seriously worried about that right now!?” Again, I was calm the whole time. I never knew I was even in distress! So, me worrying about something as trivial as his office schedule shocked her. (I later found out that he had canceled most of his patients for that day. And the ones he needed to see, he walked down to see them then immediately came back up to my side.)
The baby was brought back in. By this time, I was on the post op bed to be taken to what I thought would be PACU. I was laying there holding my baby boy with my husband beside me. Dr Cypher told me about a monitor they had me on (my A-Line) and that this was a special monitor and only the ICU had the technology to deal with it. (I worked at the hospital in the past. I knew that this was a fact. It never dawned on me that anything was horribly awry). With my baby in my arms, I was wheeled to the ICU.
The other doctor that was working that day came in shortly after. She was bawling. She came in and hugged me. I kept telling her it was OK, and I was fine. I didn’t know that she had seen this happen 3 times before in her career. Not one of those mothers had made it through. My sister came in crying, not understanding why I was in the ICU with all these monitors and IV’s running. Corey had told her I was fine! I told her I was fine, and it was just as a precaution.
The hardest part was that Wyatt was not allowed to be off the nursery floor. I couldn’t keep him in my ICU room. He was taken back downstairs and my husband went with him. He still thought I was just fine and believed the doctor when he said the only reason, I was there was because of that monitor.
It was flu season, and the ICU doctor did not want a baby around all the sick people. Dr Cypher was my champion. He said that we NEEDED to be together, even if it was only for short intervals. He personally called the CDC and Magee Hospital to figure out the best way to keep us both healthy, yet together. The solution was to isolate me as “Reverse Precautions”. (they do this for people with autoimmune disorders who cannot risk getting sick from other people’s germs). This meant my nurse was not allowed to leave my room, and anyone who came into my room had to put a gown, gloves and a mask on. They brought Wyatt to me a few times a day and they kept him in an incubator while going through the halls so that he was not breathing the same air as the sick patients. I had 3 nurses in my room most of the day; my ICU nurse: Chelsea, a nurse that was with me from the OB floor: Jodi, and Wyatt’s OB nurse: Cheryl. I got to know them very well. The OB nurse was alone with me while the other nurses took a break. She asked me if I know what had happened, and I told her no I didn’t, so she proceeded to explained it all. It felt like an out-of-body feeling. I remember things she was telling me, but I was in my little bubble, not knowing what had happened in the rest of the room. She told me the name of it: Amniotic Fluid Embolism. She also told me not to Google it. I could read about it later, but today was not the time.
I had a barrage of testing. Echocardiograms, EKGs, Chest X-rays, blood work every few hours. My oxygen levels were OK so they took my O2 off. I was bleeding heavily though, and I was very pale. My blood levels were low but not critical, the decision was made to give me 2 units of blood to help me out. This scared me, but I trusted them. I’m glad I did, because I felt so much better after that. By the next day, my lines were taken out, my catheter removed, and I was out of bed sitting in a chair. I shocked every doctor that came into my room, expecting to find me in a coma.
I was released to go back to the maternity floor the evening of the second day. I was finally able to have my baby with me all the time and start breast feeding (they were giving him a bottle while I was in the ICU). He did great! My older son was able to come in to see me and his new baby brother (kids were not allowed in the ICU). Dr Cypher came in the next day with his wife. She was crying and telling me how happy she was to see me OK. She prayed with me, and we thanked God that the two of us were here and healthy. t was not until days, maybe even weeks later, that it really hit me as to what happened to us that day. Everything seemed so normal, that I almost didn’t believe what everyone was saying. I was one out of 40,000. I survived. We both survived.