Jennifer Bailey's Patient Story
A Mother Desperate to Save her Son and Herself
As a nurse, I never imagined I would find myself on the “other” side of the bed, looking in on my newborn son, helpless to make his world whole. I had spent almost a decade preparing families for the worst or best, delivering joyous news as well as sad, all the while, holding my own emotions at bay and never realizing how the information was impacting them, rocking their world to its core. I was able to walk away, and only look back in my mind. As I was sitting there so alone, peering in at his tiny little body, I had no idea what to say or what to do. I only knew to protect him, to nurture him with every single cell of my body and to keep the rest of the world out of the cocoon that I was building for him.
What led me to this point was a tumultuous ending to a picturesque pregnancy, where asking questions, and pushing for “more” saved not only my life, but the life of my unborn son. Where, in a time, questioning the actions and decisions of healthcare workers was seen as disrespectful, I knew something was not right, and trusted my gut instinct to find answers.
It was a crisp, January morning and I found myself working in the Emergency Department, much like I would on any other given day. The flurry of patients had not yet arrived, and as customary practice, the staff grabbed a big breakfast from the cafeteria while we had time, knowing lunch would probably escape us grabbing some stale crackers from the pantry for what we would call lunch. Our cafeteria had really, really good food and breakfast that day was no exception. But shortly afterward, I was met with increasingly intolerable right upper quadrant pain and nausea, and it was felt that I more than likely was suffering at the hands of my gallbladder as a result of my dietary choices earlier that morning. I took a swig of Mylanta, hoping to ease the pain, only for it to continue to climb into my neck and shoulder. It was impossible for me to get comfortable, and I found myself pacing the sidewalk outside in the cold to try and ease the waves of nausea coming over me. I had horrible nausea and was breaking out in a cold sweat from the pain. Being in an Emergency Department, having pain in the chest and shoulder with nausea, we quickly obtained an EKG to rule out cardiac issues, which was normal.
Knowing something was definitely awry, I placed the call to my physician, who advised me that I probably was having a gallbladder attack and to come into the office later that afternoon. I pressed that this was far more than any gallbladder attack that I had ever cared for, and after several minutes of conversation, he finally relented and said to meet him in Labor & Delivery for IV pain medications. Upon my arrival, I was found to have an elevated blood pressure of 246/140, was agitated, combative, and disoriented. I was immediately placed on fetal monitoring, an IV was placed and labs were obtained. While awaiting the results of my labs, I had ultrasound imaging completed of my gallbladder and my unborn baby boy. It was revealed that my gallbladder was normal, but my liver was enlarged. My unborn son was showing signs of early distress, and I was taken back to the Labor and Delivery unit.
When my lab results came back, I had several abnormal lab results to include liver enzymes, platelet counts, and an alarmingly low hemoglobin and hematocrit. The labs were felt to be in error, and were repeated. In the meantime, I was put on Magnesium Sulfate for seizure prophylaxis. I was left there alone with my Dad, as my mom and sister were enroute back home from a trip to Raleigh. The repeat lab results were significantly worse than before, and they began plans to transfer me to the regional medical center, some 90 minutes away. My Dad, knowing that this was not normal, that I was not behaving appropriately, and fearing for my life, pressed the staff to “do something now” in an effort to save my life and that of my son. The physician re-evaluated the situation again, and after listening to my Dad’s concerns, proceeded to deliver my child via emergent Cesarean section. My platelets that would help clot my blood were almost nonexistent and my elevated liver enzymes made it almost impossible to metabolize the anesthesia. I was dying, and stood a very good chance of bleeding to death in the Operating Room. Fortunately, the surgery proceeded without incident, and a healthy, but tiny, baby boy was born. I was transferred to the regional hospital in critical condition, only to awaken two days later realizing the events that took place in the days prior.
Later, in conversation with my medical staff, it was revealed that they had never seen platelet counts as low as mine with liver enzymes as high as mine were to come through a surgical procedure without disasterous consequences. In fact, they had never treated a patient that had HELLP syndrome that deteriorated as fast or as far as I did. I was told repeatedly how lucky I was to have survived without brain damage, or hemorrhage. I received multiple blood transfusions, and spent a week in the hospital, but all in all, I was truly very lucky.
Looking back, had I not questioned my condition over and over to my physician, I would not have gone to the hospital that day. Had the nurse caring for me recognize the signs of HELLP syndrome and preeclampsia, she would not have pushed the physician to come immediately to evaluate me. Had my Dad not been at my side and in tune to my abnormal behavior and know that a transfer at rush hour would take much longer than normal, he would not have pressed the staff to intervene. Had no one found a voice and spoke up, I would not be writing this today.
Fast forward fifteen years, and I still suffer from lingering effects of that fateful day, but in the big scheme of things, it’s insignificant. I have a wonderful, healthy, young man that calls me mom, who is smart, athletic, and has a heart of gold. And, when I look down at my scars, I know that every single one tells our story; a story that has forged a bond between us that is unbreakable, as he knows I would give my life for him, and almost did.