The phone rang. It was the doctor.
“You need to go to the hospital,” she said.
“Can I go out with my husband first? We had plans.”
“No. You need to go the hospital RIGHT NOW.”
The year was 2002. I was 24 weeks pregnant, and I was in trouble.
I had been in to see my OB earlier in the day. She ran a test on me to see if I could possibly go into labor in the next 48 hours. The results came back positive. “But these results aren’t accurate most of the time,” I thought to myself. “They’re probably wrong.” But I went to the hospital anyway.
And I didn’t leave for three months.
I learned a lot living in the hospital during those three months, completely bedridden, and on constant drugs to stop labor. It was no picnic, let me tell you. But the result was a beautiful daughter, born at 37 weeks, weighing in at 5 lbs. 1 ounce. It was a miracle.
Looking back, I can now see the humor in much of what I experienced, as well as the wisdom I gained.
Here are ten hilarious and surprising things I learned on bedrest:
- If you are a doctor and you think of something super obvious that everybody else in the world has thought of, you get to name it after yourself.
As soon as I arrived at the hospital and was assessed, the doctor ordered that I be put in “Trendelenburg.” I had no idea what this meant. I soon figured out that it meant I would be laying down at an angle so that my head was lower than my feet. Yes! Brilliant! Let’s use gravity to keep the baby in! Really? This was so revolutionary that the doctor who first suggested this idea was forever immortalized? Man, I wish I could think of something awesome and amazing to name after myself. Like maybe if you eat while laying down and upside down, it can be called “The Melissa Method of Eating.”
2. I can eat laying down and upside down.
Once I was in that bed, I was IN that bed. I was not allowed to sit up to eat or do anything else. I spent a full month and a half with my head 15-30% below the level of my feet. (After I was 30 weeks pregnant, they let me lay flat). This presented somewhat of a problem when eating and drinking. Food was wheeled to the side of my bed, and I had to scoop the applesauce, lift my head up, stick the applesauce in, and lay my head back down. I did all this laying on my side so that I would not choke. This was particularly important while drinking water. Man, my neck muscles got so strong! And now I have sideways-upside-down-laying-down-eating-skillz. Let me tell you, they have not come in handy since.
3. Hospital food is not as bad as everybody thinks–until it is.
I don’t know about your hospital, but my hospital was fancy. They had menus. Maybe the menus were only for long-time VIP guests such as myself. Day after day, I got to order from this menu. It was delightful. I didn’t have to cook. I didn’t have to clean. Food was brought to me like I was the queen. But gradually, day by day, the food became less and less appealing. So unappealing, in fact, that I just couldn’t eat it any more. I got “Howell Hospital Food Fatigue.” (I’m just going to name everything after myself from now on). It got so bad that I lost eight pounds. But a friend from my church arranged for women to start bringing me dinners, and after that, I perked up considerably.
4. There’s nothing like a good IV in the morning.
Have you ever had a bag of saline solution? Man, it is awesome. You feel so refreshed and alive! Now I know why people say to drink twenty-billion glasses of water every day. But I’m sorry! I just can not drink all that water! How do people drink all that water? I’d really like to know how many times a day they have to go to the bathroom. Nobody ever talks about that. “Be sure to drink eight glasses of water a day! Oh, and you’ll have to go to the bathroom at least eight times a day as well!” We should be warned about the side effects of drinking so much water. Side effects like wasting half your time in the bathroom and racking up your toilet paper bill.
5. Catheters are not as bad as everybody thinks.
I have a solution for “Melissa’s Constant Peeing Problem.” (On second hand, maybe I won’t name that one after myself). It’s called a catheter. After many attempts at using a bedpan (see number 6), I think the nurses decided, “Ah, hang it,” and just gave me a catheter. I know it sounds unpleasant. I know nobody really wants one. But let me tell you the benefits. You can have your saline and pee it, too. (O.K. That’s gross. I don’t even like to use the word “pee.” It’s so undignified. But so is having a catheter). When you have a catheter, you don’t even feel like you need to go to the bathroom. And when you are pregnant, you constantly feel like you have to go to the bathroom. If a baby pushing down on your bladder isn’t enough, doctors make you drink two gallons of water and hold it every time you get an ultrasound. (Do they still make you do this? Or have things advanced to the point where this is no longer necessary?) So yeah, a catheter is great relief for the pregnant woman.
6. Bedpans are a bad as everybody thinks.
This really is too gross to talk about. Just try going to the bathroom on a bed laying down. Enough said.
7. Stabbing yourself in the leg is hard.
There are several medications that can be effective in stopping labor. One of these needs to be administered constantly with a pump. There is a small tube extending from the pump that is inserted into the leg. It’s a really small tube, so it doesn’t hurt. However, getting the tube into the leg is where we run into the problem. At the end of the tube, there is a large tack-like apparatus, with the needle portion being twice as a long as a regular tack. The idea is that you stab yourself in the leg with the tack, then remove the tack, and the tube stays inside your leg. I was supposed to do it to myself, but I just couldn’t. I always made the nurses do it. I have a general policy that prevents me from intentionally hurting myself. This policy was reaffirmed the one time I tried to wax my nether regions. I almost passed out twice–once just from thinking about it, and once when I actually attempted it.
Sometimes I try not to be a wimp, though.
I called my husband over to help me stab myself in the leg. I knew that I couldn’t do it without help. I needed a strong hand to keep me from chickening out.
I grasped the tack between my thumb and forefinger, and my husband covered my hand with his. We counted aloud together, our hands moving up and down to the beat.
“One, two, three, wait wait wait!” I breathed heavily.
“O.K. One, two, three, WAIT!” I sweated profusely.
“O.K. We’re really going to do it this time. One, two three!” His hand came down. My hand went up. I pushed and pushed while he pushed and pushed. The tack was poking my leg, but not going in.
“Stop resisting me!” my husband said in frustration. But I did not stop resisting. We finally gave up. We looked at the tack. It was bent.
And that was the last time I ever tried that.
8. You can’t run away from annoying visitors.
I am an introvert. I like to be alone. But being in a hospital for three months does get kind of lonely. It was pleasing to have visitors every once in a while. I really liked the visitors who brought me dinner and stayed for a short chat. Emphasis on the word “short.”
“So, what did you do today?” they said.
“Oh, you know, just used the bedpan, ate upside down–stuff like that.” (Actually, I never said this. I’m just trying to be funny).
I have always had trouble making small talk, but it reaches new levels of awkwardness when you can’t even excuse yourself from the situation.
The worst was when a particular lady kept coming to visit and bringing her three unruly children. They would run around the hospital room and be noisy and whiny. All the while, their mother would make threats she would not follow through on, which irked me even more. “I will never be like that!” I thought to myself. “If I threaten my kids, I will darn well follow through!” And as a mother, I have. Sort of. I think.
Anyhow, this lady would smile and go on and on, and I would get more uncomfortable and annoyed by the minute. “I don’t have time for this!” I screamed in my head. “Oh wait, I actually DO have time for this. Dangit.”
I wish I had come up with a plan for dealing with this issue. Now it is so clear to me. I could have just said, “Excuse me, I’m so sorry, but I need to call for my bedpan now.” Knowing her, she would have just said, “Oh, that’s o.k! I’ll just wait outside the room until you are done!” Tell me THAT isn’t awkward. I would rather have stabbed myself in the leg with a tack.
9. You still have a personality while laying down.
While in the hospital, I became particularly close to one nurse. She was always cheerful and fun, and I loved when she was on call. We spent hours talking and laughing together. One day, she said something about how much she liked being with me. I said, “Why? I’m just laying here.” She said, “Just because you’re laying down doesn’t mean you don’t have a personality.” It was then that I realized you don’t have to DO something to have value. You just have to BE something. And the truth is, we were all sent here to earth with infinite value, with no effort on our part. Nothing can add to our worth, or take a way from it. We are all truly equal in the sight of God. We were all sent here with a little something special that we can use to bless the world and those around us–even if we are laying down.
10. Just because you’re on bedrest, it doesn’t mean you’re not doing anything.
The most common question I got from visitors was, “What do you DO all day?” It was a good question, and one that made me feel guilty. I had given up on listening to music, because it got stuck in my head and I couldn’t sleep. (Sorry Josh Groban, but you tormented me). T.V. didn’t interest me. I didn’t write in my journal. I barely read books. Honestly, I don’t remember what the heck I did. I just know that I didn’t write the great American novel. I didn’t make any handicrafts for the poor, or for the future beautification of my home. I didn’t think great thoughts or do anything that would make the world a better place.
I was lamenting about all of this to my favorite nurse when she told me the perfect thing to say when people asked, “What did you do today?”
“I made an ear! What did you do?”
While I wasn’t doing anything, I was really doing the greatest thing of all–creating another human being. I was staying in that bed and using that dang bedpan and almost stabbing myself in the leg and eating upside down and suffering through visits of annoying people, all in an effort to create an ear, a hand, a head, and a heart. And you know what? It was all worth it.
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