“OK, Laura, we are ready to begin.” Dr. Bates and the technician flank me. An unfamiliar nurse joins them, stationed just out of view at the foot of the table. At least three of the five people in the room are prepared for this. Majority rules. This is proceeding. “Just lie as still as possible. Any movement could be dangerous for the baby.”
Like a snail slinking back into its shell, my mind retreats. I am not listening to Dr. Bates as she starts explaining how the procedure will play out. I await the horror show in my head: commencement of daunting music, the dimming of lights, the shadows on the wall creeping up on me. I know there is a giant needle waiting to penetrate the skin of my stomach at any moment, but I just don’t know where it is lurking.
My mind darts back and forth between how much the giant needle will hurt, and how we just found out our baby girl is going to die. The former feels completely selfish. Yet, trying not to think about the needle is impossible. I’m reminded of a psychology experiment I learned about many years ago in school. When people were asked to not think about a pink elephant, they thought about a pink elephant. When asked to think about something else, they stopped thinking about a pink elephant. Think about anything other than the pink elephant.
Along side the needle imagery, the words “any movement could be dangerous for the baby” squeeze through. The ominous words are disheartening. I know my baby is not going to live. Yet there is more harm that can be done. I cannot hurt my baby. I will not hurt my baby. Awkwardly, my hands lie on the table, then on my torso, then one at a time they slink back onto table. (pink elephant) A tremble starts from my knees, ascending up to my hips. The more I try to calm the quivering, the harder it is to do. (pink elephant) That is my last movement. I am a corpse, stuck in a frameless coffin.
Dr. Bates narrates the procedure. “We will take some time with the ultrasound to watch the baby,” I don’t want to know! silently screams in my head. My eyes plead with her to stop. She averts her gaze, trying not to notice. “Don’t worry if that takes several minutes,” I don’t care! “We need to be sure to find a safe place to insert the needle.” (pink elephant) “Then I’ll use this long needle, which is very thin, to go through the wall of your stomach, and then through the uterine wall,” (pink elephant) Different thought! Quick! “I only need to get about two tablespoons worth of fluid, although it may seem like more to you.” The grim words cease now. I don’t want to be in this body.
The nurse abruptly grabs my ankles. The silent words again shout in my head, so THAT’S why this foreigner is here! I had hoped she would just stand aside, smile kindly, maybe send a reassuring thumbs up my way. Instead, she pushes down, my heels digging into the table. She doesn’t let go. Hysteria floods my thoughts, cracking my physical calm. My baby will be hurt. I cannot move. This mantra is all I cling to as I try to calm the shaking emanating from deep within my soul. Around me, the medical trio continue, each doing her own thing: The nurse’s hands grip my ankles tightly, Dr. Bates’s hand pokes at my stomach, the technician’s ultrasound wand swiping easily across my skin.
With Jason safely by my side, holding my hand. My energy, my thoughts, my fears are directed to him. His hand is warm, tight around my fingers. I’m afraid to have my arm outstretched enough to maintain this hold, but no one seems to mind.
What I am certain has been 30 minutes has only been 10. (pink elephant) Thoughts running wild again, I cannot control the now!…. now!…. now! trying to predict the very moment of ingress. Rubbing some iodine on my stomach, Dr. Bates indicates they have found a safe way in for the needle. “You will feel a poke now.” (pink elephant) At first, it’s just a bee sting on my skin, but that is only the initiation. The needle deliberately slides through each layer of flesh: the top, the middle, and finally the inside of my torso.
“Laura, now I’m going to get the needle into the uterus. You may feel some pressure,” says Dr. Bates, Queen of Minimization.
(pink elephant! pink elephant! pink elephant!) The needle, digging deep, grazes the outer edge of my uterus. She pushes, hard, through the organ wall. I feel the the tissue give in to the intrusive needle. Squeezing my eyes shut allows me the only movement I dare to do. A single tear threatens to form in the inside corner of my right eye. Slowly it releases, rolling down my cheek. I turn my head slightly. Don’t let anyone see it. Stay still. Stay brave. I cannot move enough to succeed. My fingers are lightly squeezed. Jason notices my distress. He leans in, close to my ear and whispers, “It’s almost over, Babe. You’re doing great. Hang in there.”
Dr. Bates notes Jason noting the distress, “Are you OK, Laura?” All I can do is nod my head in quick, manic bursts. The pain penetrates through my abdomen. If I open my mouth a large sob, or worse, would come out.
When I reach the point at which I can no longer be sure I will keep it together, I feel the sliding of the foreign object from my insides. (pink elephant) I no longer care about how it makes me feel. I want her to do it faster. The moment the needle escapes my stomach, she states “It’s out.” Relief mentally. (good riddance, pink elephant!) Relief physically. The perfectly maintained setting disintegrates. The lights turn on. My eye liberates another tear. My feet move side to side, stretching out the cramp induced by restraint. Cleanup of my belly begins. The iodine and gel swirl together to make a dark wave on the magenta waistband of my pants.
“Will that come out?” Jason asks the nurse.
“Well, unfortunately, iodine usually stains. We tried to keep things covered up. We apologize for that.” A dark stain. A ghastly prognosis. A dismal day.
“Now, you guys were informed earlier that this test comes with its risks. We advise that for the next 48-72 hours you get plenty of rest, and don’t over-work yourself. In fact, it’s often a good idea to stay home from work, if you can, and take it easy. Let your husband take care of you for a while.”
With the compassion of a saint, Jason helps me off the table, guides my arms into my coat. I lean into his strength, some lingering fears keeping me from moving completely on my own.
Huddled and somber, we are allowed to leave. Small cramps start, I hunch slightly. I decline Jason’s offer to get the car. It is late, the sun is gone from the sky, the cold air bites at our skin. Slowly, silently, we shuffle home.