Definitely posted this – before explaining anything – on accident this morning! I’m sorry!
So here’s the story.
On the Monday after Thanksgiving, I was feeling a wave of manic second wind energy. I had slept terribly every night at my parents’ house. We were all fighting a cold, and I had felt achey and sick a few days earlier. But Monday, I woke up determined to conquer the school week and get back into our routine.
I had cleaned the house, done the laundry, picked up Henry from preschool, went to Whole Foods and got some groceries for dinner, picked up Will from school, dropped off the car at the auto shop behind our neighborhood to get it inspected for the car taxes, walked a mile home with all three, nursed the baby, and started dinner… and it was 4:15. I was happily making my favorite dinner of all time when it suddenly hit me that I was feeling really, really not good.
I went and laid down in my bed. I had all these aches all over, like I was coming down with a flu. But like, in hyperdrive. I texted Jason that I was feeling sick all of a sudden. He left work immediately.
4:30 … I was shivering uncontrollably. My teeth were chattering, even when I changed into sweatpants, a sweater, my husbands thick black socks, and laid under our down comforter. I couldn’t get warm.
4:45… I tried to get up to finish the dinner. When I tried to walk, I had a wave of nausea and dizziness. I had to crawl back into bed.
5:00… breathing was harder, and it was hurting my right side of my chest to take a breath in. My fingers and feet started going numb.
At this point, Jason walked in the door. He wanted to go to Urgent Care right away, and I was stubborn. I didn’t have any real symptoms, its just a flu or some kind of virus, they’ll just look at me and tell me to ride it out and take a motrin.
He looked dubious and went into the kitchen to finish making the dinner.
I was laying there, feeling worse by the minute it seemed, and I had this little prick of a memory… our old pediatrician had once told me, it’s not the number that makes a fever worrisome – its how fast it gets higher. I realized that it wasn’t a normal virus to make me go from feeling great to feeling like death within an hour. I told Jason I would let him take me to the doctor.
My wonderful brother and his sweet wife came straight over to our house to feed the kids and put them down. Jason put my coat on and had to practically carry me to the car. The whole time I was trying to cope with whatever was going on in my body, and also just maintain consciousness cause I was having a hard time focusing.
Urgent Care, the doctor looked at me and had an ambulance there in 10 minutes. My blood pressure was really low and going lower, and they thought from the difficulty I was having breathing, that I possibly had a blood clot.
The ER was a daze for me. The nurses (and the ambulance ENTs) treated me pretty casually. I was young, a healthy weight, and didn’t have too many symptoms. Even though I was having a hard time breathing, they didn’t understand that I was in really bad pain. To be fair, I guess 4 out of 5 cases coming in there are playing it up. They took some blood in triage and sent me to get an X-ray of my chest. The x-ray guy told me I had to stand for the scan and I threw up. He asked Jason, “Are you sure she’s not pregnant?” which, even in my foggy brained state, really annoyed me… I am hurting, you idiot!! Jason told me later he thought I was going to pass out and hit my head, and he was really pissed too.
The scans showed that I had pneumonia in my right lung. The ER doctor came in pretty cheerfully and said I’d feel great in about 12-24 hours after they gave me my antibiotic. She left and we were in there for a few more minutes. I don’t know exactly what happened – the entire evening is really hazy – but I think that this is when my lab results came back. Suddenly ICU nurses showed up and were telling me I was going to be ok, and pushing my bed pretty quickly down the hall to ICU.
My white blood cell count was over 17,000 (I guess normal is under 10,000?); and my blood pressure was continuing to dip lower and lower. There were a few other indicators that I guess made them realize I didn’t just have pneumonia, I was in stage one of sepsis.
This whole time I didn’t understand how deadly the situation was. I was still in pain; I was dazed; I was really worried about my breastfeeding baby; and I had thought I was going home.
They hooked me up to a ton of wires. I had a blood pressure cuff on my arm, a thick IV with multiple things going into it in the crook of each arm, wires taped to my chest; and something on my finger.
There were three nurses coming in and out all night, monitoring my vitals and administering new medicine. They wouldn’t let me eat anything because at this point they weren’t sure they wouldn’t have to do surgery on one of my organs, and all the drugs on my empty stomach made me feel so awful.
The next morning the doctors told me I would likely be there in ICU all week, or at least until Thursday. They had found bacteria in my blood stream, which had apparently made my body go septic; in addition to monitoring my urine output, my vitals, flushing me with fluids and three different antibiotics, they couldn’t send me to a regular hospital room until I was off the blood pressure medication for a full day.
This was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I cried every time I thought of my babies at home; especially my sweet, snuggly 8 month old! They had brought me a breast pump and I pumped every three hours, hoping I could keep my supply up, even though I had to dump it all down the drain because of all the meds.
My doctor told me later that the hospital tested me for AIDS because they were so puzzled by how sick I had gotten, while being so young and apparently healthy. (I don’t have AIDS).
I kind of knew why though. I had ignored signs over the last month that I was pushing myself too hard. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was chronically exhausted; I was fine if nothing unexpected came up, but if something did, I had no extra wiggle room or energy stores or time in the day. I had been teaching a faith formation class at my church every Sunday, I had started back with my part time writing work, and I had been in non-stop GO mode, in addition to just feeding and caring for my three children, who all have different schedules and needs at this stage of life. In addition to exclusively breastfeeding and night-waking with an 8 month old infant.
Maybe I am being overdramatic, or wrongfully guilting myself when it wasn’t my fault… but I truly felt that if I had been living my life slower and gentler, this wouldn’t have happened. Even though the transition to three kids was an exciting one for me – I was finally able to get out of the house every day for my eldest’s school; I was loving my time with my baby; I was emotionally and hormonally in a great place… physically, I had had a lot of signs that I was pushing myself too hard.
But other moms can do it! I would think. I would look at the moms I knew who had more kids than I did, or full time jobs, or both. They made it look so easy! And I admire them so much! But I knew in the hospital I was wrong to do that. I needed the humility to recognize my own, personal, unique limitations and be at peace with them.
There in my lonely hospital room, I didn’t care about ANY of that extra stuff that had filled up my plate so much and kept me so busy… I just wanted to be hanging out on the couch in my living room, cuddling my baby, watching my 3 year old wrestle on the rug with my 5 year old. I wanted to go home and be their mom. That was all.
God is so good. He enabled me to go home Thursday night, just when I was crying to Jason because I had hoped they would discharge me from ICU and instead they sent me up to a hospital bed. My nurse bumped into my doctor and she got her to come check me out so I could immediately go home – under strict orders to rest and not relapse.
He blessed me with a baby who picked up right where we left off with nursing! I was so afraid he would bite me, or refuse it, or that my supply wouldn’t meet his demands.
Oh no. This sweet baby loves our set up…
He blessed me with a mother in law who had come and stocked my pantry, deep cleaned my house and did all of my laundry.
He blessed me with a mother who took a whole week off work to come and help me recuperate. My mom took the baby monitor every night, she did all the school drop offs and pick ups, she baked cookies for me, and mopped my floors. Here she is jumping in the leaves with the older boys on Saturday:
He blessed me with a community at my son’s school who signed up to bring me dinners for 3 weeks. I feel really guilty accepting this generosity, since it’s a hard time of year to do this!! But my dear friend who set it up scolded me that it’s our pride that makes us not want to let people help us. I know she’s right.
My week in the hospital was a big wake up call that I have a lot of pride I need to let go of. I quit everything on my drive home. I prayed about it and talked about it with my husband. We agreed that, if I didn’t take some concrete steps to commit to a slower, gentler pace, I might really regret it.
It was really hard, especially, to quit Faith Formation in the middle of the year. I know it is so hard for them to find teachers. I remembered a really powerful confession I once made though – where my favorite priest shocked me with his response when I confessed not taking enough time for personal prayer. “You have to get used to the fact that you were not called to be a nun,” he said sternly. “Your path to holiness is NOT apart from your husband and children. It is WITH and THROUGH them.”
This same priest, who had called my husband when I was in the hospital to assure us of his prayers, texted Jason when we were discharged: “God be praised. Now go home and witness grace in the flesh.”
I tear up thinking about that even now. It so perfectly reflected the image of what I wanted so badly when I was laying in my hospital bed; I wanted to be where I belong, where I am called to be, and that is all. I wanted to receive the grace that God has been offering me in the simple duties of my household; in serving my children and loving my husband. In bringing about the kingdom of God in my quiet, humble house.
In a way, it is the Christmas message. Jesus, our messiah, came to the world to save us, but as a baby into a humble family. And He stayed quietly and contentedly in that family, in “the school of nazareth“, for ten times as long as His public ministry on earth lasted. There are seasons He calls us to do more than we thought we could do; but there are also seasons He asks us to step back, to fast from feeling accomplished, and to dwell happily in a season of hiddenness, however long it lasts.
Jason went out with the boys to get a Christmas tree for us the Saturday after I came home. It has been a cozy week recuperating at home, in the glow of the Christmas lights, with the Carpenters playing in the background, and the smell of sugar cookies from my sister’s afternoon visits. I am hopeful for a cozy winter ahead, where I can learn more from the hidden years in Nazareth, and rejoice in the blessing of a boring, happy home.