Memphis, TN

How One Woman Nearly Died Giving Birth at a Memphis hospital

Tara Blair Ball

Eighteen hours after a scheduled c-section, my then-husband had to wonder, “How am I going to raise twins on my own?”

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Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash

The not quite so funny thing about medical malpractice lawsuits is the emphasis on long-term physical effects. Emotional pain and suffering are add-on complaints. What really matters is if you would forever never be able to form words or perform simple tasks with your writing hand.

It would not matter if you had a terribly harrowing experience if it had not left some devastating physical reminder. Emotional distress or pain and suffering cannot well be quantified if they exist alone.

I know this because I nearly died at a hospital, right outside Memphis, eighteen hours after my children were born, and I contacted five lawyers afterward to try to sue. I was not looking for money, though it would have been a perk. I was looking mostly for the hospital to pay me back somehow for my lost time at such a crucial point with my children, but also so they would never do to someone else what had been done to me.

No Memphis lawyer would represent me, and after the fifth rejection, I did not try any further. Each asked, “And there’s nothing wrong with you now?”

“Other than emotional distress to both me and my husband, no,” I said.

“Well, that’s not enough,” one said flippantly. I did not hold it against him because he knows how it works and I get it. I needed to be damaged in a way that would make jury members cry.

But nothing felt more devastating to me, a first-time mother, and my then-husband than nurses taking care of our infant twins for twelve hours while I slipped in and out of consciousness and my husband at the time waiting to see if I was going to die. He thought I was going to. The nursing staff suspected that I might at least wake up brain-damaged (then I could have sued), but medical malpractice lawsuits for the big bucks need devastating clinchers. I was instead a success story.

To explain how I nearly died when my twins were just eighteen hours old takes a lot of details.

In 2015, I became pregnant with twins. A twin pregnancy is immediately a high-risk pregnancy. I had to see an obstetrician as well as a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist first every week and then twice a week as I got further along. Both were some of the best in Memphis.

My babies developed fine with no issues.

Late into my pregnancy, though, I developed cholestasis, a gestational liver disease. Cholestasis, to babies, is extremely dangerous. My liver was not processing bile and instead, dumping it in my bloodstream. My babies’ livers were trying to process it, which was stressing their livers. The stress could make them want to exit my womb early in a dangerous preterm birth or just die inside of me.

I was put on medication and my visits to both the OB and the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist were upped to three times a week, and I would now have a scheduled c-section at 37 weeks.

It was eighteen hours after that scheduled c-section when I nearly died, when my then-husband had to wonder, “How am I going to raise twins on my own?”

It all started out just fine.

A c-section, I am told, is a grotesque procedure: the incising of the abdomen, the fact of having hands and medical equipment in places they are not meant to go.

My son was removed first at 12:31 pm. My daughter followed suit at 12:32 pm. Both cried. Both were perfect.

The placenta that had grown my daughter was not perfect. A normal placenta detaches easily after birth; hers had grown deeply into my uterine wall and had to be ripped free causing excessive bleeding or a “postpartum hemorrhage.” Another physician and more nurses were called in.

I had no idea anything bad was happening. I only knew that the doctor and nursing staff were doing something inside me that made me feel queasy. I turned my head and dry-heaved. At some point, the bleeding stopped and they cauterized and stitched me.

The doctor told me in recovery that I had lost a lot of blood.

“Since you were pregnant with twins, you already have a lot of blood volume, so there was no reason to do a transfusion.”

Pregnant women are amazing creatures. Our blood volume doubles to create one new child. My body was carrying likely 60% or more extra blood to create my two.

“How much blood did I lose?” I asked.

“At least 1500 ccs. You’ll be fine. You just need to take an iron supplement for two weeks and be aware that you’ll likely feel more than usually fatigued for a while,” she said.

The use of “at least 1500 cc’s” is important because it is hard to gauge how much blood a patient loses at any given time. To put it in perspective, a single can of soda would contain 350 ccs of blood. I lost at least four soda cans of blood.

If a healthy adult loses 1000 or more cc’s of blood, a blood transfusion is necessary to save their life.

My doctor chose not to give me a blood transfusion.

When I met with the anesthesiologist the day of my c-section, he asked me, “Have you ever had any issues with anesthesia?”

“Yes. Sometimes I need more,” I said.

I think it was saying this that precipitated what happened next since it was this same anesthisiologist who was in charge of my post-surgery pain maintenance.

After the pain medication administered to me during the surgery wore off, I was given doses of Dilaudid and Oxycodone.

Each time my nurse asked me my level of pain on a scale of one to ten, I told her, “It’s about a four, but if I laugh or cough, it’s about a nine.” In my medical records, it shows she wrote down a nine every time.

The nurse maxed out my pain medication dosage, administering it to me every four hours. My then-husband questioned her about why she was giving me so much, but she said the amount they were giving me had been approved by the anesthesiologist.

Soon after the nurse shift change after midnight, I became so tired that I started nodding off while I was attempting to hold a pump.

My then-husband told our new nurse this.

“Honey, she just had two babies. She’s going to be tired,” she told him.

“But she’s nodding out,” he said.

“You’ll just need to both try to get some rest while your babies are sleeping.”

Around one in the morning, my then-husband alerted the nurse that I was unconscious. Our babies were sent to the nursery where they were bottle-fed formula by the nurses while my then-husband stayed by my side convinced he was going to watch me die.

MRI and CAT scans and bloodwork were done. Nothing was conclusive.

I regained consciousness sporadically.

My doctor asked me every time I resurfaced:

“Who are you? Why are you here? What year is it? What’s your birthday? Who’s the president? Who is that man over there [pointing at my then husband]? Who am I?”

I was only ever able to answer two questions correctly: who the man was in the room (my then-husband) and who the president was (Obama). When they asked me who I was, my then-husband said I looked blank and puzzled. When they asked me why I was in the hospital that I rattled off something about a car accident. When they told me I was in the hospital because I had just had my children, I said, “Yeah, okay,” like I did not believe them. When they asked me what year it was, I was convinced it was 2012 (it was 2016).

I remember one of these times, or sort of.

I was on a gurney looking at three medical personnel. I remember being asked questions and trying to search my brain for the answers and not being able to find them. I grew frustrated and started banging my hands on the gurney rails. Two nurses then came to either side of me and physically restrained me. I tried to kick at one and bite the other.

“She’s becoming violent,” they said, which seemed an oddly stupid thing to say about someone who has just tried to kick and bite you.

One then said, “Give it to her,” and I felt the sting of a needle in my arm followed by my whole body relaxing followed by slipping again into darkness.

But my then-husband said this never happened.

I did not entirely regain consciousness until twelve hours later, after my third dose of Narcan. Narcan is a medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. Doses one and two had had no effect on me. From my medical records, it is implied that they did not know what else to do other than administer the third one. I was a postpartum woman on their watch who could not remain conscious and they had no idea why.

Twenty minutes after I received the third dose of Narcan, I was conscious and fine. My then-husband wept.

I could not take it in at the time how amazingly lucky I am and was. I understood little how awful it had been because the business of waking up meant now, too, the business of taking care of two infants.

When I brought up issues with my care before we checked out of that hospital, we were assured that every medical staff member that had assisted me had done exactly what they were supposed to, that what had happened to me was a “fluke.”

An “independent” audit was done later that agreed with every choice that was made.

After none of the five lawyers I contacted would represent me, I let it go.

An acquaintance told me, “You should be grateful that you’re fine today and don’t have any grounds to sue.”

She was and is right. I am grateful. Thank God I am not dead or have debilitating brain damage. Thank God I am able to be present and parent my children now years later.

She is also a jerk.

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Certified Relationship Coach and Writer. E-mail: tarablairball@gmail.com

Memphis, TN
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