Planning for emergencies

Why it keeps happening is unexplained, but it does seem that we can expect it to keep happening.

After week of normality, I experienced another big bleed on Thursday night, in the middle of the night. I had been out for a lovely evening with friends and my husband had been in to London to see a band. He was home, I got up for a glass of water at about 01:30 am. We had a brief chat about what nice evenings we’d both had, and then, whoosh, I was covered in blood again.

We knew what we were supposed to do. I phoned the labour ward and explained the situation. They told us to come in. Since the bleed seemed to have stopped and there had been and was no pain whatsoever, I drove. Whilst my husband wasn’t drunk, he had had a couple of drinks during the evening, so driving would have been unwise. I specifically asked the duty midwife whether it would be OK for me to drive – had the advice been ‘no’, we would have taken a taxi.  I hasten to add that, at 28 weeks, I really don’t think its unreasonable to carry on with some kind of normality. However, under the circumstances of constant uncertainty, we have now reviewed this high risk ‘going out’ policy.

On the way to the hospital we saw an owl, which was pretty cool. But we were rather too preoccupied to really enjoy our Springwatch moment.

Upon arrival we were shown into the maternity triage area and I was treated to the usual procedures of monitoring, blood tests, cannulation, internal exam, showing people the contents of my underwear etc. This time we even got a scan. Was I in pain? No, except for the needles and intimate examinations. This, once again, didn’t seem to be the onset of early labour. Whilst we were being seen, another lady was brought in who was in labour. I think that this was the first time that my husband had ever heard someone in pain like that before (i.e. in real life, not how its portrayed on the telly). I think he found it really rather alarming.

By about 5, it had been agreed that rest and monitoring were the way to go, However, the labour ward was full, so we were put in a delivery suite for the remainder of the night. I had the bed, my husband had a beanbag on the floor. He commented that the beanbag was somewhat lacking in beans. We put this down to NHS cuts. (Bloody Tories!) I was also given an(other) anti-D injection due to my Rhesus -ive status. Apparently you can’t overdose someone on this, so I can expect another jab every time I’m in, as well as the routine one I’m getting next week from my midwife.

We got a couple of hours’ sleep and then were transferred to the Observation ward. This was a private room, which was nice. More monitoring, and baby continues to do well as far as heartbeat and movement are concerned. I was not being fed, which is of some concern, because that means that someone, somewhere thinks that surgery could still be on the table (so to speak). My husband went in search of food (he brought me back a croissant, but I had to wait to get permission to eat it). As we awaited the doctor’s rounds, we realised that we could overhear the phone calls being made at the desk just outside my room. The patient under discussion was me, and there seemed to be some degree of disbelief over the position of my placenta. The doctor doesn’t believe that my placenta praevia could have resolved so much between 20 and 27 weeks. This is consistent with what we were originally told; it might move, but it has a long way to go, so we shouldn’t hold out much hope of that happening. But, according to the scan last week, move it has. She’s not convinced and another scan is required. I am sent, by wheelchair, to radiography. It’s weird being wheeled around. i feel like a bit of a fraud, but I don’t have a choice.

The scan confirmed that the placenta has moved, and that everything is looking good. There was still no obvious bleed site, so, really we’re no further forward, except for confirming something that today’s consultant thought was unlikely, but which was, in fact, true.

After this, I was allowed to eat, and the staff on the observation ward arranged for me to be sent upstairs to the slightly less observationy communal ward. They just needed to check that the bleeding had stopped. I was happy to comply, and sat up, and Gush. The clock started again. I’m not going anywhere for 24 hours. On the plus side, I got to stay in the private room, which is good because I’ve just bled all over it.

Fortunately, the rest of that evening and night passed without further incident, although I did manage to get a couple of hours ‘off cannula’ in the evening. I got a new one before going to sleep, though. No-one wants to have to put in a new one in a midnight emergency. I was told by the evening doctor that no-one knows what keeps causing the bleeding, but that they’re going to treat it as if it is the placenta. Better safe than sorry. It’s a balancing act; as long as the baby is fine, they’ll leave it in as its far better off where it is. However, if the baby starts to become distressed, or growth doesn’t carry on as normal, it could mean that the placenta is failing, and then they’d take the baby out as, at that point, it would be better off in an incubator. Hopefully those things won’t happen, though.

Another morning, another doctor. The same ‘we don’t know so we’re going to be cautious’ message. It was the same doctor that we saw on Tuesday. No, it looks like I can’t keep away, lol. Actually, I do keep running into medical staff when I’m out and about (by which I mean walking between my bed and the toilet), and they greet me like old friends. I’ve been here too long.

So, my current instructions are to take it very seriously, keep as active as I can but don’t go too far from the hospital. I can go back to work (assuming that work will have me) as long as I come straight back to hospital if there is any further pain or blood or anything else that might cause concern. As long as my and the baby’s obs are good on the evening rounds, I will be free.

I spent the rest of the afternoon upstairs on the regular ward. The food, which has been good up until now, was rather hit and miss on Saturday and I got an egg salad sandwich in place of the ordered macaroni cheese, but I was hungry, so I ate it. Dinner took its sweet time, too, and by the time it arrived, I was laying flat so that they could listen to the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor. My husband had to spoon feed it to me in bit size chunks. As if this wasn’t a strange enough experience, at the same time the lady in the next bay, separated from me by a curtain went in to labour very quickly after her baby kicked her hard enough in the cervix to break her waters (she was overdue, so they were probably ready to go). Less than metre away, my husband was leaning over all the machines trying not to get ketchup on everything whilst this poor woman was begging for an epidural. It wasn’t funny really, but it was such an odd situation, that, whilst we and I were trying to be quiet and discrete, we were failing because we kept getting the giggles. You couldn’t make it up, but there is a comedy sketch in there somewhere.

I’m back home now, enjoying the comforts that that entails, hoping we don’t have to return to hospital anytime soon.

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48 hours on the labour ward

I am a walking life support machine. For the moment, this is my only and most important function. It’s a really big responsibility, and, on Tuesday of last week, it looked like I might be breaking down. The diagnosis at 22 weeks of placenta praevia (PP) meant that any spotting whatsoever had to be taken very, very seriously indeed. The issue with PP is that, if you get a bleed, it is usually a precursor to future, more significant and serious bleeds. These are caused by weakening or tears in the placenta, which, if they become worse, can cause it to stop functioning. To manage the risk to both mother and baby in the case of increasingly catastrophic bleed scenarios a decision is usually made, once a bleed gets to about a pints’ worth of loss, to perform an emergency c-section and put the baby in an incubator. The very grave warning to take my diagnosis of PP very seriously indeed was written all over my notes, but no spotting had manifested, and things seemed to be going very ‘normally’.

Until Tuesday of last week, when at 26.6 weeks, with a lack of pain that would almost have convinced me that I had experienced a failure of bladder, I found myself soaked in blood. I was asked for descriptions of how much several times on Tuesday evening, and the best I can do is to say that my underwear was soaked, but it didn’t hit the floor. This equates to about 30ml, apparently. Enough to raise all kinds of alarms.

I was at work, fortunately not teaching (it was the end of lunchtime), and I had gone out of my office to find a student from my tutor group whose birthday it was as I had bought a cupcake for him (a little tradition we have in our class), but had forgotten to give to him in tutor time. Not an especially strenuous activity. Having delivered the cake and birthday greetings, I felt that something was ‘not right’ and went to the toilet next to the school matron’s office. There, I found that I was soaked in blood. I had already given matron the number of the labour ward so that it would be on hand should anything happen such as this, given the PP diagnosis, and I asked her to call it, and an ambulance. I felt surreally calm; I had been warned that this might happen, and now it was happening, and so I had to deal with it. I phoned my husband. There is no way of not sounding alarmist when you tell your husband that, at just under 27 weeks pregnant, you have experienced a significant bleed and are awaiting ambulance transportation to hospital. The same can be said for telling your mother, too.

By the time I had spoken to the midwife at the 999 call centre about the details, the ambulance had arrived and the bleeding had subsided. It was a paramedic and car, rather than a full-blown ambulance, and my blood pressure etc. was taken. Having decided that I could be taken in the car, and after the laying down of an absorbent sheet on the passenger side, I was transferred to Stoke Mandeville labour ward. I was feeling, as usual, some discomfort under my ribs (totally unrelated muscular issue which I have been experiencing for a few weeks), and I kept reassuring the driver that the associated wincing and facial contortions were down to that, and that I was not going into labour in the car.

My husband arrived about 10 minutes after I did, and, from the look of him, was in a much worse state of shock than I was. I was seen and assessed quickly by a midwife who kept calling my husband ‘Dad’ which I could see he found confusing as its not yet a term of address that he has associated with himself. Having been poked and prodded by doctors, we were visited by a team of consultants, the most senior of whom informed me that ‘my maternity leave had just started’ and that I could ‘expect more and heavier bleeds’. I wasn’t going anywhere tonight.

I was installed on the labour ward and my husband dispatched to fetch the overnight bag which we really should have packed when we were given the original PP diagnosis. I was cannulated, given a fish and chip supper, a raspberry pudding and an incredibly painful steroid injection in the backside. My assessment of these developments; if you are in hospital and they cannulate you, you are not going anywhere. If they feed you, they are not anticipating operating on you immanently. If they give you a massive injection, it still has the potential to all get a bit serious. Steroid injections are given when there is a chance that a baby might need to be delivered early. These injections are given, 2, 24 hours apart, to assist with the development of the baby’s lungs in order that respiratory complications after birth are minimised. Better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them. They chuffin’ hurt, though.

Throughout these proceedings the baby was monitored and was active, healthy and apparently completely unbothered by the medical emergency in which is was involved. This was obviously very reassuring.

That night on the ward, I hardly slept and kept imagining that I would find myself covered in blood at any moment. That didn’t happen, though, and I was relieved to be fed again in the morning (so surgery still not immanent). I was told I would be scanned at lunchtime and my husband was going to return in time to accompany me to that. However, a slot became available at about 11am, so I went on my own. The news was good. The PP has resolved, the placenta iss now a good 2cm away from the cervix; a ‘safe’ distance. Even better, it showed no signs of damage or bleeding. In fact, where the bleed had come from was a mystery, with no obvious bleed site anywhere to be seen. The baby, meanwhile, continues to grow well, and seems active and healthy. In the absence of evidence of anything more sinister, the bleed has been attributed to a burst varicose vein. However, the sonographer noted that my cervix has become shortened (thankfully still closed), but this gives us something new to worry about. It seems that we have exchanged the PP diagnosis for the possibility of early labour. It’s less dramatic, but not the ‘normal’ prognosis that I was hoping for.

Back on the ward for a second night, I was fed again (yay!) and the cannula was removed. Red alert had officially been stood down. I still had to endure round two of the pain-tastic butt jabs, but, better done than not done. The consultant has said that the shortened cervix presents ‘no significant clinical concerns at this time’, and I have been released to laze about in my own bed. We have to go in and see another consultant on Tuesday afternoon to find out what the plan will be for the rest of this pregnancy – house rest, bed rest, carry on as normal etc. and I am, of course, on constant vigil for anything else untoward, which would require immediate return to hospital.

The only one who has been seemingly unaffected by all of this has been the baby, which, on Thursday morning gave myself and the duty midwife the proper run around (at 27 weeks, it still has plenty of room to change position) when they were trying to do its obs. It was being very uncooperative; it wouldn’t stay still and kept kicking the doppler probe. I had to literally chase it round my tummy with the machine for an hour and still we couldn’t get a good reading, although it was obvious to all that baby was alive and well in there. I guess that’s the price you pay for giving your baby steroids!

So now its just a case of waiting to see what happens next and hoping that its all normal and non-emergency in nature. Stay in there, baby, not too much longer to go!

Time and money: just one of those things?

Written 15th November, 2014

After another week with very occasional light spotting, my nerves could take it no longer. The two weeks between the 6 week and the 8 week scan, given that babies #1 and #2 went between 6-7 weeks after seeing a heartbeat (normally regarded as a sign that all is on track and well) was making me anxious enough; the spotting was pushing me over the edge. I phoned the EPU and left a message asking for advice. They offered me an extra reassurance scan yesterday. I must say, for all my reservations about going back there, they have been very good to me so far. (Although my husband hates the car park with a passion because the card reader is out of order and the notes feeder doesn’t give change. It’s been like this for 3 years…).

Despite instigating this extra scan myself, I was filled with feelings of dread and doom from the moment it was booked. One of my current problems is that I get tired very early in the evening and end up going to bed at about 9-9:30, but I also get very hungry, so hungry I can’t ignore it, which wakes me up in the middle of the night (I’m a secret night-time yogurt eater). As a result of this combination of symptoms and the stress of the anticipation of the scan, I was laying away at 3 am the two night preceding the appointment wondering how the hell I was going to cope if it all went wrong again. How would I manage work? I am supposed to be leading a school trip next week, who will take the kids? How will I get everything sorted? How will I get the right care sorted for my ERPC, should I need one? Will I trust local services to do it, or will I run away to another hospital? Too many thoughts, driving me mad. I am not enjoying the psychological legacy of three missed miscarriages.

As it turns out, we have actually made time since last week’s scan. We’ve gone from 6.1 weeks (where I thought I was 6.3, and hence assumed all kinds of disasters) to 8.0 on the button, which is about 3 days ahead of where I expected to be. Of course, it’s a matter of fractions of millimeters at this stage, so no-one is concerned. The little heart is fluttering away (and so is the big one!), and we can say that another milestone has been reached. Phew! We were in and out in under 10 minutes today, and even managed to have a tummy scan rather than the undignified internal one (is it weird that I felt slightly cheated? I’m used to getting a closer look…). Although we are not even close to the edge of the woods yet, we are past ‘danger point #1’, and I am feeling encouraged (for now).

What’s the difference? I’m putting it down to the ‘magical’ combination of progesterone (400mg, twice daily) and heparin (those dreaded daily pricks – my husband does them – I can’t seem to find the nerve). I am so grateful to the team at Coventry for putting me on this course of treatment (http://www.uhcw.nhs.uk/our-services/a-z-of-services/consultants?cID=341). I believe that, without it, I would not have got past 7 weeks again. I am more convinced than ever that have not experienced bad luck, but suffered from a failure to properly investigate, diagnose and treat an underlying medical problem. Whilst I realise that funding is a serious issue, I also wonder, on balance, how much has been spent on the 6 lots of surgery I have undergone. I can never know, but my instincts tell me that the treatment plan I am on now might have saved #2.

I still think that taking aspirin as a precautionary measure prior to conceiving #3 may have interfered with implantation sufficiently to allow a Turner Syndrome baby to take hold, and, I wonder whether, had I not been taking it whether that one would have implanted at all. This is all speculation, of course. Lots more medical research is needed with much bigger, scientifically regulated, double blind trials to answers these questions once and for all. I’m very pleased to read that Tommy’s are going to launch a new early miscarriage research centre (https://www.tommys.org/new-research-centre). I expect many of my hunches will be borne out in the coming years, and couples won’t have to endure 3 miscarriages and be fobbed off with the ‘bad luck’ line in years to come. Getting real answers, sooner, if the tests are quick and reliable, and the appropriate treatment available will save a great deal of time and heartache for a lot of couples. I also wish that the long awaited results of the PROMISE progesterone trial (http://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/information/research/the-promise-trial/) would hurry up; it would be nice to see what the actual research says about at least some of the medication I’m currently taking!

As for me, I’m enjoying the mental relief I got from the encouraging scan of yesterday for a while longer before new scan doom sets in for next week. We know it can still go wrong…

Am I Pregnant? An Obsessive’s Guide

Fed up of symptom spotting? Here’s a guide for the ladies who’ve googled it all.

1. Check your calendar, even though you are absolutely 100% certain beyond all doubt where you are in your cycle. If using the one on your phone or any other touch screen device, curse every time your hovering finger touches the screen and opens up a particular date because this makes you lose count. Vow to print off a paper calendar that you can circle and annotate with a red pen.

2. Get paranoid that a friend or family member will find your annotated fertility calendar and hide it in the wardrobe.

3. Unable to make sense of your annotations, switch to a fertility app. Find that it contains old data from a pre miscarriage cycle, which skews this cycle’s data.

4. Consider deleting the old data. Feel very guilty because it’s like deleting the memory of your baby, in your crazy head.

5. Get a grip and delete old data. Find that there is not enough historic data in the app to give you any useful clues about current fertility status.

6. Give up on app and decide to go with gut feeling.

7. Realise you have absolutely no confidence in your gut feelings.

8. Google ‘Early Pregnancy Symptoms’. Find you have hardly any of them. Google ‘Very Early Pregnancy Symptoms’.

9. Wonder whether last week’s hang over was morning sickness.

10. Concentrate on boobs to assess whether they hurt or not. Run up and down a few flights of stairs. Jiggle a bit and poke them when no-one is looking.

11. Become convinced that you are pregnant because your boobs hurt.

12. Review the week when you think you ovulated in forensic detail in your mind. Convince yourself that you a) must be and b) cannot possibly be pregnant.

13. Determine that you are 8 dpo (days post ovulation). You are therefore way too early to do a pregnancy test.

14. Do a pregnancy test. Reassure yourself that the inevitable negative result is only because you tested too early.

15. Decide to take your mind off things by booking a holiday or going clothes shopping. These activities also have the double effect of making you pregnant, because Sods Law is more effective than sex.

16. Take the fact that the cat sits on your lap as a sign that you are definitely pregnant.

17. Take the fact that the cat runs away from you as a sign that you are definitely pregnant.

18. See someone else’s baby/bump, cry and decide that you are never, ever going to be able to have children. Ever, ever.

19. Decide to take another test on 10 dpo. Spend at least 10 minutes holding it up to the light to see if you can see a trace of a line.

20. Pop back to the bathroom, fish the test out of the bin and check it again through out the course of the evening, see an evaporation line. Panic. Do another test. Be relieved that it’s still negative, because actually getting pregnant would scare the sh*t out of you. Repeat steps 19-20 for the next 3 days.

21. Notice some light spotting. Wonder if it could be the fabled implantation bleeding. Become convinced that it isn’t. Test again.

22. Get full period. Become convinced that it definitely is implantation bleeding.

23. Spend 24 hours in despair. Drink (because it doesn’t matter now anyway).

24. Get a hang over. Become convinced it’s morning sickness. Immediately regret that drink.

25. Get signs of new cycle, new ovulation, new hope. Have sex. Return to step one.

Blood bath ***Caution. Contains graphic descriptions***

There is little more alarming that a spot of blood when you go to the loo, if you’re pregnant. Everybody knows that your periods are supposed to stop, and, although we probably all know someone who has had break through bleeding or spotting early on in their pregnancy, it doesn’t make it any less scary if it happens to you.

The start of my first pregnancy was characterised by several episodes of light spotting. This, although never accompanied by pain (which is the scariest sign of all), was worrying enough to result in two separate ambulance rides (once from work, once between hospitals), a day in a bed on Ward 4, several hours in A&E, three trips to the EPU (Early Pregnancy Unit) and more than one out of hours doctor’s appointment. Hysteria will get you a long way.

My second pregnancy was just as short as the first, but much less bleedy, lulling us both into a false sense of security that the outcome might be better. It wasn’t. So much for that theory.

But, for all of these minor episodes of spotting, nothing could have prepared me for what happened at the start of my third pregnancy. We had gone out for the evening and were in a local pub with friends. I was driving, so no need to fib about why I was off the sauce. I was faithfully taking my cyclogest (progesterone), and was (thankfully) wearing a pad, since that can be a rather ikky, messy business. Suddenly I felt what can only be described as a ‘gushing’ sensation. I excused myself and, upon reaching the ladies room, found that I was covered in bright red, fresh blood from the waist down. I cleaned myself up as best I could and asked a passing friend to fetch my husband. I felt strangely calm and detached. Oh well, here we go again. That’s that, then.

We stood staring down a toilet that looked like it had just played a starring role in a slashser movie, wondering whether to flush. We thought that our baby might be in there, somewhere, but there was just too much blood everywhere to tell. I knew that one of the best chances we had of finding out a cause would be to recover it and have it sent away for genetic testing, but, in the end, neither of us could do it. So we flushed.

If you have suffered a serious bleed during pregnancy, and miscarriage seems immanent, you are advised not to drive (in case you faint). My husband had already had a beer or two and I was the designated driver, but now I couldn’t safely drive, either. A friend kindly drove us the 20 minutes to the nearest A&E and dropped us off.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

9, 10, 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock rock.

Having arrived at 21:00, we were seen by the triage nurse maybe an hour later, and I was cannulated. My theory is that they do this so that you can’t escape if you get fed up of waiting the further three hours after you’ve been triaged. Targets met; everyone’s a winner! It was almost 2 am before we were seen by a Doctor, 4 by the time we were discharged.

The whole time we were there (sustaining ourselves on chocolate and fizzy drinks from the healthy choices vending machine, having ascertained that I didn’t need to be nil by mouth), at no point were we offered a scan. We were given an appointment at the EPU three days later. Point 2 of the Mumsnet Miscarriage Care Campaign (http://www.mumsnet.com/campaigns/5-things-that-need-to-change-in-miscarriage-care) states that scanning should be available. The reality is that if you present at A&E with bleeding in early pregnancy, there is a good chance you will be waiting several days to find out whether your baby is alive or dead. It is my strong belief that this fact puts appalling mental strain on women and their partners in a, frankly, oppressive ’12 weeks of silence’ (or is that isolation?) culture. More steam to vent on that one another time!

We got home at about 4:30 am, I emailed work to let them know I wouldn’t be in (and set my cover lessons! How’s that for dedication!), and we went to bed. No alarm clocks. We would deal with the morning in the morning.

Tuesday was spent watching day time TV and eating fish and chips. There was a program about cats on. It was nice. Invariably, when we’ve had pregnancy related issues, it’s felt like all that’s on TV is One Born Every Minute, or a character in a favourite show is getting a scan (Bones, Breaking Bad, Homeland, all had story lines featuring scans right after I’d MC’d). The scan was booked for Thursday. We decided to be proactive so we got up and went down to UCLH’s walk in EPU first thing on Wednesday morning and waited.

There, against all odds, we saw a tiny little flicker of a perfect heart beat; 6 weeks, 5 days.

I believe that we experienced the full range of emotions over the course of those three days. It’s not a roller coaster ride I’d care to repeat.

And I know it didn’t, ultimately, end well for baby number 3. But it wasn’t anything to do with what happened that night. In fact, we were told that the combination of progesterone and aspirin can lead to these kinds of sudden, heavy bleeds. As far as this part of the story goes, it may not have been a happy ending, but I’ll take a happy middling. It’s a close as we’ve got, so far.

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Acronyms and how hospitals work

When you start getting intimately (and I do mean intimately) involved with the NHS, you need to learn a new language of acronyms. And you need to start to get used to not being offended or upset by some of them (ERPC – Evacuation and Removal of the Products of Conception).

I was about to find out about the EPU (Early Pregnancy Unit). After a weekend of little tiny bits of pink spotting (which I described as bleeding at the time… little did I know), I decided to call NHS direct (old version).

The thing about NHS Direct (and I want to point out that they’ve always been very nice when I’ve called) is that as soon as you say the word ‘pregnant’, all roads and flow charts lead to A&E. As far as the script is concerned, when it comes to babies, children and pregnant women, they’d rather be safe than sorry (and rightly so).  Throw in to the equation the twinges of an old shoulder injury, and it’s Red Alert, because shoulder tip pain is one of the signs of an ectopic pregnancy. Very serious, potentially. The problem is, there’s usually nothing that anyone can do in cases of suspected early miscarriage. So, unless you are pumping out volumes of blood or severely cramping (actually, even if this is what’s happening), you can expect to spend a very long time in A&E if you follow the advice of NHS Direct.

So, off we set for our local A&E. We wanted to beat the rush. We see the triage nurse. They don’t deal with early pregnancy there, so we sit in a cubicle for a couple of hours and then they put me in wheelchair, then in to an ambulance and drive me to another hospital to see if they know what to do with me 20 miles up the road. My husband follows on in the car. I’d never been in an ambulance before. How exciting!

This was going to be a very long day.

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