“You Will Die Without Blood!”
I WAS getting up to fix lunch when I felt something pop in the lower right side of my abdomen. I doubled up with pain, but I figured it was just one of those many catches you get late in pregnancy.
The pain, however, intensified. My stomach was throbbing, walking was difficult; something was terribly wrong. A woman who lived next door to our home in Arlington, Texas—a dear friend throughout this ordeal—rushed me to the hospital.
“No!” I clamored, when the medical personnel suggested that I was probably simply in labor. Having had two other children, I knew what labor pains felt like, and these were not labor pains. So tests were taken.
By the time my husband, Mike, could get there, I was wild with pain. Groans and tears were coming out of me not only because of the pain but also because no one seemed to believe that something was seriously wrong with me. Mike, however, took one look at me, pivoted and asked the head nurse to please get a doctor quickly—any doctor. When the doctor on call showed up, he was not alone. He had an ob (obstetrician), my private doctor and a pediatrician with him.
The ob gently laid his hand on my abdomen. I screamed. His light touch felt like a knife cutting me open. “My God!” he gasped. “She has at least two pints of blood in her abdomen right now. It’s probably abruptio placenta [premature separation of the placenta from the uterus]. We’ve got to do a cesarean section immediately.”
Suddenly I turned to my husband and automatically blurted out, “Oh, Mike, no blood!”
Our Stand Was Tested
As calmly as he could, Mike took the three doctors aside and briefly explained our view on blood transfusions as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
According to the doctors my blood count was dangerously low. At time of admission my hemoglobin count was at 10 and hematocrit at 30. They were sure the count was lower now. (Normal hemoglobin is 12 to 16; hematocrit is 34 to 50.)
Now came what might have been a sincere plea, but to me it was a scare tactic. “You will die without blood, do you know that?” asked one doctor.
“Yes,” I answered. “But I cannot violate God’s law and my conscience.”
Oddly enough, it was easy for me to say: “Yes, I know I may die.” A sort of calm came over me because I know the dead are peaceful in the grave and that dying is like going to sleep. The dead “are conscious of nothing at all,” I had learned from the Bible.—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.
The only thing that saddened me was the thought of leaving my husband and children. My heart went out to Mike. ‘What will he do to take care of (possibly) three children?’ I wondered. ‘How will my daughters take my death?’ For me, I had the easy part. Either I’d wake up here in the hospital or in God’s New Order by means of the resurrection. It was my family who would have it hard.
I signed a legal waiver relieving the hospital and doctors of any liability due to operating without blood, and 15 minutes later I was wheeled into surgery where a cesarean section was performed. At 6:01 p.m. Megan was born, weighing in at five pounds four and a half ounces. She was put in the intensive care nursery.
The doctor now came out of the operating room and told Mike that I was in profound shock. They did not know the source of the bleeding and, unless it was found soon, I would bleed to death on the operating table.
“I’m sorry,” Mike began. “We already told you no blood even if Sherry dies. Not only would I be going against what I believe if I said yes but I would also violate my wife’s conscience. I couldn’t live with that. It’s not a decision we made on the spur of the moment. We made it a long time ago based on Bible principles. There are other things you can use, such as blood-volume expanders.”
Although he didn’t agree with our stand, he promised my husband that he would do everything he could to help without using blood.
Crises can muddle clear thinking. Putting off making such a decision until faced with the problem could easily cause one to compromise under pressure from doctors or hospital staff. I’m glad my husband and I saw the importance of deciding ahead of time to stand firm in such emergencies.
The doctor returned to the operating room and found the source of my hemorrhage—a ruptured uterine vein, apparently weakened by my previous pregnancies. It took 20 stitches to repair it. Though I had lost more than half of my blood, the nonblood fluid Ringer’s lactate helped keep up the fluid volume.
“The greatest problem now is infection,” the doctor told my husband. He explained that an infection would kill me because my blood level was too low to fight off a disease. Again a blood transfusion was recommended.
“You mean you can guarantee my wife won’t get an infection such as hepatitis or something else if you give her blood?” Mike asked.
“No,” answered the doctor.
Mike concluded that there would be less chance of infection by my not taking blood. The doctor agreed to respect my husband’s decision.
“Megan Is Alive!”
Two days had gone by and I had not seen my newborn yet. Even though I had been told that our daughter was alive though very sick, down deep I felt she was dead. When my uncle from Houston arrived toting a Polaroid camera, Mike got an idea. ‘If Sherry just had proof that Megan was alive,’ he thought, ‘this would help her to recover.’ So he borrowed my uncle’s camera and convinced the nursery nurse to take a picture of Megan. “She really is alive!” I exclaimed, overjoyed to see my little Megan for the first time, even if it was only a picture. I had to live, for not only did the rest of my family need me but so did this little one.
I had excellent nurses and doctors. The head nurse from the intensive care nursery reported Megan’s progress to me twice a day, no matter how insignificant it may have seemed.
By the fourth day I felt better. My blood counts were stabilizing. Things looked cheery for the first time since this ordeal began. Yet Mike looked exhausted. He had spent the last two days and nights at my side. He could now go home and rest.
On the fifth day I was well enough to have all the tubes that were inserted on the second day removed. What joy when I was told I could go to the intensive care nursery! I could hold and nurse my Megan for the first time. There she was, naked and so tiny. We were finally together in spite of such odds—what a touching moment! I was so happy I cried, and so did the nurse.
Later that evening as Mike and I were talking I began to feel worse. ‘Oh, no! This can’t happen,’ I thought. ‘Maybe if I go to the bathroom I might feel better.’ Instead, I began to vomit violently. Mike helped me back to bed and rang for the nurse.
My stomach was swelling with blood again. As the doctor ordered all the tubes put back, Mike gently wiped my forehead and tightly held my hand. Suddenly all was quiet. All our cheer vanished. Mike broke down sobbing.
Having had a setback, I found myself relying more and more on Jehovah to give my family and me the strength to go on. Often my dear father and father-in-law would offer a most welcome bedside prayer. This proved to strengthen us further. So did the phone calls, get-well cards and prayers of our brothers and sisters in the faith.
On the ninth day all the tubes were removed again. I was elated because Mike was coming and I wanted to surprise him. So I spruced myself up and sat up in bed. Was he happy to see me without those tubes! Arm in arm we walked down the corridor to see our Megan, this time to the regular nursery where all the other healthy babies were.
Later that evening that horrible sick feeling came back. ‘I just can’t let Mike know I’m getting sick again,’ I said to myself. ‘I know what to do. I’ll encourage him to go home early and get a good night’s sleep.’ He took me up on my offer. No sooner had he left than my vomiting started.
I pulled the emergency cord. The nurses came running. I was helped into bed and the doctor was called.
The doctor entered my room, bent down and said, “Sherry, I hope you will not be angry. I’m going to have all the tubes put back in and call a specialist to look at you tomorrow.” Suddenly I became very scared and I started crying uncontrollably. This would make the third time for the tubes to be inserted. I was fed up with the false hopes, the pain, the needles. I had had it!
After the nurses left I approached God in prayer. ‘Was Jehovah tiring of my asking for so many things?’ crossed my mind. I felt I was presuming on his loving-kindness since he had helped me to endure this far.
When Mike entered my room the next morning his face showed great disappointment. When he left last night I was doing so well and now—I felt so sorry for him. We cried a little and then prayed.
The specialist arrived and confirmed what the other doctor feared. I had a partial small-bowel obstruction. Since my blood counts were still low the specialist cautioned: “You, little lady, cannot undergo surgery again for quite some time.”
Massive doses of iron were given to build up the blood—two injections of five cc’s each, which were very painful. A healthy person may not tolerate such a high dose, but I could because of my severe anemia.
On the 11th day of my hospital stay, X rays showed that my bowel obstruction was getting smaller. And Megan was given a clean bill of health. I had to hurry to get better because Megan was waiting for me to take her home.
The following days brought more good news. I was tolerating liquids. My blood counts were rising. X rays showed that my partial bowel obstruction was gone. And for the first time in 13 days I saw my two other daughters through a window. Were they excited! And so was I.
More good news. After 17 days in the hospital, I was going home—tomorrow!
The day we all prayed for arrived. ‘Truly God has heard; he has paid attention to the voice of my prayer,’ I thought. (Psalm 66:19) I thanked the doctor for all he did, including his respecting my Bible-trained conscience, and for not giving up on me. I told him how grateful I was for his efforts to save my life. “You are one lucky girl,” he said kindly. Of course, I gave credit to Jehovah.
Megan was dressed and brought in, followed by a parade of nurses. We hugged and said our good-byes. Then off to the car and home to a tearful reunion with our daughters and parents. How good it felt to be home and alive!—As told by Sherry Flemming.
[Picture on page 15]
Our healthy daughter Megan