From the Brink of Death
AS I looked in at my wife, Bonnie, lying in the hospital bed, I couldn’t help but think how everything happened so fast. She lay with her eyelids taped shut so that even a twitch would not drain what little energy remained in her body. Her skin was pure white; even her freckles had lost their color. Earlier that morning the doctor had said, “She’ll die for sure today.” One of the nurses had said, “She won’t last until noon.”
Why was Bonnie in such a desperate condition? How could the blessing of having a new baby transform itself into such a life-threatening situation? Let me recount the events that led up to my wife’s turbulent time of testing.
When Bonnie learned she was pregnant again, we were joyful but apprehensive. We were apprehensive because our ten-year-old daughter, Ashley, was born by cesarean section and because Bonnie had suffered two miscarriages since then. Added to these worrisome facts was the possibility that an issue over blood transfusions might arise. We are convinced that our Creator knows best when he admonishes at Acts 15:29, “Keep abstaining . . . from blood.”
It was only about five weeks before Bonnie’s expected delivery date when we decided to spend Saturday, February 28, 1987, at the San Diego Zoo. Little did we realize that in less than 24 hours, the baby would arrive. Yes, the very next morning our serene feelings were shattered when Bonnie woke up in bed bleeding. We immediately called the doctor, and in a few minutes we were on our way to the hospital.
The doctor was aware of our position regarding blood transfusions, and because of this, he decided to perform a cesarean section immediately. We went to the surgery room where, in just a short time, the doctor handed our new baby daughter to the nurse. The nurse briefly showed our daughter to Bonnie, then took the baby to the nursery. I was told to go to the waiting room and that I could talk to my wife in the recovery room in about half an hour.
In the meantime, some of our friends had gathered in the waiting room, so I went out thinking everything was normal and made the announcement of the arrival of our new baby girl. What I didn’t realize was that during the cesarean operation, the doctor discovered Bonnie had a condition that required him to perform a hysterectomy. About two hours later, the doctor came out and informed me of what had happened. He explained that when delivery had started, Bonnie’s hemoglobin count had been 12.5 but had dropped to 6.1. She was considered to be on the outer edge of critical, but the doctor felt that everything would be just fine. However, problems soon started to mount.
Just 15 minutes after talking to the doctor, my name was called over the intercom to come to the baby nursery. Upon arrival, I was informed that our new daughter had turned blue and had gone into respiratory arrest. The baby had been revived and put on oxygen but would now need many tests, some of which could have severe complications. I had to sign consent forms for the testing and at the same time signed one stating that no blood was to be given.
Finally, after a few hours, I got to see my wife and talk to her. She was alert and positive. We were both thankful to Jehovah that everything seemed all right. I did not tell her that the baby had developed some problems because I didn’t want to upset her.
Bonnie’s Condition Worsens
Later that same day, Sunday, Bonnie’s condition worsened. When they took the next blood count, her hemoglobin had dropped to 2.5. She was bleeding internally! Then her blood pressure went down, all vital signs were weakening, and her breathing became labored. By Monday morning, Bonnie was confused and at times disoriented. The doctor had been consulting specialists throughout the night. He had even checked into the use of artificial blood. It was determined that the only possible treatment that might save her life was the hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
The Awake! magazine of May 22, 1979, describes this treatment as one that subjects the body to 100-percent oxygen at pressure greater than that of our atmosphere. The raised pressure dissolves oxygen in the body tissues in concentrations higher than normal. The chamber is used to treat blood loss, severe burns, and even bad infections. Bonnie would have to be transferred to the Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach, which is equipped with portable hyperbaric chambers and trained technicians to operate them.
By now Bonnie was so critical that she could not take the 30-minute ambulance ride between hospitals. So it was arranged that she would be transported by helicopter, a ride of only four minutes. A nurse who was a member of the helicopter medical team, after contacting the hospital and learning that Bonnie’s hemoglobin had dropped to 2.2, replied: “You must be mistaken. She should already be dead!”
Hyperbaric treatments were started Monday night and continued all night, one and a half hours in the chamber and two and a half hours out. The first two treatments appeared to revitalize Bonnie and boost her energy. But the close quarters of the chamber began to agitate her. The chamber has an intercom to talk through, so I used it to calm her down. By referring to the Paradise earth the Bible speaks of in Revelation 21 and Isaiah chapters 35 and 65 and reminding her of Jehovah’s loving care, I was able to get her to be more relaxed in the chamber.
Pressured to Accept Blood
Tuesday morning the doctor came to me and asked if I would reconsider my position on blood. He said there was a pink fluid coming from Bonnie’s incision that indicated she was still bleeding. Our decision was firm: no blood, live or die. Jehovah’s righteous standards would not be broken. So the doctor said he would pack the incision with a special foam adhesive designed to stop bleeding. It seemed to work.
By this time some of our relatives who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses were pressuring us to consent to a blood transfusion. This is understandable because every doctor involved was saying the same thing: “To save her life, all you have to do is let me give her a blood transfusion.” One family member began actively to pursue avenues to force a blood transfusion, contacting the police, an attorney, and even a newspaper.
By now the hospital administration was concerned that it might be sued if Bonnie didn’t survive as a result of not accepting a blood transfusion. A meeting was set up with a hospital employee who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She talked to the hospital administrators for 45 minutes regarding the Bible’s position on blood. She evidently satisfied them because they agreed to cooperate entirely with our wishes.
At Death’s Door
Meanwhile, Bonnie’s condition continued to deteriorate. By Wednesday morning she was disoriented most of the time, and her resting heart rate was 170, way above the normal of about 70. She had wide fluctuations in blood pressure. Her hemoglobin count was 2.2, and the hematocrit (the measure of cells in circulating blood) was an alarming 6. Normal is 40-65.
I’ll never forget that Wednesday morning. Doctors who had been consulting at Bonnie’s bedside asked to see me. “This is it,” they said. “Call the relatives and her friends. Bonnie is definitely going to die today. There is nothing else we can do. She will die from either a heart attack or a stroke. Even a blood transfusion would do nothing at this point. She is beyond all of that. We have changed her to a ‘do not resuscitate’ code status, which means we will not medicate her or try to revive her if her blood pressure drops.”
From that time on, visitors were no longer restricted to family. Dozens of fellow Witnesses who had maintained a presence in the waiting room were allowed to see Bonnie before she was to expire. After all had said their good-byes, the doctor had Bonnie maintained in a paralyzed state with a drug called Pavulon. This drug makes it impossible to move any muscles. A person goes into a state of deep sleep. Bonnie looked as though she were in a coma. The doctor said she would feel no pain in this condition if a heart attack ensued and that she would die comfortably. At this point her eyelids were taped shut so that even a twitch would not drain what little energy remained in her body.
For the first time, my daughter Ashley and I returned home to clean up and to try to get some much-needed rest. Upon entering the house, we both got down on our knees and cried together as we poured out our hearts to Jehovah. It seemed that everywhere we turned, the house reminded us of Bonnie. It really began to sink in to us what a good mother and wife she had been. We even made a verbal list of all the things Bonnie did for us that we would have to do now on our own. We knew that faithfulness on our part would ensure us of seeing her again after God destroys this old system and replaces it with a new one.
Wednesday evening we returned to the hospital, where all we could do was wait, although we never waited alone. Relatives and fellow Witnesses were always there to comfort us. Wednesday passed, and to the astonishment of the staff, Bonnie was still alive Thursday. Late that afternoon, the doctor came to me and said he wanted to try hyperbaric treatments again. The treatments continued throughout the night.
On Friday morning, I was asleep in the lobby when I was awakened by two doctors. They quickly assured me that the news they brought was good and not bad. Bonnie had stabilized significantly. “You know what? I think we actually have reason for hope,” one doctor said. “If her blood pressure drops, it would now be unfair not to medicate her, so I’ve already changed the instructions on her chart. You have to remember that we are in uncharted waters here because we’ve never gone this far without using blood before.”
Saturday night I was by Bonnie’s bedside along with her nurse. We hung a picture of our new baby over Bonnie’s head even though her eyes were still taped shut. This was done so that when her eyes opened, the first thing she would see was a picture of her new baby. It was hoped that this would give her reason to keep fighting for life. Under these circumstances, I revealed to the nurse that the following day would be our 18th wedding anniversary. On hearing this, she wiped tears from her eyes.
Sunday was a good day because Bonnie’s hematocrit count rose to 11, and she was taken off Pavulon and awakened from the paralyzed state that she had been in for four days. But the doctor cautioned: “Don’t get your hopes up too high because anything can go wrong. You can celebrate when her hematocrit gets up to 20.”
Even so, my hopes went up. Being able to see my wife with her eyes open for the first time in four days was like being given new life. Bonnie couldn’t talk because she was on a respirator and very weak. I wished her a happy anniversary. She could only make movements with her mouth, but no sound would come out. She was so weak that even holding a pencil and writing was impossible.
At this point it was arranged to have our new baby transferred to Long Beach Memorial so that Bonnie could see the real thing and not just a photograph. When the baby arrived and was brought to the intensive care unit, the nurses showed the baby to Bonnie. They counted the fingers and toes, showing all the body parts so that Bonnie would know the baby was normal and healthy. Thankfully, the baby had recovered nicely.
The doctor was right, though, when he said not to celebrate too soon. New problems arose. Bonnie next developed two types of pneumonia, and her left lung partially collapsed. Besides this, she tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease. Any one of these complications could have killed her. I’m happy to say that none of them did. For 15 years Bonnie had served as a pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. So all the walking she had done in the ministry and a program of regular aerobic exercise had kept her in excellent physical condition. This no doubt strengthened her to survive these ordeals.
After losing 80 percent of her blood, spending 28 days in the hospital (22 of them in intensive care), and undergoing 58 sessions in the hyperbaric chamber, Bonnie was finally released to go home. Astonished, the doctor exclaimed: “She looks great. It’s a miracle, that’s all I can say.”
Although it was a turbulent, distressing time, there were positive results also. Doctors, nurses, administrators, persons of other faiths, and the news media were all helped better to understand the Bible’s view on blood. They were also eyewitnesses to unwavering faith at work.
Only two months after her grueling ordeal, Bonnie was out in the public preaching work again, doing the work she loves the most. And as an added blessing, she has a new pioneer partner, our baby girl, Allie Lauren.—As told by Steven M. Beaderstadt.
[Blurb on page 12]
The helicopter medical-team nurse said, “She should already be dead!”
[Blurb on page 14]
The doctor said: “We are in uncharted waters here because we’ve never gone this far without using blood”
[Picture on page 13]
My wife was treated in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber like this one
Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach
[Picture on page 15]
My wife and our daughter after their recovery