My Doctor Asked Me to Tell a Story
Three days and two nights should be a fantastically impulsive weekend getaway in a tropical, all-expenses paid location. Recently however, it was the amount of time I spent hospitalized for an eye infection called Preseptal Cellulitis.
Three weeks to the day that my daughter J was born I woke up with my right eye swollen shut like a prize fighter. Trying not to panic I called my Primary Care doctor, who told me I needed to get to the emergency room and, knowing I'd just given birth, told me to bring my breast pump. That should have been my first clue that I'd be separated from my baby for three days and two nights.
I threw some stuff in a bag, called a friend to come hold the baby, and Chris and I jumped in a car downtown. Because my Primary Care doctor is awesome he called ahead and told the ER my situation so that when we arrived they triaged me right away (thanks, Dr. Bobis!). I mistakenly thought, "This might just be easy peasy".
Six hours later I was curled up on a hospital bed listening to the audio soup of hacking and moaning and resuscitation alerts, trying to will all the germs away from Chris and I while searing my skin with hand sanitizer. We were crammed into a room the size of a suburban walk-in closet with another patient and her daughter, who asked if we wanted coffee from the outside and warmly but assertively called her mother by her first name, Ruth. Our new friend Ruth was being seen for...pneumonia?? the doctors thought. Great. Just what every new mother wants to bring home to her infant.
It briefly crossed my mind to see in this experience a grand opportunity to get to know Ruth and her daughter in the way that would open up something deep and significant about the universe. Bad storyteller that I am, I scratched that idea in favor of small talk and breathing in as little as possible.
When the emergency room doctor told me I'd have to be admitted to the hospital to receive IV antibiotics for at least two days it felt like the room closed in on me. Not only would I be away from my newborn and my family, but breastfeeding wouldn't be possible and I'd have to pump and dump during my stay plus a week after because of the antibiotics I needed.
They wheeled me to the 9th floor and settled me into a bed on the other side of a curtain from a cranky roommate who murmured expletives at Fox News all day, with brief intermissions of daytime courtroom shows like "Judge Judy" and-- I kid you not-- "Hot Bench". I did have some visitors, which was amazing (see photo below for my dad visiting with a get-well gift for me), but mostly...
I was scared and aching for my baby.
Enter Dr. Didn't-Catch-Her-Name.
She swooped into my room about two hours after Chris left me for the evening that first night. I was feeling particularly vulnerable and lonely, and so when she started rapid firing questions at me I couldn't quite keep up. I didn't understand why she was asking me what she was asking and where it was going. And then she very bluntly told me that I shouldn't have been breastfeeding once my eye started puffing before I got to the hospital (which I had done) 'cause the infection could have effected the baby.
Panic. Panic on top of everything else.
Enter Dr. C.
She came first thing the next morning. She asked permission to enter my little space, and when I said yes she came to the side of my bed and asked if she could sit down so that we could talk for a few minutes. She wanted to talk with me, not at me. She asked me questions and waited fully for my response. She took in my response and asked more questions that drew out more of the story of what had happened with my eye. She sat comfortably in her chair, like she genuinely wanted to be there chatting with me. She was thoughtful and kind, and after she listened to my whole story she said the most amazing thing.
"And now for the most important part. Can I see a picture of your daughters?"
She wanted to see a picture of my daughters-- and it was the most important part of her time with me!
Relief flooded over me. I felt like I had an ally who was on my side and cared about who I was as a person, not as a conundrum to be diagnosed.
I made it home late the next day, thankful I'd had a doctor who took the time to get to know me and my story.