The night before my friend was about to have her planned c-section I started to text her and tell what it felt like for me to be in the operating room, in hopes of offering her some comfort with knowledge. I finished the text but instead of hitting send, I deleted it. I was torn. On the one hand I wanted to tell her the things that my anesthesiologist told me while I was on the operating table… things that significantly enhanced my experience in the OR. I had what I would call an “amazing” surgery, despite hating most of my cesarean, both in theory and in practice. I knew my anesthesiologist was good — he was making jokes with us in the OR and popping in and out to communicate with our community outside how we were all doing. But it wasn't until I compared notes with a friend of mine who had an almost-identical situation as I had (i.e., unplanned but not emergency surgery after too long with failure to progress) that I realized how over and above excellent he was. While my friend's anesthesiologist gave her no information on what to expect as the drugs circulated through her body prepping and sustaining her for major abdominal surgery, mine told me what was going to happen when, and most important, that it was normal and that it would pass. The information I got was so incredibly valuable in terms of giving me even an ounce of empowerment during one of the most disempowering experiences of my life. These were the things that I remember best as being most useful:
The pressure I felt on my chest was the first symptom that I was warned about, about 30 seconds before it happened. As I felt the tightness clamp down on me, I began to panic. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was dying. But then I remembered that this was normal and it would pass. My panic subsided. I was ok. I told my anesthesiologist when it happened. I think he said “oh good” as if I was a good, normal patient. That was reassuring. Feeling insanely cold — cold like I have never experienced in my life, even during the worst chills of a feverish episode — was uncomfortable but it wasn’t as scary as the pressure on my chest. But nonetheless, it was great to have been warned about it. The nausea was not fun, however. It got really intense after my baby was placed on my chest shortly after being removed from my abdomen. I think he was only there a few minutes and then I started to throw up. I held off as long as possible. I wanted to keep him close to me. But I couldn’t stop myself from throwing up. I hated that feeling. And I could have felt even as a mom — too weak to care for my child — but I didn’t. Knowing it was the effects of the drugs at least reminded me that it was not my fault.
Despite the many negatives associated with a cesarean birth, my anesthesiologist was not one of them. He was great. And I’m not even sure he knows how great he is/was. Giving me the forewarning for all those experiences was beyond helpful. It gave me a small sense of control during a time when I felt like I had none. And when I compared to my friend who had no one guide her through the very common experiences, I realized how fortunate I was. She, on the other hand, went through those very same experiences scared and unknowing that they were normal or that they would pass. I’m sure it was some amount of terrifying at times. It was a small offering by my anesthesiologist… all common experiences to him. But for me, it gave a mom laying on the table feeling more helpless than she should, the assurance that she was not dying, that she would be there for her baby regardless.
I wanted to offer this gift to my friend before she had her surgery but I didn’t. In many ways, it’s not my place and I was afraid that it would do more harm than good. I can’t do what that anesthesiologist did for me for someone else because I’m not there in the moments when those experience are happening. I hope others are as fortunate as I was to be cared for by a physician who had impeccable beside manner. But if not, maybe reading this will be remembered in those moments of fear when they think they are dying and draw upon a distant memory not to worry, it’s normal, and it will pass.
Epidurals have consequences.
Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery