She Will Rise: Part 1
A Near-Death Experience
She Will Rise
The Phoenix burns and she rises.
She can burn and be burned.
A thousand times.
She still rises
And so like a Phoenix,
I chose to rise,
From the ashes of old and death.
The fires did not consume me.
Though they raged and roiled, I rose.
For my heavenly angels (D.M & B.P) and earthly angels (L.H, K.H, & B.M) who surrounded me then and who surround me now. I love you all, immensely. - AH
This is a true story.
Anne Frank so accurately wrote, “I can shake off everything as I write. My sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” Writing can release the old and create something new. It can be both cathartic and cleansing. For me, writing has always been a way of healing. It helps me process my thoughts, my feelings and allows me to set free the things that no longer serve me. So naturally I thought that writing about my near-death experience would be healing and helpful. In the beginning, it was neither of those things. I would start writing and then stop. Start and stop. Start and stop.
I’d stop because I couldn’t find the words to write about it. Honestly, I didn’t even know how to start this story. How does one even write about their own near-death experience? Do you just dive in with, So hey there, I almost died once. Likely not. How about… I met God on a snowy night in January. Also no. See my dilemma? Where do I start and what do I even say? I had no idea. All that I did know was that there was this call on my heart to write this story and no matter how hard I ignored it, dismissed it or distracted myself from it, the call persisted. It wasn’t just a call to write out my feelings on the lines of one of my many floral covered journals. It was a call to share this story, to put it out there in the world. Yeah…yikes! I feared what people would say about me. I would sit starting at my empty screen with the cursor imploring me to type the first word. I instead would imagine all the things people would say about my story. Would they believe me? Would they think I was a quack? Why would anyone even want to read this kind of thing anyways. When I finally found the courage to tell this story, I would find myself traumatized and haunted by the memories of it and have to walk away sometimes for months at a time. This was the main reason it took me as long as it did to write this book. It was traumatic. For almost an entire year after almost dying, even watching my beloved medical dramas on TV would send me into full blown panic attacks. So reliving the details of my near-death experience as I wrote about it was too hard for a long time. Eventually though, I was able to find a way to write this story. I’ll share my secret on how I worked through this trauma to be able to write these words you are now reading later on.
And so here we are now. I finally was emotionally and mentally able to answer the call on my heart to tell this story. I still don’t know why I am supposed to share this experience with you and the wide world of readers. I find though that when God has called me to do something though, it doesn’t always make sense. It usually seems backwards, confusing or outright ridiculous to me but it makes perfect sense to Him. Being led doesn’t always mean you know where you are being led to. Following requires trust and faith in your leader. I trust God. He called, I’ve listened. You have this story in front of you now, so you, too, likely have been called here to read it. Why? I don’t know. One day though, I trust it will all make sense.
This story begins just ten short days after my first child was born. Lilly, my beautiful daughter, was born one cold Canadian afternoon in early January of 2020. Her labour and delivery almost consumed me. Twenty-four (Yes, you read that right - TWENTY FOUR!) hours of labour and two hours of pushing almost did me in, but birthing my daughter was the most incredible moment of my life. It flooded me physically with pain and emotionally with joy and pride. Her birth was in a way a complete rebirth of my own. Her arrival set in motion this burning down of my old self. I no longer was or wanted to be who I had been because I was this new person now… a mother. The moment she entered this world, I was reborn from the ashes of my old self. Witnessing this rebirth transformation in myself was profound. I was no longer just me. I was now ‘mom’ and becoming a mom has always felt like my one true calling in life. Becoming a mom was also going to be the thing that saved my life.
At ten days postpartum, I woke that morning with a bit of a stuffy nose which isn’t entirely unusual for me. So the day began much like any other but I was cautiously aware of the mucous amounting in my nose and decided to add a bit more vitamin C with my breakfast. As the day with my sweet Lilly continued on, I began to feel heavy. As if a bag of bricks was attached to every eyelid, limb and piece of me. Was it just the fatique of postpartum healing and the very real torment of sleep deprivation? I just wanted to lay down and do nothing. This was beyond exhausted. I told myself that I just needed to rest. So I spent the day with Lilly in her brightly sun-lit nursery where I lay in my thickly knit yellow sweater and covered myself in blankets. The winter sun beamed in through the windows warming us both. By mid-afternoon, before Kevynn was home from work, I began to feel even worse. I noticed my cheeks appeared sunburned and I began to wonder if I was ill. Other than being fatigued (which I chalked up to having a newborn who didn’t particularly love to sleep) I didn’t have any other symptoms (aside from these new rosy cheeks and some mucous in my nose). I decided to take my temperature just to see if maybe the previous night’s chill wasn’t just from being tired but from a fever instead. Placing the thermometer in my ear, I waited for that tiny beep and thought, there’s no way I have a fever. Once the thermometer beeped, I was shocked to read that my temperature was 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit/38.5 degrees Celsius. I was quite surprised that I had a fever but to read that it was as high as it was had me worried. Now to be clear, it wasn’t the fever that made me worried because I love a fever. A fever means my body is in control and fighting off whatever is trying to take hold inside and I am not one to ever reduce a fever. My motto is as Usher says, “Let It Burn”. Normally, I am so sensitive to any physiological changes in my body that a measly 99 degree Fahrenheit/37.2 degree Celsius temperature gives me the prickly skin, full body chills and I immediately feel the tell-tale body aches when a full burn is coming. So when I initially saw that 101.3 reading, I thought there was no way it was accurate because that was pretty high (for me) and I had no real indication (not even the slightest chill that day) that I had a fever. So I took my temperature several more times (you know, in case my thermometer was broken). Finally after 6 or 7 more temperature readings, all of them concluded that I did indeed have a fever of 101.3. So I lay back down with Lilly to rest and accept that I was ill. About an hour later, I checked my temperature again because I still wasn’t convinced. To more of my surprise, it had jumped up even higher to 102.7 and that sent me into a bit of a panic. Only because to that date, I had never had a fever be that high and I have had some pretty good fevers and been pretty ill (being a teacher by trade means exposure to some pretty gnarly germs.) So what was I to do? Well, I called the Provincial Health Hotline and then I called my midwives. Both advised me to seek emergency care as I had just given birth ten days ago but they reminded me that it was ultimately up to me how to proceed. They said I could likely wait it out 24 hours and go in if the fever still persisted. I didn’t know what to do. My midwife who delivered Lilly had mentioned that she had come down with a sinus infection the day after Lilly was born so she thought maybe she had unknowingly been contagious when she delivered Lilly so maybe I had just picked up that bug. Then I thought back to Lilly’s birth and all the railings and things I had touched at the hospital on my way up to the maternity ward during labour. Maybe I picked something up unknowingly then, too. There was absolutely no way to know. With my anxiety getting the better of me, I finally decided we would all head over to the hospital’s ER after dinner that night. My logical brain was hoping (and really, really believing) that they would tell me I had a little cold or flu bug and I would be sent home to just rest after maybe a few hours (okay, probably a lot of annoying hours) in the ER waiting room.
Well, needless to say, I had no idea what was waiting for me.
I had packed up a little bag of things Lilly and I might need during our few hour wait in the waiting room. As I packed us up that night, I felt some sadness that Lilly’s first official outing was to the hospital. I know it seems silly, but I was really sad about it. I was also anxious about taking my ten day old baby girl to the hospital to sit in the ER waiting room, of all places. I was anxious about being back in the hospital (if you know me, a hospital is not a place I like to find myself). I was anxious about what they might discover because maybe something was really wrong. I was anxious that they wouldn’t listen to me. That they wouldn’t care for me in the way that I needed or wanted. That my values would be dismissed. All of that anxiety was eating at me more than I could acknowledge in that given moment. Kevynn drove us to the hospital and thankfully, we lived only a few minutes away so it wasn’t a far drive for us. When we arrived, I noticed that Lilly was asleep in her carseat and that was helpful because I didn’t have the energy to shush and rock or sway and sing. I still felt like I was a bag of bricks. Kevynn dropped us off at the ER doors and then went to park. I walked inside the revolving door with Lilly and entered the hospital. I got into the line for the triage nurses which was quite long. Glancing around, I noticed the waiting room was almost at capacity. I nervously searched around for two or three chairs that we could occupy away from people, but there were were only a few single chairs in between people here and there. This made me feel even more anxious. I took a deep breath though and trusted that there would be space when we were done in triage. God would make a way for us. He always does. Feeling defeated at the realization that we were likely going to be in for a few hours of waiting, I moved Lilly and I forward in line as the next person was called into the triage room. It was promising to be a long night.
Kevynn eventually joined us in line when there was just one more person left ahead of us. I remember the look on his face.
“You’ve got to be kidding me! Why is it so busy?”
I remember shrugging my shoulders. Finally, it was our turn as the door slid open for the next person to enter. The nurse asked me what was going on and she noted my delivery of Lilly ten days earlier. Her face was equally as shocked as mine when she saw my high temperature. She immediately offered me two Tylenol in a paper cup and told me to take them. I stared solemnly into the cup and then looked at Kevynn and then back at her. She could sense my apprehension. She assured me that it was perfectly safe to take Tylenol while breastfeeding. I told her then that I don’t really do medication. This was what I had been dreading: a stand-off between myself and my values and the medical professional. She saw the fluster in my face and offered up that it was my choice to take them, but that it was really necessary and helpful to reduce my fever. I told her I would think about it and held the cup tightly in my hand. She said we would have to wait to be seen. My heart sank. I was about to ask what we should do if there were no seats for us out in the waiting room but God showed up in that moment because the triage nurse then said that because we had Lilly with us we didn’t have to wait in the waiting room at all. Hallelujah! I closed my eyes and exhaled a huge sigh of relief. She said she would put us close by but separated from everyone. She would tell the ER nurses where we were. We gathered our things and I shoved that paper cup of Tylenol into a pocket in my backpack. On the walk over to where we were to wait, I cried big, big alligator tears. I was so thankful. She led us down the hallway and around the corner to a couple of cozy lounge-like chairs where we could set up until they called me back to one of the ER waiting rooms. We didn’t have to wait long at all.
The ER nurse led us through some doors and into hallway where we passed by a couple sitting with their child, all fully masked. I remember wondering why they were wearing masks (as this was pre-COVID-19) and then I noted the man in a wheelchair coming down the hallway toward us. The ER nurse sat us down in some chairs next to what seemed like a mobile lab cart in the middle of the hallway. She drew some blood work for testing and to grow some cultures. She also inserted an IV line for later use.
"Just in case," she had said.
After being poked, prodded and my temperature scanned again, we were set up in one of the ER waiting rooms. All the while, my Lilly softly slumbered so sweetly in the carseat. I thought I should try to do the same... sleep that is. Hospital beds are no real luxury but it was dark and I had no where else to be and nothing else to do so I tried to get some rest.
I didn’t get some rest.
The ER doctor was in rather quickly. I was so grateful for the speed at which all of this seemed to unfold but also wondered if it were a cause for concern. She began with the usual round of questioning and then checked my breasts (for mastitis), felt my abdomen (for inflammation), went over my bloodwork (found nothing) and was then looking quite confounded. I felt relieved that all of those big things were ruled out because hopefully we would be home soon with a diagnosis of cold/flu/something very minor. So when she suggested I start antibiotics right away and I was both shocked and confused. I also refused to take them. She urged me to reconsider because there was clearly an unknown infection raging in my body. However, I could not and would not bring myself to take the antibiotics. This ER doctor really tried to level with me and shared how she, too, was very holistic and made every attempt to share compassion and understanding for my point of view but I was unwavering in my decision NOT to do antibiotics. She finally relented and then suggested we do an ultrasound of my uterus just in case there was placenta still retained in there. I begrudgingly left Kevynn and Lilly to have the scan done and thankfully it didn’t take long at all. Once I was done, we all were set up in another ER waiting/holding room. Thankfully, Lilly was still peacefully asleep amidst all of this. While we waited for those results, another doctor came in wanted to have my cervix checked for infection, which was basically a pap exam. I was not keen to have that done at ten days postpartum but I just wanted to go home. If all these tests came back negative, I knew we would be home soon. When the pap test came back all clear, I was relieved. We continued waiting for that ultrasound report and finally, the last and final test (or so I thought) was complete. The ultrasound came back and showed a tiny (and I mean TINY) piece of placenta (like 1.5cm by 1.6cm) still hanging out in my uterus. The doctor concluded that since there was no other logical cause for the fever, then that tiny piece was to blame. “It has to be infected,” they told me and this time no one was asking me to take the antibiotics. They were telling me. I tried and tried to refuse. They simply would not budge. Tears filled my eyes and I cried and cried and cried. I did not want to have antibiotics coursing through a terrain I had worked so hard to establish nor did I want them coursing through my perfect baby girl. I asked to breastfeed Lilly once more. I woke her and I let her nurse as long as she could and wanted before I had to begin the IV drip of antibiotic cocktails they were serving up. I cried the entire time the first bag was administered. It went against everything I wanted and my intuition was adamant that they were not necessary but I was backed into a corner - a very tired, emotional, postpartum, anxious, messy, unknown corner. They told me that I would be admitted upstairs to the Maternity Ward where I would consult with a OBGYN in the morning about getting that placenta piece out. When the bag of antibiotics was done seeping into my body (I was hopeful that would be the only one I would have to have), they were getting ready to take us all upstairs. Before they would take us up though, they first wanted to confirm that I didn’t ‘just’ have the flu.
"Just in case," they said.
Wait. What? I might just have the flu? You’re not sure? You just told me I had to take those antibiotics but now you’re thinking maybe it is the flu after all? If it is just the flu and you had done this earlier then I could be home and in bed with my baby by now? Cue mom-rage. I did some deep breathing, like I did in labour, because what was I really going to do in that moment. They did the nasal swab (the one that is twelve feet long and touches your brain) and sent us all up the elevator to the 7th floor, where we settled into a maternity room just like the one Lilly was born in. The nostalgia of her birth brought me an incredible blanket of warmth. I settled in with Lilly on my chest for the night. Thinking we would only be there for just one night, I didn’t get too comfortable.
The Maternity Ward
The OBGYN on the floor that day met us early the morning of January 12th, 2020. She was absolutely lovely. Her petite frame stood no taller than myself and I remember how she wore her dark curly hair in a low ponytail. Her blue scrubs set off her gentle blue eyes and I felt like I was going to be in good hands. She told me her name was Dr. Mel (No, that’s not her real name) and I listened intently as she told me that after reviewing my chart she agreed that the placenta piece was likely infected and needed to be removed. However, because I had such a sky-high fever (still) they were not willing to have me attempt to pass the piece naturally. To do so would require the administration of a drug that causes uterine contractions (basically what they use to induce labour) but the downfall of that drug is that one of its side effects is a fever. Because I already had a fever, she feared that using the drug could potentially increase the fever to a dangerous level. Therefore, my only options was to have a D&C, which is a surgery. Dr. Mel saw the fear in my eyes and gently explained that D&C stands for Dilation and Curettage. She assured me (and Kevynn) that it is a simple surgery and one they do all the time. It is so simple that it only takes about thirty minutes from start to finish and I would only be gone for, at most, an hour. She explained that they would dilate the cervix to gain access to the uterus and use a tool to suction/scrape the remaining tissue from the uterine lining. Terrified about all of it, I mustered some courage to ask about anesthesia and if it was necessary. She mentioned that there were two ways they could sedate me. One was ‘lighter’ and not so ‘asleep’. I liked this option (because anesthesia kind of scares me) so I felt assured (mostly) that I would be okay. She said they would send someone to get me around 3:00pm. At some point, my mom arrived and my spirits brightened immediately. Fact: Mom’s make things a lot better (most of the time). She had driven down to the hospital from where she lived which was about forty minutes away to sit with Kevynn and Lilly while I was gone for the surgery. She was absolutely amazing and brought us fresh filtered water (it's necessary), organic food to refuel with, my probiotic, a probiotic for Lilly to begin immediately, and some much needed respite for Kevynn while we waited for my 3pm call time for surgery.
3pm came and went. No one came to get me. As anxiety began creep back in, I tried to just wait patiently but I was beginning to ruminate in my head. What if something happened to me? What if I had a reaction to the anesthesia? What if they mess up and I become infertile? So many scenarios ran through my head and it was hard to get a grip on them.
Finally close to 4pm, a porter came to take me down to the operating room. My heart sank heavily as I gave Lilly a kiss and told her I would be right back. Would I be right back though? I was scared. With the porter wheeling my hospital bed out the door, I settled in for the ride. It was actually quite a lengthy trip to the OR complete with an elevator ride and many hallways turning left and right. Eventually, I came through a set of doors into a very empty and barely lit waiting space. The porter parked my bed next to the wall. I was the only person in the waiting space aside from some nurses at the desk. I grew cold waiting for what was going to happen next. The ruminating thoughts took over once more. Was I really about to have surgery? I hadn’t really had a surgery before. Could I trust them? I felt so nervous. I watched from my bed as the nurses at the desk chatted with each other. Someone else came out and joined them. She was jovial and joking with them. I wondered what was taking so long and how much longer I would have to sit here being held fully hostage to my anxious thoughts. I wish I could say my faith was greater and that I felt God’s peace around me in that moment. I just didn’t. Finally, the jovial lady who had been joking at the front desk broke away and headed over to me. She was another petite lady and introduced herself as Jessica (not her real name). She was quite lively and she explained she was the anesthetist. I remember noticing how vibrant her cap was that she wore over her hair and I thought it matched her lively personality. I promised myself that I would ask her every question no matter how silly they sounded so I could feel at peace about what was going to happen. I explained that I had this fear about reacting to the anesthesia and how I wanted the lighter, less asleep version. I explained that I was breastfeeding my brand new baby (literally BRAND NEW) and I didn’t want to compromise my milk. I started crying at this point. Overcome with fear for what was going to happen in this surgery. I was sad that, yet again, foreign substances were entering my body and would also be entering into Lilly’s. Jessica’s eyes brimmed with empathy at the sight of my tears. She then handed me a sheet paper. It was an infographic and I actually laughed when she handed it to me and said, “Oh, you have no idea how helpful this is.” It’s like she knew that infographics were secretly my favourite! She explained (using the infographic) the cocktail of drugs she would use and how none had any risk for breastfeeding mothers. She also explained how unfortunately, I would not be able to use the lighter method of anesthesia. At the mention of this news, my anxiety spiked and I started to cry again. With kindness, she brought up that in the event of an emergency situation that required intubation, under a lighter anesthesia they would have to take time to intubate me. In an emergency situation, she explained that they would prefer not to have to take the time and sometimes the airways collapse before they can intubate. Because I had just given birth, I was considered at a slightly higher risk and she expressed that she would ultimately feel more comfortable with me fully sedated instead of just lightly sleeping. I nodded with my understanding and explained that I didn’t know what to expect. Being put to sleep for surgery isn’t something I had really experienced before. She walked me through it and assured me she would be there every step of the way. I was a mess. She knew it, she saw it, she felt it. She looked right into me at that moment and told me, ‘You’re going to be ok.” I took a deep breath and she told me someone would come to get me soon… and they did. As I was being pushed into the OR, I had my eyes closed. I remember some of the nurses saying ‘Hi, Ashley.” and maybe asking me when my birthday was. I remember hearing Jessica telling me that I was about to feel tired and to count backwards. I started counting and felt the pressure in my throat that Jessica said I would feel as they intubated me. I remember closing my eyes and saying a simple, simple prayer, “God, protect me.” and then I remember darkness.
Remember how Dr. Mel explained that a D&C (the surgery) was only a thirty minute procedure and I would only be gone for, at most, an hour? Remember how I went down to the OR around 4pm? Naturally, Kevynn and my mom expected me to be back in our maternity room around 5pm.
Well, 5pm came and went.
Then 6pm came and went.
With my family waiting on pins and needles wondering where I was, Lilly was stirring and becoming hungry. They wondered why wasn’t I back yet and why no one had come in with an update.
Finally near 7pm, I called them.
I had woken up in the recovery space downstairs next to the OR and the nurse there handed me a phone and told me to call my family. I was able to call up to the maternity room and tell them I was alright. I had no understanding or awareness that THREE hours had passed. After what felt like hours of crunching and munching on some ice chips (which felt heavenly on my parched throat), I was finally able to return upstairs to my baby girl, my husband and my mom.
When I arrived back upstairs to our maternity room, I was elated to have my baby girl back in my arms. I could breathe a little deeper with Lilly happily snuggled in on my chest. I prayed I would not be separated from her again for a long long time. It was too hard on my heart, honestly, to be away from her. My mom and Kevynn asked me what took so long and I didn’t have any answers for them, I told them of my lengthy wait in the OR waiting room but that I didn’t think it had been THAT long. Eventually, Dr. Mel joined us and explained. She began with some bad news. Unfortunately, during the procedure, she was unable to retrieve all of the placenta. The very thing that landed me in this place had not been entirely removed. I felt disappointed. She then explained that she wasn’t able to get it because I had begun to severely hemorrhage as soon as she began the procedure. She thought perhaps there was a nearby artery that was nicked and thus only part of placenta was removed (recall that is was a tiny, tiny, tiny piece to begin with) and with that I lost 1.3L of blood on the table, rapidly. They inserted something called a Bakri balloon that expanded to fill the uterus and apply pressure to the wound/source of the bleeding. They kept me in recovery for as long as they did to ensure that I hadn’t lost too much blood, that I was stable and that my hemoglobin levels were in the normal range (which for future reference is about 120-160g/L). In recovery, my levels were sitting at 118g/L and they were satisfied with that. We were told that the fragment of placenta that Dr. Mel did retrieve would be sent off for testing (to see if it indeed was infected). With the insertion of the Bakri balloon came a drainage tube and attached collection bag. She said they would be monitoring the bleeding/drainage from the balloon to ensure all was well throughout the night and I should be able to go home in a day or two as clots formed and I healed. She also explained that confirming the infection was also going to help in getting me home quickly. So I settled in to rest as Dr. Mel left. I was feeling overwhelmed with everything I had just learned. Everything was so unexpected. What are the chances that an artery would be right there? How could I have lost that much blood? Thank goodness Jessica encouraged me to do the full anesthesia. 1.3L of blood sounds like a lot. I wonder if I am ok. Will I be ok? What if they didn’t get enough of the piece and they have to do another surgery? What if it is really badly infected? And there I was on the runaway anxiety train. I closed my eyes and breathed slowly. My mom had to leave relatively quickly after my return as it was already almost 8pm. As much as I wanted her to stay, she had to head over to our house to tend to our sweet dog. She fed him and took him for a walk as the snow began to fall. Then she was headed home herself on the snow covered highway that blustery winter night to her tend to her dog and get some much needed rest. By the time my mom was climbing into bed at home, Kevynn was sitting in the rocking chair by the window watching the heavy snowfall while Lilly slept in his arms. I was trying my best to rest, too. I had been ‘awake’ for almost two days straight aside from my anesthesia induced sleep. I felt completely drained.
Unfortunately, there was no rest to be had that night. Not by me, my mom, Kevynn or Lilly. Death was knocking on my door.