I watched a beautiful sunset jiggle and dip through the redwood trees that lined a winding two-lane road out the small back windows of an ambulance. I was strapped down and every few miles the driver would pull over and he and my attending EMT would switch roles, take my vitals and I finally asked, “Is there some regulation that you have to switch drivers after so many miles?”
The older of the two, the one who looked like he was maybe 23, looked embarrassed. “No, it’s just, we both get car sick”. This cracked me up.
I focused on the sunset. I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t in pain. I was uncomfortable and sad. My husband was following the ambulance with our two young boys. We had planned this camping trip on the last day of school and they were so excited. My achy back I attributed to the packing and the drive. I had taken the boys for a walk while my husband set up the tent and started a fire for dinner. I lay down in the tent for a while and when our 4 year old came in for a shoe tie, I sat up and Pop! A warm water balloon leaked into my lap and I knew. I felt responsible for holding this crew together while I told my husband that we were not having this baby and telling our boys that they were not going to sleep in tents outdoors with s’mores, but that we were now going to pack the truck after 45 minutes of camping and drive for a few hours.
We drove up to the ranger kiosk and my husband says to the female ranger, “We need a doctor, my wife’s not feeling well.” Just as she is asking what is wrong I push my husband back and lean forward meeting her eyes, “I’m having a miscarriage”.
She tells us to pull over. The ranger has two teenage sons who take my boys for some marshmallow and fire fun as the local EMTs arrive.
The Salt Point EMT crew is a young outdoorsy woman in her mid thirties and her partner, who is scrappy with a white beard and is a dead ringer for the Burt’s Bees dude in that little postage stamp sized ad in the New Yorker. He is very gentle and kind and as he takes my pulse, tells me about his wife’s miscarriage years ago and how it was sad but that they went on to have several children. There had been some talk about medi-vacing me out but I nixed the helicopter idea in the bud. As Burt and the young EMT’s loaded me into the ambulance, I worried that I might be too heavy.
After two and a half hours of a winding road in an ambulance I welcome the cool night air when I am unloaded. When I see the entrance to the Emergency Room of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, I am immediately panicked about what we will do with our boys. My husband finds me as I am being wheeled inside. He has called our friend Saskia and she is on her way up from Mill Valley to get our sleeping boys and take them home. They will wake up in their own beds and tomorrow this will all be over.
Inside the ER, I was transferred from the downy comfort of an ambulance gurney to a steel table with a disposable paper mattress and met the least charming nurse in North America. The queasy ambulance boys said goodbye and wished me well. It was almost midnight on a Friday and the room was chaos. A curtain was drawn around my table. To my right I hear the wheezing of an old man and his wife crying. He’s dying. Through the gaps in the curtain I can see a young woman across from me who is writhing, screaming, gagging and has my vote for the best string of expletives growled in a single breath. She is having a really bad night. I learn later from a nicer nurse that she was ODing on ecstasy. Somewhere there is a burst of yelling in Spanish and two Hispanic men were being tackled and pulled off each other. They had been brought in with knife wounds and were still going at it with their fists. Their loss of blood and the alcohol content of what remained were throwing off their aim and they were losing steam. So was I.
My drama was not even a blip on the radar in this circus. I was happy to be low priority. All around me was death and agony. I kept my jiggly sunset in my mind as the nurse came by to bully me and I cried as the final bits of our former baby made it’s exit. I was sad and tired and lucky to only have those complaints. I kept bleeding though and that got their attention. Bully nurse took one more swipe at me when she asked my blood type and I couldn’t remember. Hers was no match for Miss Ecstasy’s mouth. I was eased into a wheel chair and taken upstairs to a dark and very quiet sonogram room. I bled on everything and nobody seemed to notice. I kept apologizing. The sonogram revealed a quarter sized bit of placenta attached to the tippy top of my empty uterus and that was what was causing the blood loss.
I was prepped for a D & C. It was 2 AM and I was a wrung out rag and had to be helped to take out my earrings and remove my watch and wedding band. Then I remembered the navel ring. I couldn’t get it open and the anesthesiologist and surgeon found that amusing so they let it slide. I asked the surgeon if I could have a pair of scrubs to wear home, since my clothes were trashed and then I gripped his arm and told the anesthesiologist that I didn’t want to remember anything. They both smiled and assured me not to worry. I woke up coughing and a nurse reading a magazine next to my bed gave me ginger ale and wheeled me to a recovery room where I tried to sleep, but found this impossible. I heard babies crying, and realized I was in the maternity ward.
We have a third child now, and the five of us drive through Salt Point every year when we vacation at Sea Ranch and I get a shade less sad each time. I don’t tear up immediately, like the first few times we drove through, I just get quiet. I don’t feel like we lost an actual baby, or a person, but rather a hope was lost or a promise was broken. Less a death than a wish that didn’t come true.