watershed [waw-ter-shed], n, an important period or factor that serves as a dividing line
If you’ve read my column over the years, you may have noticed that I make frequent reference to the catastrophic medical condition I suffered during the birth of our youngest child. It was one of those watershed events, so profound that my husband Peter and I view our lives in terms of before it and after it.
It was our fourth baby and honestly, I was the poster child for healthy pregnancies. No blood pressure problems, no heartburn or swelling. Under 35. Fast labors. Healthy babies. What’s not to like?
But as this baby was born, my wonderful life of health crumbled into devastation as my body was assaulted by an Amniotic Fluid Embolism. Amniotic Embolism is a rare but disastrous labor complication that claims the lives of 85 percent of the women and as many as 70 percent of the babies it touches. Death often occurs within minutes. Most survivors are brain-damaged.
Since I am writing this story, you know that I survived. But it did not happen quickly, nor easily. My journey back to health spanned years as I recuperated from massive surgery, clotting collapse and systemic failure. And since life-saving measures included blood products from several thousand donors, I carried a 1 in 20 chance of contracting HIV from the transfusions. That’s a frighteningly high number. (Note: This was in the 1990s; this statistic no longer applies.)
This left us with important decisions. Do I breastfeed the baby, thereby placing her at risk? Should I use latex gloves when bandaging bloody knees? And what about my husband – how could we protect him in the event that I had contracted HIV?
Half a year elapsed before an accurate HIV/AIDS test would be developed. All during those long months, we wondered, am I going to live or am I going to die?
The day finally arrived when my blood was tested. And then we waited.
Weeks later I received the most important telephone call of my life. “You’ll be relieved to know that the test was negative,” the doctor informed me. “You do not have HIV.” He was audibly relieved.
The following weekend, Peter and I went out for a special celebratory dinner. Nestled in the corner of a quiet restaurant, we clinked glasses and gleefully talked about having a future together. We had a future! It was worth celebrating.
Twenty years passed as we raised children, built careers and tried to serve God with our lives. About a year ago, I grew curious about my hospital medical file so I formally requested my records from St. Francis Hospital. Unfortunately, the records could not be located due to their age and the fact that they were not computerized. I was disappointed but not surprised.
So imagine my delight when I received a phone call from the hospital a year later, informing me that they had located my records and were sending them to me.
A few days later the package arrived.
Reading the file was surreal. I was reading about myself, about the most harrowing and vulnerable time of my life, and yet I remember little of it. I found the story riveting.
The following Saturday, it was my turn to plan Date Night for Peter and me. I made spicy cocktail sauce and bought a special bottle of wine – the same wine Peter had given as a gift to my surgeon 20 years earlier. We curled up on the couch, clinked glasses and feasted on shrimp as we slowly read my hospital file. While I have few memories of that time, Peter remembers it in chilling detail. Only the safe distance of two decades makes it possible for him to relive those awful events.
This probably sounds morbid, but in reality, it was a celebration of life, a celebration that I’d been graced with 20 extra years to laugh with my children and cradle grandbabies and begin the process of growing old with Peter. God had given us a future. And as of today, we have a future still.
This watershed event has changed me in so many ways. I’m not as likely to get angry when a driver cuts me off or as irritated when Peter leaves dirty socks on the floor. Loved ones are more cherished. Donuts taste better. Being handed a second chance at life can do this. You don’t waste second chances.
I suppose what I’m saying is that I’ve made my peace with the past, cherish today and thank God for whatever future he chooses to bestow upon us.
“I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.