If I had gotten the flu shot the year I was pregnant I would have...
Been the first person to hold my child
Taken him to his first checkup
Had a tearful and joyful first few minutes as a new family of three
Been the first person to rock my son to sleep
Given him his first kiss
Given him his first kiss
Breastfed my baby
The ability to have more kids
Seen the look on my parents face when they met their first Grandchild for the first time
Decide who he looked like before anyone else had a chance
Had a natural childbirth
Be the first person to count all his fingers and all his toes
Taken him home from the hospital
Fill out his "first few days" in his baby book
Witnessed his first smile
Gotten to be the one to introduce him to his big cousin
And to his furry brother
Put him in his crib his first night home
Been a part of his first pictures
Give him his first bath
Dressed him in all his newborn outfits
Been a part of the first 8.5 weeks of his life
Been a part of the first 8.5 weeks of his life
Instead of having all these things with my Son, when he was born, I was horribly sick with the flu. We didn't know how bad it was at the time of his birth, but shortly after his delivery, my husband was informed that I had less than a 50% chance of survival. A chance that diminished greatly within the following hours and days. The flu had become pneumonia and then into acute respiratory distress syndrome. As my Son ended his first full day of life, I was put into a medically induced coma and onto a machine that took all the blood from my body and oxygenated it so my lungs could rest and try to heal. It was a last ditch effort to try and save the newborn baby's Mom.
As our Son continued to grow, my husband and I spent the first five weeks of his life in a glass room in the ICU. Along with my husband, my parents, family, and friends spent many sleeplessness nights in the waiting room hoping and praying for anything but bad news. As our son was given his first bath, I was receiving sponge baths and developing bed sores as they were unable to move me. When he was being fed bottles, I was receiving all my food through a feeding tube down my nose. As he made his first, second, and third visits to his pediatrician, I had a team of doctors working around the clock to keep me alive.
During his first 18 days of his life, all my blood left my body and received life sustaining necessities from an device called an ECMO machine. On the 19th day, I was prematurely pulled off the machine due to possible infection. Once off ECMO, I was still on a ventilator and fighting infections. I also dealt with necrotizing tissue on my leg which required a debridement surgery, a uterine artery embolization after substantial blood loss that wouldn't abate, a partially collapsed lung that required a chest tube, and a tracheotomy after being on a ventilator for too long. At my lowest point, my survival chances were less than 10%.
Eventually though I began to pull through and recover although for me, my hardest days where just beginning. Once brought out of full sedation, my reality and nightmares where more than I could bear. Being tortured over and over again was an all too real nightmare that I lived in for days. One so real that I was terrified to fall asleep and so convincing that even today I almost swear that it all happened. Early on, as I lay awake unable to move I had two catheters to allow me to go to the bathroom. As I lay in bed feeling sick one morning, I was assured I could just go and be it would ok. Unfortunately, my lines where pinched and soon two male nurses where in my room, undressing and removing my sheets by rolling me from one side the other, then wiping the mess from my naked body. At that point, I could barely even raise an arm to help them. The feeling of desolation, humility, and despair felt like the only thing I had left. I was 25 years old and wished I would have just died.
After 34 days of lying a hospital bed, I tried to stand for the first time. I was lifted up by two physical therapists, stood for 5 seconds holding onto a walker, and then collapsed; My legs too weak to hold the weight of my body. It was at that moment that I realized just how bad of shape I was in, Still on a tracheotomy and feeding tube, I was not supposed to have any liquids down my throat for fear of aspiration. I learned rather quickly what true thirst was like. I would beg and plead with my husband just for one ice chip. After a rather grueling task of sitting upright in a chair for 30 minutes, I had a number of ice chips and soon after threw up. The nurses banned all ice for good. It was a devastating moment for me. I experienced a myriad of excruciating pains, but nothing compared to thirst.
On my Son's 42nd day of life, I was transferred to an inpatient rehab center. During my first few days there, getting dressed took over 30 minutes. I couldn't lift my arm enough to so much as brush my hair and I wasn't allowed to walk more than a few feet with my walker before being stopped by my tachycardic heart. I worked a whole week on being able to get on and off the toilet and another trying to walk and hold an object (like a baby). Every morning I would try to stand at the sink and brush my teeth without needing to sit or rest my arm.
When he was 45 days old, they brought Landon to the rehab center so we could finally meet. It was not the beautiful moment that people think of when meeting their child for the first time. They wheeled me into a room and I was required to wear a blue plastic hospital gown for fear of giving him any infections. Sitting up was exhausting and hard work and a lift belt wrapped around my chest was horribly uncomfortable. With me, in the wheel chair, was my wound vac and a heart monitor. Within minutes I was sweating under the plastic gown. He came in his car seat sound asleep. I didn't feel an overwhelming sense of love. I just felt distance and fear. Even more, I was so wrapped up in my own pain and uncomfortable state that I couldn't even relax and enjoy the few minutes we had. By this time, my trach had been removed and a slowly closing hole was left in its place. Every time I wanted to talk to my son, or anyone else, I had to hold one hand over the hole putting pressure on the gauze so that my words could be heard. After a 30 minute visit, I had to go rest. Despite being told he could visit everyday after that, I couldn't do it and choose not to see him anymore. While I understand that this does not seem like a rational decision to most people, it was the right one at that stage in my recovery.
When our son was 60 days old, I left the hospital and we became a family. A family, with a nurse that visited multiple times a week to check on me. To view my open wounds which still included a trach hole, a large opening on my leg, and an open c-section. I had physical therapy come to the house as well and learned within the first few hours of being a real Mom that the hardest workout of my day was just carrying Landon to his changing pad. By the time I was ready to change his diaper, sweat would be pouring off my face. Holding him was hard, so I didn't do it very much. Despite his young age, my needs were actually greater and many times he would lay in his crib crying while my husband worked on the long and delicate task of changing out my wound dressing. It was a priority that came before all else at a time when it should have been him that was the priority. It would leave me in tears and it wasn't because my baby was crying in the other room.
If I had gotten the flu shot, the first 60 days of Motherhood wouldn't have robbed from me. I wouldn't have pictures of strangers holding my Son instead of his own Mom and Dad. I know why I didn't get the flu shot. I remember the exact event. I was about two months pregnant when I watched a 20/20 news story of a girl who had received the flu shot and from the side effects could only walk backwards. Her name was Desiree Jennings. I was shocked, horrified and disgusted and from that broadcast I formed a complete distrust in all things vaccine. If you google this girl now, more google results will show her more as a hoax than a true victim of vaccination side effects. I don't care to know if her story is true or not. It is my fault for turning against vaccines, but I do often wonder what would have happened if, after they showed her story, they had shown a story like mine. Or a story similar to mine that didn't have the happy ending,
Every year the flu kills and it doesn't just kill a few people, but thousands. While it is true that most people can fight the flu, it is also true that high risk groups such as children, elderly, people with lowered immune systems, and pregnant women may not be able to. Their body is either too busy working on something else, like growing a baby, or fighting other health issues. Healthy adults may not feel a need for the flu shot, but how many of those people have children? Are around an aging parent or grandparent? Have a pregnant wife? Maybe even have a health issue that is not diagnosed?
I implore everyone to have an earnest discussion with their doctor on the benefits AND drawbacks of the flu shot. If you can't do that, then it is time to get a new doctor. There are so many wonderful doctors out there, finding one who will give you the time of day is possible. Read articles and educate yourself beyond the confines of Mother Jones. Or read those articles and then read the actual studies the data is based on. Science isn't hard to read or understand. Draw your own conclusions, don't let an opinion piece or a news story be the only thing that forms your decision.
At two months pregnant, if I had heard a story like mine, if I had been told that this was a good story and that there are many out there with far worse endings, with more pain, loss, and suffering then maybe things would have been different for me. If I had realized that there was another side to the flu vaccine debate, an even uglier side than what I had been exposed to, then maybe my son would have opened his eyes for the first time and seen his mother. Those first 60 days of his life could have been filled with the love, joy, and happiness that they are supposed to be. If I had gotten the flu shot, maybe our first family photo would be beautiful. Maybe it would be hanging on our wall or in a photo album that we lovingly reminisce over. Instead, our first family photo brings me nothing but pain and memories of a time I'd rather forget. The first 60 days of our Son's life was the worst time in my life and it was all because I didn't get the flu shot.
Update: I just want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this post and most especially thank those who are sharing it. This little blog was created to keep our family and friends back home up to date on our daily lives and even when writing this post, I never in my wildest dreams thought it would reach so many people. I want to address one thing to clarify a few comments. My blood was tested and the flu strain that I had was Influenza A subtype H1N1 which was covered by the 2010-2011 flu shot. I was 39 weeks pregnant at the end of January in 2011 when I became ill. After two days in the hospital, a worrisome x-ray, and a night of horrible coughing, the doctors decided to give me a c-section and then scope my lungs. Although I came to for a few hours afterward, they put me out completely for the c-section (on Jan. 29th) and the next day I remember was March 3rd.
I am going to leave all comments up because I understand there are many skeptical people in the world today. I get it, I use to be one of them. I had planned a 100% natural childbirth, hired a doula, taken 12 weeks of Bradley classes and picked a hospital in another state just so I could have a midwife. I spent a lot of time and effort planning out the perfect birth only to have it become a nightmare I could have never even imagined. I still 100% support all those things, but instead of focusing on the music I wanted to be playing during birth, I wish I had really focused on my health and gotten the flu shot.
It took me almost 5 years to write this post, because it meant going to some pretty dark places. In the time since this event occurred I've gone through many emotions. There is no doubt that this was the most life changing event of my entire life, but I am not consumed it by on a daily basis. It shaped me, but in no way defines me. You can read about 95% of this blog and never even know these events occurred. I don't dwell on trying to go back in time, because this has shaped who I've become today and I am happy with that. However, if I can prevent from happening to just 1 person, it would all seem worth it. Anyone who is interested to read a little more about how this shaped my life or even my struggles can read these other posts.
Overcoming: Lessons I've learned over the past four years- HERE.
Happiness that I wrote about six months later- HERE.
Struggling with survivors guilt-HERE
Lastly, for anyone who thinks I am making this up, there is not much I can do to convince you. However, this video was produced by Jewish Hospital in Louisville, KY after my release. I'm not here to prove anything to anyone, only help. Once again, thanks everyone for reading!