Marc-Antoine and I continue to heal and grieve, thankful for all of the love, support and especially the prayers, that we have received. We have been generously covered by graces and continued miracles. This is an update, a Part 2 to my post, “Miracles & Trauma.”
Disclosure: there are images in this post that may be triggering for some regarding infant loss.
On November 16th, I was discharged from hospital. With a lengthy list of prescription medications and anticoagulant injections, I was stable and well enough to leave the care of the Ottawa General Hospital and return home. To the amazement of all in the hospital caring for me, I was recovering faster than anyone anticipated. I was walking—albeit slowly and with much pain—even able to go up and down stairs. The week prior, I couldn’t even lift my legs! My blood pressure was stable, oxygen was at 100% and I was completely independent of the multitude of wires and IV’s I’d depended on not even a week ago.
The medical concerns at the time of my discharge included the presence of a new clot in my upper left thigh (caused by surgical placement of the catheters needed to save my life), general pain management and a urinary tract infection (UTI) that I’d unfortunately developed during my hospital stay.
First Week Home—First Visit to the ER
My adjustment to home life was a bit overwhelming at first. I was, of course, delighted to see my children but it was also somewhat overstimulating. Also as a type-A person, I saw areas of my home that I felt needed decluttering or organization: minute house cleaning tasks that were utterly unimportant but that caused me anxiety. Women had come in to clean and organize my home before I came home, which was such a beautiful gift and, since my home was already clean, the little details that bothered me could wait for another day, yet I still caught myself repositioning chairs and cushions, picking up toys, clearing the counter and more. I felt like I could do it all, but then the pain would escalate and the swelling would get worse, and I’d be apologizing to my husband for overdoing it.
“Do I have to tie you down?” Marc asked, scolding me for not resting. I laughed, but he was right. I needed to slow down and rest.
I spent the remainder of the week navigating the precarious balance between rest and activity. Too much rest and I risked further clotting. Not enough rest and I risked increased swelling, pain or causing my recovery to regress.
A few friends came to visit, we had appointments and administrative tasks regarding the preparation of Raphaël’s burial and mass celebration, plus additional medical appointments to fill out our schedule. Saturday, November 27th was the day chosen for Raphaël’s burial ceremony.
On the evening of Monday the 22nd, the first Monday out of hospital, I noticed the sudden appearance of a large, enflamed 3-inch long cord to the right of my groin. Alarmed, I asked my husband if I was imagining it or if he’d seen it before. We were both concerned, wondering if perhaps my body was rejecting the stent in my femoral artery or something. Unsure, we made an appointment with my family doctor. Although I had no other symptoms like fever, swelling, redness or loss of sensation, he inspected me, counselling us to go to the ER.
Marc-Antoine stayed home with the kids and my mom and I went together to the hospital that night. We prayed during our drive and made lovely conversation together. As one in eight children, moments alone with either of my parents are an understandable rarity. Despite the circumstances, I enjoyed that time we had together, almost like we were out for a girls date and not at an urgent visit to the hospital.
A CT scan revealed that the stent in my femoral artery was blocked. The cord-like lump in my leg was a hematoma completely unrelated to the stent itself but, thankfully, it brought us to the hospital so that we could preemptively identify this new complication. At risk of losing my leg, I began to cry—terrified.
The emerge doctor, a sweet woman with kind eyes, brought me to a private room to discuss the findings. She’d called the lead vascular surgeon at the Civic Hospital who was baffled by a number of things: why was I still clotting when I was on heavy doses of anticoagulant? How did I still have circulation, no pain and no other apparent symptoms in my right leg when there was a definite occlusion to the stent? The surgeon concluded that my leg would not need to be amputated—thank God!—and that immediate surgery would not be required, but he asked me to present myself at the ER at the Civic in the morning.
Marc and I went to the Civic together the morning of November 24th to meet with the vascular surgery team. The big question was whether or not we’d need to do surgery. The resident doctor did an overall assessment, confirmed adequate strength and sensation in my foot, pulse and blood flow. Bringing his observations to the lead surgeon, they returned together to explain what was going on.
Since I had no additional symptoms (swelling, redness, numbness, pain, etc.), the doctor was confident we were past the danger of any serious complications (such as amputation). This was a huge consolation for me! The vascular surgeon said bypass surgery would be more of a risk to me than a benefit since I was still clotting. Surgery was also not a long-term solution to repair the blocked stent since I’d likely require revision surgery every ten years or so.
With surgery off the table and my leg responding well, the surgeon felt comfortable sending me home and scheduling a follow-up with close monitoring should anything change.
What had transpired in those last 24 hours were nothing short of miraculous! Firstly, although it is possible for a body to create a natural bypass, it usually takes the body an extended period of time to adjust and create those new connections. What baffled the doctors is how my body was able to create new pathways for my blood within the span of one week! Baffling, yes, but ultimately a happy outcome.
Second, the resident doctor explained to us that the stent was not in an ideal place. No doctor would place a stent between the thigh and groin area except to save a life (which was my case). The stent could move out of place and create future complications for me. However—and the doctor said this with a chuckle, calling it an oxymoron of sorts—the fact that my stent was clotted would now secure the stent in place, protecting me from the stent travelling through my artery.
“So many miracles,” I exclaimed to my husband, shaking my head in amazement.
“I’ve had enough miracles,” Marc replied, making me laugh.
But, why was I still clotting?
A large clot had formed in my left thigh before my discharge on November 16th, provoked by the surgery that saved my life from the bilateral pulmonary embolisms. Trying to rid my body of clots, the thrombosis team expressed their frustrations and sympathies.
During a follow-up with my thrombosis doctor on November 25th, I asked why I was still clotting and she explained the short answer was due to hormones. Still newly postpartum, my body was creating hormones that kept me at a higher risk for clotting. Overall happy with my progress, my treatment would continue via daily injections and I could go home. This was a relief, but even more reassuring, was the fact that I’d be home for Raphaël’s burial and ceremony.
Burial Ceremony—“Célébration des Anges”—November 27th
A thin layer of white dusted the earth, its cold touch dampened my grey slippers as the wind bit at my exposed skin with cruelty. I clung to my husband’s thick coat, our bodies shaking from our tears, from our grief.
With deepest pain, my husband carried our baby in the small wooden box, beautifully crafted and tragically light. He placed the casket on a table, glorious under the light of the sun. He shouldn’t have to lay our son to rest. We shouldn’t be burying our perfect little boy. The ache of that moment—the ache of every moment since I heard he did not survive—aches still as I write all this.
Blinking back tears, I closed my eyes, the warmth of the sun penetrating the cold and warming me to the core. A wide grin spread across my face, in complete contrast to the tears we shed.
When I was a teenager and going through an agonizing heartbreak, a family friend comforted me, asking me if I could feel the warmth of the sun.
“When I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin,” she said, “I like to close my eyes and imagine God embracing me.”
Since then, every time I walk in nature and the sun comes out, I close my eyes and imagine Christ’s kiss.
That moment in the cemetery, under the brilliant light of the sun, when my shattered heart needed more comfort than any human could provide, God shone the light of the sun on me. Penetrating the bitter cold, His arms wrapped around me in their warmth and His presence filled my brokenness, giving me a moment of joy amidst my grief.
The whole ceremony was like a wedding, in a way. We’d chosen the readings, purchased flowers and dressed in formal attire. The music was glorious—perfect. Despite our tragic loss, joy and hope pervaded the atmosphere. It was the most beautiful and heart wrenching experience of my life.
Second Week Home—Back to the ER
During the night of November 28th, I woke up with intense shakes and feverish chills that reverberated painfully in my chest. The chills would come and go with a low-grade fever but, with no other worrisome symptoms, I decided to wait things out.
By November 30th, the fever persisted and had risen in temperature. Concerned but not too thrilled at the idea of returning to the ER, especially if it was something minor, I called one of my doctor’s at the General for advice. It was almost 10:00 PM when we spoke on the phone but she encouraged I go to the ER. She was concerned for the worst case, that I could have bacteria in my blood that, if left untreated, could cause me to go into septic shock (which could be life threatening). She said I could also have pneumonia, a UTI, the flu, Covid, a cold, anything. She strongly recommended I not wait the night.
My Mom came to stay the night at our house and Marc brought me to the ER at the General. We were admitted immediately after I went through triage and updated the nurse. She decided to escalate me to Emergent Care. Once there, they did a scan of my heart and drew blood for tests. My blood pressure was low so they put me on IV fluids. They performed a CT scan of my stomach and chest, a chest X-ray and a urine test—all throughout the night.
I slept between tests, although my poor husband did not rest as well, if at all. I was fortunate to have a bed, but he was subject to stay at my bedside, seated in a plastic chair. He remained this way, without complaint, until the morning at 10:00 AM, December 1st, when we received a preliminary diagnosis.
I was definitely suffering a UTI with kidney inflammation and infection which would explain the pain I’d been experiencing in my left flank. I’d been feeling a sharp pain on inhalation, thinking it could have been body aches caused by the fever or potential pneumonia. When my diaphragm expanded, it pushed down on my inflamed kidney, causing me pain. Antibiotics were started through IV but since the cultures had not yet matured, they couldn’t send me home without a more targeted oral form of antibiotic. At the same time, my blood pressure continued to drop each time I was taken of IV fluids, indicating sepsis. Marc went home to get some rest while I remained in hospital for another 24 hours of monitoring.
In the afternoon I had terrible shakes for over an hour and half. I was freezing and the pain in my flank reached an 8/10. I started crying from the pain and then because I missed Raphaël. I called the nurse and asked for pain meds and warm blankets. My fever broke that night before bed and I did a FaceTime with my family who was celebrating my son William’s birthday at my parent’s house.
After two days in Emergent Care, I was officially admitted to hospital and transferred to a private room. Finally, a room with a window! Being able to see outside helped my mood considerably. No longer feverish, my condition improved greatly and I found that I’d even recovered more physical strength and mobility. Despite missing my family and the comfort of home, I believe my body needed more time to rest so I could heal more efficiently.
Physically, I was on the uphill but, emotionally, I had my moments.
It’s hard to keep being strong. Somehow, at first, it was easy but as the days go on, the harder it becomes. I miss my baby…I miss him and want him so much. It is hard. I have incredible joy and gratitude but then these moments of intense loss and heartbreak. When the grief hits, I usually take a few minutes to cry, and then it passes. I also write letters to Raphaël, telling him how I miss him and love him. The pain will never go away, I know this already to be true, but I cling to hope and whatever positivity I can grasp, trusting that I will be okay, that my family will be okay, as we journey through this trauma and pain.
December 3rd, no longer hooked up to an IV, I was permitted leave to order a coffee at the Second Cup downstairs. It felt so good to use my legs again without the assistance of a walker! I enjoyed an afternoon revising my fantasy novel to be published in 2022 and then I began writing through some of my emotions, expressing my mixture of immense joy and intense heartbreak. That afternoon, since my Covid test came back negative, I was moved to a semi-private (2 person) room. And I got the window!!!! I was grateful to God for the gift!
That night, my Doctor came to visit, informing me that my cultures came back and that I had E-coli in my blood from the infection in my kidneys. When I’d had the low grade fever, it was probably the infection as it was travelling up the tract into the kidney. Then as it started leeching into the blood, it caused E-coli and my temperature started to go up, but my blood pressure also got dangerously low. She was the doctor I’d called before going to the ER and she emphasized how timely my admittance to the hospital was. If I’d stayed home, she said I wouldn’t have made it until the morning without going into septic shock! I couldn’t believe it!
I remained in hospital until December 5th since the bacteria was especially resistant to the antibiotic trials and I’d needed IV antibiotics until they finally found an oral antibiotic I could start taking at home. That evening, I was discharged and returned home where I continue to recover.
The Power of a Name
The past few weeks have been a rollercoaster of fears, relief and more miracles. I ask, “Lord what are you doing with my life? Why me?” Again, I feel this is more than me and between resting and going to the hospital, I’ve begun writing these miraculous events in a book. What was to be Raphaël’s story, however, has expanded to include me in a larger role than I’d initially thought.
When writing about Raphaël in my blog post, “Miracles & Trauma,” I emphasized the meaning of his name: Healing or God has healed. My name, Vanessa, is of Greek origin and has an association with the butterfly. The butterfly is known for transformation as the caterpillar is deconstructed within the chrysalis and grows into something beautiful and new. What a significant realization! Through death to life, God has begun a marvellous work in me and, although this is just the beginning of that transformation, I don’t disregard the very clear correlation between my name and my experience. I have therefore decided to title my novel, “The Power of a Name,” and will continue to develop the story as God works in my life and continues to reveal the purpose of these works.
If this story has touched your life in any way, please do not hesitate to send your testimony. There has been healing, transformation, miracles and great power in prayer. If any of these resound with you, it would be an honour to include your witness in my book. (You may submit through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org). Thank you.
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