Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Five Years Later PSA

This is a post that I do every year, because it is something that is, for obvious reasons, very important to me to educate and inform people about. Since posting about my experience with an ectopic pregnancy and talking about it, I have had three women who told me that knowing the symptoms was what got them to the hospital in time. Please read it. Please tell other women about it.

This year it is strange to think about. Five years ago I didn't have an agent. I didn't have a book deal. I was sure I'd get pregnant again right away. It took me four years to really heal, to realize that waiting for something I "needed" to make me happy was keeping me from being happy with my amazing life. So, I changed my view of things. That was the real happy ending. The baby I had in June? Our deliriously joyful bonus.

First and foremost, I'm glad I'm not dead.

Seriously. I'm really, really glad I'm not dead. That would have sucked. And, thanks to the fact that I recognized warning symptoms and had some emergency surgery five years ago today, I get to be alive to appreciate being alive. I'm a big fan.

So in honor of my not-dying anniversary, I'm doing a PSA about ectopic pregnancy. Even if you never plan on having children, these are important symptoms to know because you could very well save the life of someone you love. Or your own. (Unless you are a guy, in which case your risk of ectopic pregnancy = non-existent. Still, you like women, right?)

An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy in which a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus. This is a bad thing. Usually the egg implants in the fallopian tube; occasionally it implants other places. 2% of all pregnancies are ectopic. That's 1 in 50. Certain factors increase your risks--tubal scarring, abdominal surgery, endometriosis, fertility treatments, IUDs--but it can happen to anyone. I had no real risk factors.

An even scarier statistic than the one-in-fifty? Ectopic pregnancies are the number one cause of pregnancy-related death. Part of the problem is that many women with ectopic pregnancies don't even know they're pregnant. Because your body doesn't produce as many hormones, you might continue having periods like normal, ignore the sudden pain, go to bed because you're feeling tired and dizzy, and never wake up.

I know that sounds terrible and scary. It is. It happens. So even if you don't think you're pregnant, or if you think you are just having a standard miscarriage (which was what I thought), always, ALWAYS call the doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Sharp pain on one side of your lower abdomen. When you press down on it, it will be a stabbing pain that you will feel reflected in the other side, but one side will be more tender. Once your tube actually bursts the pain will lessen considerably--DO NOT IGNORE THAT. All it means is that you are now bleeding internally.
  • Feeling dizzy and lightheaded when you aren't lying down. This would be because of the internal bleeding. Also, difficulty and discomfort breathing.
  • And finally, the key symptom: when you lie down, you have a sharp, stabbing pain in your shoulder. This is called referred pain, and is caused by the blood filling up your abdomen and pushing on your lungs. (This is also a symptom of a burst appendix and often happens after abdominal surgery, in case you were interested.) If you EVER have abdominal pain that is reflected in your shoulder when you lie down, go to the hospital immediately. And have someone else drive you.
Like I said, you may not think you are pregnant, but if there is any chance whatsoever you could be and you have these symptoms, have someone drive you to the hospital immediately or call 911. If I had ignored my symptoms and let my husband go to work that day, I probably would have fallen asleep on the couch and never woken up again. I was in surgery within two or three hours of the pain starting, and at that point I had lost so much blood I nearly needed a transfusion.

But, because I am obsessive and had researched every pregnancy-related topic under the sun, I knew something was wrong. And I'm not dead. And that's a good thing.

Here's hoping you never have to recognize the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy. But now you can, and that's the important thing.


Rebecca said...

What a terrible experience. It was bad enough for me when I had what you call a "standard miscarriage." To have suffered the loss and the physical trauma? I don't even want to think about it.

Thanks for sharing your story, and I'm so glad you have your little miracle!

Patricia Lynne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patricia Lynne said...

Thanks for the information. Even though I don't want kids, it's good to know for my friends and family's sakes.

Also, congrats on your little one.

the hatch batch said...

Since I have had an ectopic pregnancy, I would add to pay attention to your instincts. Mine didn't burst because we caught it in time but I had strange pain in my lower left side that felt better when I laid on it. Also, I had bleeding that started around the time of my period, lasted a few days then quit for a few days then started again, then stopped again and so on. I called in to the OB's office and they put me on the pill (I had an IUD) to regulate my hormones since they seemed out of whack. Because I had heard somewhere that you should always take a pregnancy test before you start the pill, just in case, we caught it. I knew something felt wrong but I figured the doctors knew what they were doing. Listen to your gut and don't be afraid to question what your doctor says if something doesn't "feel" right!

LauraN said...

Congratulations on not being dead. I highly approve. When I first got married, I was warned about my cousin's wife's ectopic pregnancy--very nasty. Fortunately I never had one. But the cycle is starting over, and this is a reminder to warn the next generation.

John Wiswell said...

Thank you so much for sharing some of your experience and the warning signs. While I'm certainly not at risk, it's the sort of thing I want to know to look out for in others, and be aware of as a possibility. 1 in 50 are not good odds for the ignorant. I appreciate this.

Anonymous said...

During WWII my grandma had an ectopic pregnancy. She told me that she wasn't feeling well and had the pains you describe so she went to the doctor. At that time many doctors were overseas tending to wounded soldiers, leaving medical care for women particularly scarce.

The doctor blew her off and told her she was just imagining things. She went back a second time and he again told her she was just fine and all will be well. She made an appointment with a second doctor and the night before that appointment she was in tremendous pain until, as you mentioned, her tube ruptured.

She felt a lot better after that and almost didn't keep the appointment but went anyway. As she sat in a waiting room with dozens of women, a nurse walked out and, upon seeing her said, "You don't look well. Come back with me right now." Grandma protested because she felt badly cutting in front of everyone, but it saved her life. The doctor rushed her to the hospital and performed a life-saving operation.

Afterward he told her that in all his years of surgery he had never seen so much blood in the abdomen where it wasn't supposed to be and that it was a miracle she had survived as long as she had.

So the moral of the story is that in addition to your list of crucial symptoms I would add: If your doctor does not take you seriously and tells you you are "imagining things," get a second opinion ASAP. It could save your life!