Monday, December 12, 2011

A Tale of Two Sisters-1 year ago

A year ago, we had no idea what we were in store for. How in an instant our simple lives were about to change forever. Busy with kids, sleepless nights with a baby, the full swing of the holidays and soon to be the birth of our newest addition to the family, our nephew, Tyler Benton Kutler, things couldn't be better. Going back to this time 1 year ago is not easy for me, though I think about it 50 times a day, and remember it like it was yesterday. The wounds for me, are still fresh. It cuts like a knife thinking about what my sister went through, but at the same time I celebrate every day since that I've had with her and truly thank God for giving me my sister back. Though what happened to Cally was tragic in every sense of the word, her story is one of survival and inspiration. December 13 is a day I will remember forever. It was one of the best days of my life as I got to witness my sweet nephew Tyler be born into this world. Everything went really well, and since I was the only other family member allowed at the hospital during the birth, next to our cousin and Cally's doula, Risa, I had the honor of making sure we got all the pictures and calls to each grandparent so they could hear his cries over the phone. Since it was so late at night, everyone else including Tyler's big brother was planning on visiting in the morning. After a while, Cally had some minor complications post birth, so we stuck around for a little while longer to make sure she was ok. The doctors were reassuring that they got everything under control. Since it was around midnight or later and they all needed some sleep we decided to leave. Something in my gut didn't feel right as I walked out of the hospital, and call it instinct or sister's intuition, but I just felt like I should stay. It's something I still have a hard time forgiving myself for. That night I laid awake for quite awhile. When my phone rang just an hour or so later, I knew something wasn't right. I jumped out of bed practically in hysterics, threw on the same clothes I had just taken off and ran out the door. When we pulled into the UNMC parking garage it was 3am. The only other car there and in the very first stall was my sisters'. It was of such irony because this is the very hospital that she works at as a NICU nurse, and normally her car would be parked there for work, but not today, December 14. Today was different. Today my sister was sick, and for the first time ever, I wasn't sure she was going to be ok. Cally had had postpartum hemorrhaging along with other complications. When we arrived at the hospital she was in the operating room and as reassuring and informative as the doctors were, we really had no idea what was going on behind those doors. I now know that it was most likely mass chaos, a whole medical team doing everything the could as to not only save a patient, but one of their own. Every 15 min. or so it seemed, a lady in scrubs would get off the elevator pushing a cart carrying an American Red Cross Box on it. As I would watch her take that long stride down the hall and disappear, it hit me. That is for Cally. There is no one else here that needs that much blood, or any blood at all. Hours went by before her doctor finally came to give us an update. Cally had lost so much blood and in such a short amount of time that she required a massive blood transfusion. She also had to have her uterus removed to save her life. Knowing that she got through it was such a relief and we all, along with her doctor cried and held each other. When they finally wheeled her out of the O.R. we walked her down to her ICU room. Those first few hours in the ICU for me were the hardest. I was prepared to be strong for Cally, to make jokes and lighten the mood, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. When she opened her eyes for the first time she couldn't talk because of the breathing tube down her throat. Her entire body had swelled to twice its size it seemed from all of the blood products she had received from her massive blood transfusion. She motioned for something to write with. I gave her a pen and paper and she wrote, "Where am I?" As I calmly explained to her that she was in ICU, I prayed she couldn't see the tears welling in my eyes. I could see the instant panic set into her face, and just as I thought she was going to freak out and start pulling out tubes, she slowly wrote, "Did they take my..." I interrupted her and said, "yes, they did." She nodded. The questions didn't stop there. It was her way to communicate with us. I could tell when her morphine was starting to wear off because she would frantically push her button to give her more, but it wasn't time yet, and I hated seeing her in so much pain. They sedated her as best they could but sometimes it wasn't enough and that was hard. That first night in ICU (I think) Matt laid baby Tyler on his mommy, and even though she couldn't hold him he was there next to her, healing her in a way no one else could..his tiny body was now nursing her back to health. The 24 hours or so that she had her breathing tube in were hard. Cally would try to gesture to me to move her a certain way or elevate her feet somehow and it would take my dumb self 20 minutes to figure out what she was trying to say. I remember she wanted her socks off once, and I seriously couldn't figure out what she wanted by her wiggling her feet. She got so frustrated because she couldn't talk and I couldn't understand her and she would just look like she was going to cry. When I finally figured it out, or someone else did, I don't remember, she just looked so relieved, and then I would make fun of myself for her benefit. The staff taking care of Cally was amazing. I remember her first ICU nurse she had that first day. Her name was Barb, and she, as Cally would explain later, was an angel in her ear. She didn't leave Cally's side for a second and we nicknamed her Badass Barb. Cally lost so much blood, that if she were in any other hospital she most likely wouldn't be here today. She received 60+ units of blood product that day and she is lucky she was at the Med Center. No new mother should have to endure what Cally went through, and I can't help thinking of the irony of it all, how she was literally fighting for her life in the same hospital that she saves premature babies in for a living. Last winter was a slow recovery for Cally and after a few scary setbacks and a trip back to the hospital after Christmas, she finally made a full recovery in early spring. I can't even begin to thank everyone who surrounded us all with love last year. Our family and friends who were literally on call to watch kids so we could go to the hospital, everyone who brought them meals every day for over a month, and even Cally's friend who donated her breastmilk for Tyler to have while Cally couldn't feed him. Last year at this time we had no idea what we were in store for, but do we ever? As the winter months fall over us it's hard not to feel the weight of anxiety pulling me down just thinking of last year. That being said, this Christmas and holiday season is one to celebrate and reflect. I just feel extremely lucky to have had 1 more year with my sister, my best friend, my other half. Hold the ones you love close, tell them you love them. What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger, and I truly believe that. Love you Cal! And Happy 1st Birthday Tyler Benton!