The nurse called me into the room. A thirty-year-old woman had come in by ambulance. She told the nurse she was four months pregnant and had suddenly started to bleed heavily from her vagina. She was not having a lot of pain.
When I walked in the room, she was lying on the gurney in a hospital gown that was rapidly becoming soaked with blood. Playing around the bed were the patient’s two daughters, about three years and eighteen months in age. They seemed to have enjoyed the ambulance ride and were unbothered by the excitement and all of the blood.
A lot of things happen simultaneously when I face this sort of situation. One look helps get a feeling for how sick the person is. Then vital signs come as an IV is being started and blood tests are being ordered. All of this is happening while I am talking to the patient, listening to her and feeling her abdomen.
Once I get the important information I need and get the treatment and testing started, I do a pelvic exam, which is really where the money is in a patient like this. This lady had a very large vagina and it was packed with a ton of blood and blood clots. I used a big pincher called a ring forceps with balls of gauze-wrapped cotton to remove the blood and blood clots. Over and over again I reached in, scooping blood and blood clots out which splatted onto the absorbent pad I had spread on the floor.
Eventually, I was able to get enough of the blood out to see she was still bleeding but the opening up into the uterus (womb) was still closed. That told me that even though she was bleeding heavily, she was not presently aborting. Now I knew what I needed to tell the obstetricians when I called them.
We got her vital signs fixed with IV infusions. We got blood ready for a transfusion. The obstetricians came down and did an ultrasound that showed an eighteen-week-old living fetus. They examined her down below again and found she was still bleeding. All of this pointed to abruptio placentae, which is defined as the premature separation of the placenta from the uterus.
So, the patient had a perfectly healthy baby, which she wanted, but she was going to bleed to death unless it was taken out of her. The way the OB attending physician put it to the patient was something like, “We want you to be here to take care of the two girls you already have rather than dying trying to have a third.”
The poor lady was in tears as she concented to going to the operating room to have her pregnancy aborted to save her life. Her husband was working in San Francisco and couldn’t be reached and she said she had noone else to come and support her or help her with the girls.
By the time she went to the operating room, she was stable. The girls stayed with us until morning when a social worker could come and try to get some help for them. The lady was sad but I am sure she was grateful to get medical treatment that certainly saved her life.
All of this made me think about what Rick Santorum said about why a woman shouldn’t have an abortion even if she were raped. He said something like, “It is her baby and she should accept it and love it.” I wonder if he would have advised my patient to just go ahead and die rather that have an abortion to save her life. It was very sad and very painful for that woman to have to make such a decision but it was really the only justifiable decision to be made, in my opinion.