The first time that I can remember feeling totally frozen with fear was on a family vacation to Hawaii, about 5 or 6 years ago. We went bowling (in re-telling this story, my sister-in-law was confused as to why we'd go *bowling* in Hawaii. I am not really sure. It must have been raining. Or nighttime. Or... I don't know.) We were having a grand old time, making bets (my brother cannot play any sort of game without betting on it) and talking smack about my patented between-the-legs grandma bowling style* when my mom walked up to the line to bowl. She wound up, her arm swung back, and in what seemed like slow motion her shoes slipped out from under her and she flew backwards like a cartoon. Except in the cartoons, a when Wile E. Coyote slips on a banana peel and goes flying over backwards, his skull doesn't make a sickening crack when it hits the ground. The crack sounded as loud as lightening, and my brothers and I stood there frozen for what seemed like a very long time while my mom lay there, not moving.
She was fine. We carefully finished our game, made jokes about no more drinking while bowling. But for that split-second, we were just frozen in place, unable to process the potential consequences of what had just happened. Head injury. Skull fracture. Concussion. Coma. These are the things that flew into my head. I was completely paralyzed.
*I used this method again last weekend and totally tied my bet-loving brother, so there. It works!
The second time I can remember feeling the same sort of unable-to-react horror was during the car accident, two and a half years ago. Again, it felt like time slowed down and I had an eternity to consider what was happening. The car was moving in the wrong direction. I could hear glass breaking and metal tearing. We were crashing and there was absolutely nothing I could do. I'm going to die in this car, I thought. This is what it feels like.
I was not exactly fine, but I didn't die in that crash. No one did. It was OK.
The third time I experienced that paralyzed, refusing to comprehend yet at the same time processing a million terrible possibilities, terror was on Tuesday night last week. At the second session of our Prepared Childbirth Class. When, after what I thought was an unnecessarily detailed description of the four degrees of vaginal tearing, the instructor moved on to All About Episiotomies and Joel passed out cold.
Typing it there, it sounds almost funny. It's like a sitcom! Dad-to-be passes out in the delivery room, hilarity ensues! Turns out it's not all that funny when it's actually happening to you in real life.
Tuesdays are a hectic day, and neither of us has time to go home between work and the class, which starts at 7:30pm. Since February, I've been leaving work early on Tuesdays so that I can drive up to Towson and go to a 4:30pm yoga class. It's a pain in the ass and it makes for a very long day, but as part of our teacher training we're required to attend one class taught by the studio owner a week, and this is the only one she teaches that isn't hot yoga. Normally I love hot yoga, but I've been trying to avoid it while I'm pregnant. So I negotiated a modified work schedule and I schlep up to Towson once a week now.
Last week we also started our Prepared Childbirth class on Tuesday evenings. I have enough time to change after yoga and drive directly to the class, but not enough time to go home and shower. Or eat dinner. Tuesdays have become a sort of marathon day, where I leave for work at 8am, go to yoga from 4:30-6pm, and then go to the childbirth class from 7:30-9:30pm. It sucks, but it's only for four weeks.
Joel normally works until 7 or 7:30pm, so making it to the class on time is difficult for him too. The first week, he had just enough time to stop home and pack us some cheese and crackers to snack on during class. But last week we had no snackable food in the house. When we got to the hospital, we briefly toured through the cafeteria to see what sort of dinner or snack options it might offer. I was this close to buying some chicken fingers for us to share (I like to make healthy food choices when I'm on the way to a class about caring for my unborn child), but then I saw the price. Five dollars for four chicken strips, you have got to be kidding me! No way, I'll just wait, I said. I asked Joel if he wanted anything. "Well, I thought we were going to share some chicken fingers..." Oh! Well, in that case, the breakdown was only $2.50 each, and while I'm not willing to spend $5 on a snack for myself, I'm willing to split a $5 snack. But honestly, would four chicken strips be enough for both of us? No, better get the six piece. Which is SEVEN DOLLARS OH MY GOD. No, we'll just wait. (This is how my brain works.) I had a yogurt in my purse, and I'd been careful to eat two bananas and one of those 90-calorie granola bars over the past couple of hours to stave off the wolf-hunger that hits me when I go too long without a snack. I handed Joel my spare 90-calorie granola bar and we went up to the conference room.
This week's class topic was (TMI alert) vaginal delivery. It was not exactly for the faint of heart. We watched a video that included footage of an actual birth, full frontal and up close. I... really did not need to see that. And then we started talking about labor. Hours and hours of labor. Contractions. They don't feel good, apparently. More contractions. Contractions followed by contractions with a 30-second break in between, being in horrible pain for hours. I was displeased, to say the least. I know that this is all going to happen. I KNOW. But I don't really think it's necessary to spend 20 minutes driving home the fact that HEY, CONTRACTIONS ARE AWFUL, SUCKS TO BE YOU LADIES. I know I am going to go through this and I'm OK with it... as long as I don't think too hard about it. I will survive it just as generations before me have survived it, except I have the benefit of drugs. Which I will be taking lots and lots of. I am quite proud of the fact that, except for one dose of Tylenol and my prenatal vitamins, I have not taken a single pharmaceutical during this pregnancy. I feel that this buys me a guilt-free pass to take every legal drug available during labor. (Again, this is how my brain works. I am much better at suffering through the long-term, chronic discomforts of pregnancy than I am with the acute pain, so I will do my very best to be healthy and all natural and all that hippie bullshit during pregnancy, and then during labor: I want drugs. ALL OF THEM. And this rationale makes me feel like labor is going to be OK. If I am wrong, I really don't want to know about it.)
And then after we got done talking about how long and difficult labor is for first-time mothers, we got to the part about (TMI! TMI!) vaginal tearing. First degree, second degree, third degree, fourth degree. "You'll need a LOT of stitches and you won't be sitting down without a donut for a couple of weeks," the nurse teaching the class chirped. "And now let's talk about episiotomies!"
And that's when Joel got up and walked out of the room. To go to the bathroom, I assumed. A few seconds later we heard a crash in the hallway. I thought it sounded like someone had crashed one of those wheeling beds in to the wall. I hope they didn't crash that bed right into Joel, I thought. In the seconds that followed the nurse continued talking, but there was just silence from the hallway. No sounds of a wheeling bed continuing down the hallway. Nobody apologizing for crashing or almost crashing a bed into my husband. (Why did I assume it a wheeling bed? I don't know.) Ten seconds probably passed before the instructor and I realized at the exact same moment that something was not right. We both flew out our chairs and went to the hallway, where we found Joel crumpled in a lifeless heap on the floor. My brain immediately began both processing and denying, and I was just frozen. Over and over my brain repeated, this is not real. This is not happening.
I snapped out of it within a second and was on the floor shaking Joel's shoulder trying to wake him up. After a few moments he opened his eyes and looked at me, confused. "Are you OK?" I asked. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said, looking completely baffled as to why I'd ask. Then his eyes rolled back into his head, his mouth started to move without making any sound, and he went completely limp again. "Has he ever had a seizure before? Is he diabetic? Does he have any health problems?" the instructor asked urgently as she rapped on his sternum with the knuckles of one hand and slapped his cheek with the other. "No!", I responded. "He's healthy!" Except for the fact that he is completely lifeless at the moment, my brain added silently.
It felt like a really long time, but Joel eventually came to and was again completely confused as to why we were standing around him asking him if he was OK. He was fine, he insisted, he just wanted some air. It wasn't some kind of macho, nothing-hurts-me protesting. He didn't understand why I was worried, why everyone was standing in the hallway looking at him. He felt like he needed come out in the hall for some air, and now he was out in the hall getting some air. What's the big deal? That scared me even more. He had no recollection of collapsing. He'd started to sweat through his t-shirt and he had the pallor of a corpse, but he kept insisting he felt completely fine.
So, spoiler alert: Joel is OK. We were in a hospital, our class contains two doctors in addition to the nurse teaching it, and about fifty more doctors were immediately called. We were issued a free wheelchair ride down the elevator to the ER, where his vitals were checked and I had the privilege of using the most disgusting bathroom I have ever encountered, including port-a-potties (hey, turns out that spending five minutes convinced that your husband is going to die is an instant cure for pregnancy constipation!). After a second nurse checked his blood pressure she gave us two options: be officially checked in and wait to see a doctor -- with the approximate wait time being six hours -- or go home. We opted to go home. After a brief discussion about how I did not feel it was a good idea for him to RIDE HIS BIKE HOME (omg), that is.
"Don't you agree that it's not a good idea for him to ride his bike home right now" I asked the second nurse while she was taking off the blood pressure cuff.
"Ride a bike? Why would he ride a bike right now?" she asked.
"Because that's how we got here."
"How on earth are you still riding a bike?" she asked, eyeing my belly.
"Well, I didn't bike [although I do still ride my bike for shorter, non-hilly trips thankyouverymuch]; I rode an adorable motor scooter. That's not the point, don't you agree he should just walk?"
"Oh, we don't recommend walking in this neighborhood."
OMG. She REFUSED to back me up. Instead of getting into the fact that I know EXACTLY what kind of neighborhood this is, you know, since I work across the street and waddle my pregnant ass in here on foot every damn day, we left and got a Sprite from the vending machine in the cafeteria. After Joel pounded the Sprite and I tried one more time to convince him that riding his bike home was not the brightest idea, can't we just walk, we departed -- Joel on his bike and me riding the adorable scooter alongside. We made it home (on a bike, it's only a 5-minute downhill ride) and I then forced him to chase that cafeteria Sprite with a huge glass of lemonade and a bowl of cereal. Joel went to bed complaining that he felt uncomfortably full from all that liquid and I was quite pleased with that. So pleased that I only woke up about ten times during the night to make sure he was breathing.