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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Stories: It All Comes Down to 10 Seconds

Monday, September 8, 2014

Survivor Stories: It All Comes Down to 10 Seconds

I may hate a lot about this medical lifestyle.  The long hours, the physical drain (on both husband and wife), the financial debt to get here.  The list goes on and on.
But this is a Survivor Story and the best story I have is when my husband’s 4 years of college, 2 years of graduate school, 4 years of medical school, and 3 years of residency all came down to the most important 10 seconds of my life.

Most physician wives, and especially emergency physician wives, will tell you that you better have a knife sticking out of your chest to get any sympathy and attention for your medical “problem.”  If it’s not life threatening, it isn’t a problem. I have heard the statement “Don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal,” so many times that I began to think that nothing medical was ever a big deal to my husband. 

Until the day our daughter stopped breathing.

It was early December and our “Christmas baby” ended-up being a Thanksgiving baby.  Despite being almost 6 weeks early, she came home from the hospital with me and was doing great on day 10.  The rest of the family was fighting a cold.

Shortly after breastfeeding, I was holding my 10-day-old daughter swaddled in my arms, just sitting on the couch watching my 15-month-old play.  I was about to lay her in her bassinet for a nap when DrH walked by.
The conversation went like this:
DrH: “How long has she been doing that?”
Me: “Doing what?
DrH: “Her color change.  How long has she been dusky?”
Me: “She’s not dusky, it’s just the lighting in here.” (says the tired mom with little sleep)
DrH: “Bring her over here.”
(I went over to the kitchen where the lighting was better.)
DrH:  “Quickly pack a bag and get everyone loaded in the car.”

Normally, I’m fairly obstinate and I don’t like being bossed around.  So, most days I probably would have replied with some snappy remark.  But I could tell he was very serious and that meant something was wrong.

We then drove from our house to the children’s hospital in the next state.  DrH assured me our local hospital would just airlift our daughter to that children’s hospital anyway.  We had my father-in-law (also an EM physician) on speakerphone confirming each hospital we would drive by in case we had to urgently stop.  I sat in the back seat tickling my baby’s toes and lightly pinching her to keep her alert and awake – as instructed by my husband.

We arrived at Children’s with a bright, alert, pink baby who was hungry for a feeding.  The staff probably wouldn’t have even brought us back to a room right away if DrH hadn’t explained his job and what he had witnessed.  I fed our baby and she fell asleep.  I thought maybe we had overreacted.

Then, her respirations started spreading out….3 seconds apart, 5 seconds apart, 10 seconds apart.  Fortunately, we had the attending, resident and ER nurse watching her respiratory changes inside the room.  Once she hit 20-second gaps between breaths they decided to intubate.  The room very quickly became packed with hospital staff and multiple pieces of machinery. My husband asked if I wanted to be out of the room and I said yes.  We sat together in a waiting room and he explained to me what happens with an intubation while I cried on his shoulder. 

It was the first time I truly understood his job.

Our preemie daughter was on a vent in the ICU for three days, released from the hospital in 6 days, and was able to go off from continuous oxygen at 4 months.  I know, had I been home alone that day (as I often am), I would have put our baby to sleep for a nap and she wouldn’t have awakened.  My husband’s training, his experience, and his keen eye for a spiraling patient had saved our daughter’s life.

So no matter how frustrated I get with another holiday when my husband works, or the student loan debt that feels like will never go away, I remember the time that my husband saved our daughter’s life and I know that had he chosen any other career this story would have ended very differently.

So hug your kids tonight, and let you physician husband know how proud you are of him and how grateful you are for what he does.  And take comfort in knowing you have that amazing knowledge right in your home.  Perhaps that is the greatest benefit of this medical life.

I am a stay-at-home mom to two healthy girls, now 3-years and 20-months. My husband practices emergency medicine in Colorado.  We have been married for 8 years and together since graduate school.



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