I have been writing here in several posts about my latest work “346. A Journey While Staying As Still As Possible”: I have explained how the format, the accompanying model, the visuals and the contents of my book all are supposed to play together in this piece. I have written about the format I have given the book, the model, and the visuals of the scroll. Today, finally, I want to talk about the contents, the text itself.
As mentioned before, it is a day by day recount of the most difficult phase in my pregnancy with twins in 2011. Not everything is exactly how it happened, this is why I wrote on the first page: “A story, almost true”: Some of the things I don’t remember exactly, and I changed some details deliberately for the sake of the story. There were far more nurses in hospital than make an appearance in this story,and I have attributed some different occurances to the same figure in the story, for example.
To give you an idea how the whole thing reads, let me drop you right in with an excerpt, the first day with which the scroll starts, and which acts a bit like a prologue:
“Tuesday, 19th April 2011
Pregnant with twins, gestation week 21. I have been unwell physically and mentally pretty much from the first day of pregnancy: Since January I have been waiting for my all-day-sickness to cease, and about last week it has finally turned into a heart burn without a day’s break. Mentally, well, let us say I am not happy, feeling trapped in a new life beyond my control. Not welcoming the babies makes me feel guilty. Various medical concerns followed by check-ups in hospital do not exactly help to pull me out of my depression. I cannot deal with the very happy prospective grandparents and stopped talking to my mother.
This morning I notice a small bleeding, and dutifully report to Dr. N., my gynaecologist. “Probably nothing to worry about”, he tells me, but agrees to see me today in his lunch break.
I decide to walk to his practice. My belly is starting to show. I can’t close my trousers anymore, but still wear them, with the fly open and a long shirt on top. My pelvis hurts with every step I take, noticeably but not unbearable. I actually enjoy my walk: It is surprisingly warm for April, and the sunshine and warmth on my bare arms feel soothing.
Dr. N.’s practise is located on top of three flights of stairs up in a building from the 70s. I have to ring a bell surrounded by graffiti tags, and then wait for the buzzer to let me in from the street. The corridors inside the house are dark and narrow.
Stepping into his surgery, I am warmly greeted by the receptionist and let in to Dr. N. immediately. After a very brief examination he
insists that I check in to hospital “to let them have a look”. This would not be the first time that I call M. from here, ask him to leave his office and cycle back home, get the car, pick me up and drive me to hospital. This time, however, Dr. N. insists I get a taxi rather than to wait for M. He almost pushes me out of his surgery, telling me to hurry up.
I can’t really hurry up, though: I have no cash for the taxi. I know of
a cash machine down the road not too far away, so I walk there, but it turns out that it has fallen victim to vandalism and was shut down. The next one I know for sure is a substantial walk from here. Surely there must be another cash point somewhere near, maybe around that corner there? – And so I walk a couple of side streets until I finally find one. Coming back, I find the taxi bay near Dr. N.’s practise vacant. After waiting for a while I decide it would be faster to call a taxi from Dr. N.’s phone. And so I walk up the stairs again.
When Dr. N. sees me in his practice again, he threatens to call an ambulance. I laugh, thinking he is jesting.
This time when I am down on the street, my taxi is already waiting. We only need 20 minutes to drive to the hospital. Through the main entrance I go to the reception where I very calmly give my gestation week and explain what little I know about my situation, and I am let to the birthing station. There I explain again to the junior midwife who comes to welcome me, and she leads me into the smallest of their birthing rooms. There she points to a comfy chair in a corner
and asks me to wait until someone has time for me.
More time passes while I wait. M. arrives and waits with me.
Eventually I am seen by a midwife. She asks me to undress, and I lie down on the examination bed. She takes one look, gasps, and runs to get a doctor, shouting over her shoulder I should have indicated how urgent this was. – Now I really would like to know what is going on!
The doctor is with us only moments later, and she finally explains: I am in the middle of giving birth, the cervix already dilated to 2 cm. At this gestational age the tiny babies could slip out any minute. If they do, they have no survival chance.
She asks the midwife to ring a ward for a bed, and when it arrives I
am told to lie down. All I can do, they tell me, is to stay in bed with the hip slightly raised to take as much pressure as possible off the cervix, and hope the birth slows down. Maybe this way the twins will not get born before they have a chance to live.
They advice me not to hesitate and ring for a nurse right away when my water breaks since it might well happen that the first of the two is born before anyone can be with me. They offer me a Valium to calm me down, but I decline – I don’t feel frightened, just stunned.
Then I am pushed in my bed through corridors, into an elevator, then more corridors, until the nurse opens a door with the number 346 painted in cheerful orange, and pushes me in.”
Although the text does tell of my story, and of my experiences, and thus it is the story of someone specific, I hope that the specifics uncover more general tendencies and truths. Here’s the entry from 7th day in hospital:
daily high: 14.1°C
gestational age: 22+6
Everyone who enters my room disinfects their hands. If someone from medical staff needs to touch me they put on disposable latex gloves, conveniently located on top of the disinfectant dispenser. This is meant to protect my unborn children. But knowing doesn’t
always help, I feel like I am disgusting.
On the first day I asked for water to wash my hands after using the toilet chair, and was given a packet of baby wipes and a bottle of disinfectant instead. They are now sitting on a stool beside my bed so that I can reach them.
“Disinfectant is more friendly to your skin anyway, than using soap and water”, I was told.
Thinking about it, I notice I have been surrounded by baby care products: baby oil for massages, baby cream for face and body, baby wash and baby bath, now baby wipes… Who is being massaged, bathed, and wiped here?”
One of the topics that are dear to my heart in general and which I see as central in this piece is how pregnant women are treated by doctors, by their families, but society in general. I felt almost unseen, had the impression people interacted more with the idea of my future children than with me myself and felt reduced to my ability – or not – to deliver these children.
Here’s one of the more action-loaded scenes, when my life was in danger for a change. The entries of 10th day of my stay in hospital, and also of the 11th, some bit in between was cut out here:
daily high: 23.2°C
gestational age: 23+2
I spent the morning in solitude, and M. visits in the afternoon. “Hear how funny a noise I can make.” I say, demonstrating the wheezing sound my lungs make when I breathe out hard.
After a short while of talking I am getting really tired and decide to sleep for a bit. When I wake up I am so short of breath that I can hardly speak. M. calls a nurse, and suddenly everyone is in alarm. As it turns out, water is gathering in my lungs, and the oxygen level in my blood is getting too low. – Funny that you can drown in a hospital bed.
xpelling water from a pregnant woman is a delicate operation. I can hear doctors in front of my room, discussing whether or not to give me a certain drug, and if yes how much they can give me without endangering the pregnancy.
While listening to the discussion outside getting more animated, I begin to cough. Where does that bread crumb come from, it is not like I have eaten anything?
“Keep breathing”, the nurse with me tells me, first calmly but then more and more alarmed.
“I have this thing stuck in my throat”, I manage to get out between coughs and gasps for air.
“Keep Breathing Normally! You are making things worse, this is just the low oxygen, there is nothing stuck in your pipe! BREATHE!” I can clearly feel that breadcrumb, what does she know.
Coughing is getting harder due to lack of air in my lungs, but catching my breath between coughs is getting harder, too, because
that breadcrumb is still sitting there, and seems to slip in deeper if anything. The machine that I am hooked to begins to beep wildly, the nurse is yelling at me while fumbling with something behind her back. I am so busy trying to force out all the little air that my lungs still can hold that I hardly notice that I am almost fainting. Finally she hands me a small, clear tube, and directs the stream that comes out of one end to my nose.
– – – – breathing pure oxygen – – – –
Did you know that oxygen has a taste? It really does. It is sweet and tastes like sun on a spring meadow. And it can melt breadcrumbs.
It is late on Saturday. Registras are on duty, calling their seniors to ask for advice. Dr. T. is the gynaecologist who is responsible for me tonight. I can hear him on the phone in the corridor, calling Dr. J., calling other wards and asking for advice from different specialists. From what I hear I gather the internists would like to bring me to their ICU, […]
While I was lying in this small, windowless birthing room, waiting for the cardiologist to arrive to check on me, I saw Dr. T. on the phone, standing on the corridor, discussing emphatically what to do next. At that moment he seemed to develop a glow, standing out from all people in the room, and I suddenly felt like falling in love with him. My hero, my knight in white shining armour fighting for me and my life and my children. – I guess the lack of oxygen must have been intoxicating.
Curiously I was not afraid of dying at any time.
But not being afraid doesn’t mean I didn’t think of it. I don’t
remember what exactly I said but I do remember the sharp answer I received: “No, doing nothing is not an option. We will not let you die to maintain the pregnancy, you come first.” In the moment I was grateful for the concern, but rage came knocking on the door of my blurred consciousness and left a trace in my heart: I had not been allowed an opinion in weighting my life against that of my children. No-one had felt they needed to ask my consent in the measures taken. They not even informed me what they were giving me; I still don’t know.”
Other things of course are happening too. The first woman to
share my room was going in and out of hospital during my stay there, and her difficult pregnancy ended with the death of her baby girl. My twins survived. They were born on 1st of June 2011, after I had spent 42 days lying in bed with my head down. 42 days which I spent in a weird limbo where time seemed to stand still.
I was not a happy pregnant lady, to my relief and surprise, after first difficulties connecting with these aliens behind glass (I wasn’t allowed to handle these fragile creatures in the first days) I eventually utterly and totally fell in love with them, and they have made my life so much better. But I was, and still am, angered when I notice how casually everyone seems to think that children can make their
parents happy – that’s not their job, and it’s not true for everyone. No every pregnant lady feels like being congratulated, even if she might have tried for babies before. We should stop talking with women as if they were babies, just because they are expecting or having them. And we should stop assuming that we know how they feel.
Well, that’s my key message I guess. I hope some of this comes across in this work. And while for me it all comes together nice, I hope it also does for my readers: the room from which someone fled, fish, drawings, pregnancy, babies.
P.S.: I find this a-n website very hard to navigate, especially when it comes to the blog feature. If you are working on something similar, either in content or in form, I would love to hear from you. – I am trying, but maybe I just can’t find your blog here. If you would like to see more of my work, I’d be delighted if you visited my website at kurzke.co.uk. – I hope I’ll hear from you!
P.P.S.: Any kind of feedback is very welcome, public or private, critique, confusion or praise, that of course, too .
P.P.P.S.: I am currently working on the rest of the edition, the 8 scrolls that will be available for sale without the model. That’s what you can see on the last picture, the current state of progress.