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I knew something was very wrong when I nearly blacked out after peeing Monday morning.
Nope, not going to work today, I thought, and texted my boss letting her know I would be out. I thought that this pain was a bladder infection. I had had a few in my twenties, and though the urge to pee and burning were not there, I felt the familiar pressure in my lower midsection.
A week earlier, I had taken my first-ever pregnancy test and was beyond excited to see the digital “Pregnant” display on the stick. I called my OB-GYN and booked an appointment for the coming Monday to confirm the pregnancy. I felt great all week and took plenty of walks and streamed low-impact exercise videos. On Saturday, I started bleeding.
I wasn’t sure if it was my period arriving late or if I was spotting (it was lighter than a period, but heavier than what I thought spotting should be), so I was confused and worried, but knew I’d get clarification from my doctor about what was happening with my body.
Sunday was incredibly snowy and I got an automated message that let me know my 8:30 a.m. Monday appointment was canceled because the office would be opening late. I was annoyed but resolved to call the next morning and get an appointment to ease my mind.
That night was anything but restful. I felt an uncomfortable pressure in my abdomen and a cramping on the left side of my midsection. I was not bleeding, so I thought it might be gas or a bladder infection. I tried to get comfortable in my bed but couldn’t. I moved to the couch so I could shift and wriggle without waking my husband, Alex. I avoided taking any pain medication because I didn’t want to harm my pregnancy. Somehow, I managed to fall asleep.
When Monday morning arrived, I woke up with pain in my ribs, shoulders, and stomach. I felt weak and could not stand up straight. Hunched over in pain, I let Alex know that something was wrong and I would need his help to get me to the doctor as there was no way I’d be able to drive myself. He agreed without question. I was able to book a noon appointment and he guided me out to his car. I winced in pain with each step.
At the OB-GYN’s office, I kissed Alex and left him in the waiting area. I was directed to the bathroom, where I urinated into a cup and gave it to a tech, before being ushered into an exam room. I explained to a nurse what was going on (positive pregnancy test, a few days of light bleeding, what felt like a bladder infection coupled with pain in my ribs and shoulders) and she handed me a paper blanket and instructed me to undress from the waist down. My doc would be in shortly.
The next few minutes were a wave of nerves. Was I pregnant or was the bleeding a miscarriage? As an active and healthy 30-year-old, why was I in so much pain? When my doctor arrived, the formalities were limited. He said that my urine did not indicate a bladder infection and he wanted to check out what was happening inside me with a transvaginal ultrasound. My face fell and I felt tears welling up.
My doctor asked me to lay flat and put my feet in the stirrups. As I positioned my body, I felt shooting stabs of pain in my shoulders and ribs — a blinding, angry pain I’d never felt before. It felt like I was being stabbed. I screamed in agony and tears rushed down my face.
I saw the concern on my doctor’s face and the nurse adjusted the table I was laying on to prop up my back. The pain subsided and I apologized through my tears, feeling very embarrassed.
“This just hurts so much,” I whimpered.
My doctor assured me that I had nothing to be sorry for and handed me a tissue.
I was able to steady my ragged breathing and wipe my tears away as he inserted the transducer probe. It was not painful, and after a few moments of examination, the doctor removed the probe and had me take my feet from the stirrups and sit upright. He asked me if I had anyone with me, and I told him that my husband was in the lobby.
He asked if I would like him in the room now that he had some information about what was going on with me. I nodded and the nurse went to get him.
A few moments later, Alex arrived and took a seat. My doctor got right to the point: I had a lot of fluid, likely blood, in my abdomen and I needed to get to the hospital right away. I would likely require surgery. Had Alex not been with me, the doctor would have had an ambulance take me there.
My doctor said he would call the hospital and inform them about what he saw. I dressed and Alex and I rushed (as much as I could, considering I was a hunched-over mess) out of the office, to his car. The hospital was a five-minute drive from the OB-GYN office and he dropped me at the front door and I went into the admitting office.
The next hour was a whirlwind of kind and concerned people performing an assortment of blood tests and ultrasounds on me.
The gynecologist who was working in the ER that day gave me the diagnosis: Tubal Ectopic Pregnancy. The fertilized egg, which should travel from a fallopian tube to the uterus, attached to the inside lining of my tube. Blood leaked into my abdomen and irritated my diaphragm, which explained the rib and shoulder pain. This doctor calmly explained that she wanted to perform laparoscopic surgery to remove the embryo and clean the blood out. This meant a small incision and the procedure would likely take one to three hours. I could even go home that night if I was feeling up to it.
I looked tearfully at Alex and back to the doctor before agreeing. My doctor provided me with a consent form. As I was signing it, she answered my questions: What complications could there be from this procedure? It requires general anesthesia which comes with risk.
If the tube has ruptured or the bleeding is severe, a larger incision in the abdomen may be needed. There is also the chance that the tube would need to be removed.
Would this impact my future fertility? No, but women who have one ectopic pregnancy are at increased risk for a second one.
How long should we wait until trying to get pregnant again? Two normal menstrual cycles (and we would talk through this at a follow up appointment as well).
How long would I need to be off of work? One to two weeks.
How long should I wait to exercise? At least two weeks before introducing weights back in, but walking is encouraged when you’re feeling well enough to do so.
I breathed in deeply and said I was ready. My doctor smiled and assured me I was in good hands. As I was being wheeled to the pre-operating room, a nurse who drew blood and took my vitals earlier in the day waved to me and wished me good luck. Everything was happening so fast that I did not have time to be nervous.
The surgery went very well: The embryo was removed, my tube was saved, and the liter of blood that had pooled in my abdomen was cleared out. I was sent home a few hours later with prescriptions to manage my pain. Alex made me soup, I took an Ibuprofen, and I slept in my own bed that night. I have been recovering at home and scheduled a follow-up appointment with my surgeon and OB-GYN this upcoming week.
Though I did not have a wonderful time in the emergency room on Monday, I’m glad my OB-GYN sent me there. Had I not gone to the doctor, the internal bleeding could have been much worse and my fallopian tube may not have been able to be saved.
In spite of this scary experience, after I heal I do want to try to get pregnant again. I know I have a great team of doctors who will help me along the way.