Tuesday, July 10, 2018

I forgot to worry about that!

Hi! So excited to join this sisterhood. I am a pediatric hospitalist at a mid-sized children’s hospital. I am blessed with 3 amazing children and a supportive, talented husband who is thankfully not in medicine but rather works during normal human hours.

I am pregnant with my fourth child. I have had 3 normal, healthy pregnancies and delivered 3 healthy, full term babies. I was apprehensively hoping for the same this time around. No such luck; at my routine anatomy scan, I was suspected to have placenta accreta. For those of you who don’t remember from medical school, here’s a crash course. Normally the placenta adheres loosely to the uterine wall, and is able to detach easily following delivery. With placenta accreta, the placenta adheres to the uterus pathologically. It invades inward, doesn’t separate spontaneously after delivery, and can cause massive hemorrhage if manual separation is attempted. Most patients who have placenta accreta require a life-saving hysterectomy. There are 3 subtypes: in a standard accreta, the placenta simply attaches too deeply to the uterine wall; in placenta increta, it invades into the myometrium; and in placenta percreta, it invades through the myometrium and serosa, and occasionally into surrounding structures and organs (most commonly the bladder, but any organ in the vicinity is potentially at risk).

I immediately transferred care to the placenta accreta referral center in the nearest big city. Within 2 weeks I had an appointment and within 2 minutes of meeting my MFM she told me I was a “hot mess.” I have placenta percreta. Go big or go home. (I think I want to go home.)

People comment on how “well I’m taking it.” How “strong” and “resilient” I am. “You look great; you don’t even seem worried,” people tell me. I don’t seem worried? That’s cool. Because I am worried. I’m worried about a lot of things. In fact, here is a list of things I’m worried about.
  • The very complicated cesarean delivery, complete with a hysterectomy. I will be on the table for about 6 hours, and there will be various surgical teams parading in and out of the OR.
  • Intraoperative blood loss, with potential for massive hemorrhage. I will almost certainly require multiple blood transfusions, and if things go particularly badly “massive transfusion protocol” will be initiated, which puts me at risk for complications including fluid shifts, electrolyte derangements, DIC and ARDS, to name a few.
  • Damage to surrounding structures, including but not limited to my genitourinary tract. That placenta is freaking close to my bladder, people.
  • Let’s just put this out there: death. There is in fact a 7% mortality rate for cases like mine. Even in the major centers, even if the operative teams are prepared.
  • Oh, and the baby. In order to reduce the risk of these complications, the baby will need to be delivered preterm. And not late-preterm. Preterm preterm. Like a preterm baby who is at risk for sepsis, IVH, chronic lung disease, NEC, and all the other preemie ailments.
  • And the more minor things too. That pesky surgical incision that will extend vertically from my pubis up to my xiphoid. Recovering from this surgery, which will render me essentially nonfunctional at home. The possibility that breastfeeding may not go well, and may not be possible at all. The fear that this pregnancy may become even more complicated, and I may need to deliver even earlier than planned. The fact that I don’t have enough paid time off, and I will need to take unpaid leave for several weeks, something that I’m not sure we can handle financially. The loss of my fertility, completely and forever.

But life goes on. Thankfully the baby is fine and the pregnancy is otherwise healthy, so there’s not much to do between now and delivery. So I get dressed, get in my car, and go to work. I take care of sick patients, supervise residents, and teach medical students. And on nights in the hospital when things are slow I work on my mandatory compliance modules. Every year we are obligated to do like 40 of them. They range from mildly clinically interesting (preventing central line infections, reporting suspected child abuse) to stiffly corporate (anti-kickback statutes, reminders not to commit fraud) to downright irrelevant and time-wasting.

One night on call I had some free time so I decided to bang out a few modules. I was up to “Preventing Operating Room Fires.” Groan. This one was not only completely irrelevant (I wasn’t even allowed in the ORs! Not even to, say, do an LP on a sedated child!) but it was an 18-minute-long video. As I started watching the video, I froze. I realized that even though I wasn’t allowed in the OR as a doctor, I was about to be in one as a patient. And I slowly but suddenly wondered: WHAT IF THERE IS A FIRE IN THE OR??? THIS COULD TOTALLY HAPPEN TO ME! And it dawned on me, that with all the things I was worrying about – the massive blood transfusions, the damage to my genitourinary tract, the 7% mortality rate, the preemie baby – there could ALSO be an OR fire and I FORGOT TO WORRY ABOUT THAT! How could I forget to worry about something that had a nonzero chance of happening and could have devastating consequences? I didn’t sleep for the next 3 nights.

I remember my last night on call before delivering my youngest child. I was 38 weeks along and healthy. One of the patients I admitted was a 4-month-old infant. She had had corrective surgery to repair anorectal atresia with a rectovestibular fistula and needed to be monitored post-op. As I took the history from her parents and discovered that they did not know about this condition until after she was born, I remember having a similar realization: I had been worrying about all the usual things – prematurity, infection, birth hypoxia. But anorectal atresia with rectovestibular fistula? I had completely forgotten to worry about that!

Worry is a funny thing. Psychologists postulate that worry is beneficial insofar as it helps people do the things they need to do to keep themselves safe. Studies have shown that people who worry about skin cancer are more vigilant about applying sunscreen than those who don’t. But I already transferred to the regional center and am compliant with my prenatal care, all the things I need to do to optimize my chances for a good medical outcome. At this point most psychologists would agree that worrying won’t do me any good. It doesn’t help anything. But that doesn’t stop me.

A few friends jokingly suggested that I focus all my energy on worrying about that potential OR fire and not bother worrying about anything else. It’s not a terrible idea.


  1. Good luck with everything and prayers and best wishes for your pregnancy, delivery, and recovery!

  2. Good luck!!! 2 of my 3 pregnancies were high risk. It was a stressful time. I wish you well

  3. Really appreciate your post here and sending lots of positive thoughts your way. You are a great writer. Keep us updated.... and best wishes for the best possible delivery/OR experience for you.

  4. My friend had a similar problem and lost 16L of blood during her delivery. She is fine now as are her kids. Crossing my fingers you have a similarly positive outcome!

  5. Another mother MD...your comment was accidentally deleted :( Please feel free to post it again. Sorry about that!


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