What is an Amniotic Embolism?

April 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Acute Hospital Care

If you are asking this question, then you (or someone you know) have just had the worst day of your life.

An amniotic embolism is a horrible experience.  It is the ultimate turn of events in what is supposed to be one of the greatest days of life.  An event that can drastically and permanently alter the family dynamic.  An experience that cannot fully be understood until it happens to you or someone you know.

The experience generally begins with a trip to the hospital.  The mom-to-be is understandably nervous about having the baby today.  She wonders if she will be able to deal with the pain and says secret prayers for a smooth delivery and a healthy baby.  An aura of impatience and worry hangs over her and her husband.  Although their hearts believe everything will go according to plan, their heads betray them with thoughts of the things that could possibly go wrong.

The couple arrives at the hospital and is shuffled back to the delivery area.  The nerves escalate upon entry to the delivery room and the actual preparation for childbirth.  No amount of preparation is enough to make this experience feel normal.

Then the unthinkable happens.  The friendly but tense conversation evaporates in an instant.  Mom simply ceases to answer… she has lost the ability to communicate.  The monitors that had shown the vitals with a jagged but consistent line graph now show that there is a big problem.  Both mom and baby are crashing.  The realization sets in that this day is veering wildly off course.  Shaking and yelling fail to do any good.  Mom is dead weight and the shock of the situation makes it seem impossibly difficult to move her arms or legs.  Nothing makes sense right now and all energy is now diverted to getting the attention of a doctor or nurse in the hall.  Plan B is simple: scream for help.  There is no plan C.

Nurses and doctors begin hustling into and out of the room.  They adjust the patient and the lead doctor barks out orders to a crowd of nervous docs and nurses.  The faces of these employees paint a dire picture of the situation.  Each of them appears nervous and perplexed that this is all happening right now.

A story that began with two people driving to the hospital must now be finished by the one who knows the least about the situation.  It must be finished by the one who has not been carrying this baby for the past nine months.  Mom was the central figure of this story up till now, but her voice has been silenced by a horrible phenomenon known as amniotic embolism.  It wouldn’t be until later in the day that these words are mentioned, for right now the only concern is doing everything possible to save mom and baby.

The husband is still in shock as he is shuffled out of the room and told to wait down the hall.  The mind becomes a terrible enemy during times like these.  It is creative enough to come up with all kinds of possibilities.  Some of these thoughts are hopeful, but as the minutes turn to hours the mind also includes all of the potential outcomes of this situation.  There are actually two people in that room: the wife he has known for years and the baby he can’t wait to meet.  The imagination runs wild with potential “what ifs.”  Will mom be OK?  What about baby?

These thoughts expand into every conceivable scenario.  A lifetime’s worth of reflection inserted into the aftermath of this one event.  As time drags on, even more possibilities are considered.  The “need to know” society we live in has trained the mind to consider life next week, next month, next year, and beyond.  With no knowledge of what is actually going on in the delivery room, it is pointless to consider all of these possibilities.  Life would be better right now if these thoughts could be controlled.  If only the imagination could be temporarily turned off…

The experience up until now has confirmed the fact that this day has gone horribly wrong.  The appearance of security gives credibility to the notion that the worst is likely to come.

The scene where a security guard is posted at the door to a loved one’s hospital room is impossible to forget.  That image will be burned into your memory so strongly that you will remember every detail of the scene.  The nurse’s station in the foreground, the hallway continuing down past many several other delivery rooms to a set of double doors, the blinking red light over your loved one’s door, and the security guard himself.  Although he may not strike you as an especially memorable character, the mental picture of him is so clear that you will never forget it.  If you were to run into him years from now, you would immediately be able to identify him.

This is the kind of day that breaks life into a “before” and an “after.”  The kind whose aftermath involves soul searching and wondering.  Many mothers do not survive from childbirth gone wrong.  Many babies struggle to live or are forced to begin life with some serious health problems.

Once your family experiences an amniotic embolism, life is never again the same.  Even if they both do survive, may look back upon today as the day that stole their ideal life from them.  Family members who are not directly involved will also be asked to make tough decisions and sacrifices in their own lives.  The family unit may be forever altered as a result of this day.

In many cases, mom never wakes up again.  In others, her existence is limited to a “vegetative state.”  The body is built to handle a certain level of trauma, but the aftermath of an amniotic embolism generally rises above the level that the body can handle.  Simultaneous heart attack, stroke, and corruption of the blood affect the body to such a degree coming back to life is a longshot.

Although this is an extremely rare and unexpected phenomenon, my family was unlucky enough to have experienced it.  My wife had her amniotic embolism in 2010.  Despite the fact that her initial trauma was catastrophically severe, she was able to survive the experience and live a life of impressive recovery.  Although she may still be classified as “disabled”, she is still alive and in recovery.  Her body did its motherly job of protecting the baby, and she was delivered shortly after I was whisked out of the room by emergency c-section.  Jessica remained in a coma for months, and has slowly been recovering ever since.  Even though life is forever changed, we are content in the knowledge that we have done everything in our power to ensure the best possible recovery.  It is my sincere hope that Jessica’s story will inspire others to recovery beyond what they were told by doctors, family, and friends.  I hope that your loved one will have an inspired recovery.


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