I gave birth and was in a coma for three weeks

I gave birth and was in a coma for three weeks

When I was pregnant with my second child, I came down with bronchitis. I was terribly sick throughout the pregnancy and my GP thought I had mild pneumonia. But I felt so sick; I wasn’t eating; I was in constant pain and I couldn’t get out of bed.

The last thing I recall was a Saturday morning. I was lying in bed and my sister was looking after me – lucky at some point she insisted that I be taken to hospital, or I might not be here today.

The doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong with me. At first, they thought it was renal colic, but by 3am I went into labour. I have absolutely no memory of giving birth to my son, but I pushed him out in two pushes.

He was having breathing problems so he was immediately taken away from me. One of the midwives told me later she knew I was very sick because usually, when a baby is taken away from a mother right away, she will react - but I was silent.

I was rushed to ICU because they thought I had pneumonia – which turned out to be swine flu – and was intubated and placed in an induced coma. The ICU doctors said they’d never seen anyone go downhill so quickly. By the time the doctors realised I had swine flu, it was too late to give me the anti-virals. 

I didn’t meet my son Ben until he was nearly three weeks old. 

While I was in a coma, my health was deteriorating; my blood pressure was erratic, I was down to 60 per cent oxygen availability and doctors thought that if I survived, I’d likely have brain damage. There was massive DVT (deep vein thrombosis) in my groin.

Various family members visited me to say goodbye, because they were told I probably wouldn’t survive and they should plan for my funeral. My three-year-old daughter learnt not to talk about me, because she knew people cried when she did.  It’s horrendous to think of this now.

And my time in a coma was the most bizarre experience of my life. It was like being in another world – a kind of “waiting room.”  

There were two people who were constantly by my side: my late sister and my late father. I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them talking and laughing. They spent a lot of time laughing at the behaviour of my ‘earth’ family. 

My mum and sister disagreed on the way my hands should be placed on the bed – my mum preferred my hand with the palm facing down, my sister with the palm up. So my late dad and late sister watched my hands constantly being repositioned and were giggling – they sounded like they were near my bed.

In my head, I was speaking to them. I remember saying, “This is not funny, stop laughing, stop being ridiculous.”

Hearing the voices of my late dad and sister manifested itself into very weird dreams that felt very real to me. At one point I thought I’d turned into fried chicken.  

My eyes were rolled open but I wasn’t conscious – and I’d sometimes see things – for example, I thought the sprinkler units on the ceiling were jam cookies.

I also remember my dad saying to me, “You will be fine.”  

While I was in the coma, I wasn’t awake but in a strange semi-state of consciousness – you don’t know what’s real and what’s not. I heard a nurse ask, “Who let flowers into ICU?” My eyes were open, I was able to see the flowers, but I didn’t know what was going on.  

Another time I heard a doctor say, “It’s time to wake her up,” and I thought he was Superman wearing a cape. I also thought 13 years had passed and everyone had died, so I wanted to kill myself. I tried to grab a flower from the table beside me because I wanted to stab myself with a gerbera. A nurse said, “Knock her out,” and they gave me an injection and I lost consciousness again. 

When I first woke up, I still thought I’d been turned into fried chicken and all that was left of me were the chicken bones. I was tied to the bed, with my arms by my sides, because I’d been trying to pull my tubes out. A nurse said, “You’ve been very sick Kate.” 

When they brought me out of the coma, I remember breathing in short sharp breaths – you feel like your lungs are made of iron, they’re not able to move. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t eat and couldn’t even pick up a pen.

Over the next six weeks in hospital, I had to learn to walk again, breathe again, and eat again. The strangest part of all was being handed my three-week-old baby Ben for the first time.

I had absolutely no energy so when the nurses handed him to me, I could only look blankly at him. I remember them saying "Oh he knows your voice" and then he snuggled closer to me, but my brain was so out of it, I just couldn't react. I knew this was my baby but I couldn't feel anything, I was using what little energy I had to just breathe on my own.

So many times every day I just wanted to give up because breathing and moving was just so difficult. I kept falling out of bed, I couldn't feed myself and even sitting up in bed was beyond me.  They had to pick me up and force me to sit up in a chair because I couldn't do it myself.  After six weeks I was finally able to walk from the car to my front door. "

Now I know that looking after my own health is so important, as if I don’t put myself at the centre, how can I be a good mother to my kids? It drives me every day, and is one of the reasons I started Eir.