Helen ja Gethe-Liis

It was spring 1994. I was expecting my first child, and I was close to my due date.One morning when I woke up, everything had gone quiet inside of me.When I saw blood, I called the ambulance.At the hospital, there were some forms to fill out and then they sent me to ultrasound.The doctor examined me and said in a quiet voice:“C-section. Now.”

As I rode a stretcher through the halls of the hospital, I stared at the lights in the ceiling, no thoughts were in my head. No fears, no hopes… Medical interns scrubbed me with big brushes, it was cold. Then they poured alcohol over me, my freshly brushed skin prickled and stung…. And then I was on the operating table, mask on, 10, 9, 8….

“Wake up, ma’am, you have a daughter!” The strict-sounding voice of the anaesthesiologist roused me from a dream of a bright summer day in my childhood with a half-built sandcastle and red plastic bucket. The present intruded back into my consciousness against my will… A daughter? What was this – it was supposed to be a son! I even had a name picked out, Aaron. But now, a daughter? OK, a daughter…my daughter…a little baby girl!

I was still in a dream-like state. I was lifted off the table, and wheeled out the door. A figure in a white coat came and showed me a bundle wrapped in a pink blanket. My gaze settled on a pink patch but I couldn’t focus quite yet on the face. I stroked her cheek with one finger, warm and soft… My own child.Alive.

I lay drowsily on the stretcher in a room in the middle of cabinets and shelves, sun shining through the window, and brisk steps sounding around me. A round rubber bag full of water was placed on my stomach; its weight pressed blood out of my abdominal cavity. The pain was what brought me back to reality, the rest of the time I was in a fog, one and only one sentence pounding through my head. “And that’s how they died, that’s how they died…” In my more lucid moments, I realized I’d been thinking about days long ago, when medical care wasn’t available and poorer women simply bled to death.

I was hooked up to an IV and a nurse sat on a bed next to mine and kept watch over me. We both read books, and suddenly the nurse said: “You’re beautiful, like marble.”

In the evening I was taken back to my own room, I was feeling better. I read Nero Wolfe all night and sucked on gauze wrapped around a stick, which I had been given to keep my lips moist.

In the morning, a grey-haired nurse came, lifted an edge of the blanket and appeared startled: “Oh no, this won’t do, this is no way for us to treat women…” To bring me back to the human race, I was given three blood transfusions.

The first time, a nurse came with a drip and plasma bag, the doctor explained to me what was going on and how many people took part in donating the amount of blood. I was hooked up to an IV and a nurse sat on the bed next to mine and kept watch over me. We both read books, and suddenly the nurse said: “You’re as beautiful as a marble statue.”

And it was true: like veins in marble, red blood vessels could be traced on my snow-white skin. The thicker ones were darker, the thinner ones lighter. The net of blood vessels covered my right hand, where a cannula was inserted and spread over the upper part of my chest. The nurse who’d remarked on my appearance called over other nurses to admire the patient made of “marble.”

On another occasion, I wasn’t being watched over continuously, just monitored periodically. At the end of the procedure, I asked the nurse whether I looked a little less pallid. The nurse grinned and brought me a mirror. Instead of a pale face, I saw a girl with a dark complexion, a greenish tinge to her face, with lips as violet as lilac. I have to say I looked pretty cool! Unfortunately, a couple hours later, I returned to my normal appearance.

It seemed I had put a dent in the blood supplies, because I heard on the radio that donors were being called on urgently to give blood.

The third time, I again prepared for an “adventure.” Unfortunately, I suffered nausea and dizziness, and my field of vision seemed to be swimming. I complained of being “seasick.” It turned out that no one of the nurses or the doctor had experience with that symptom. Fortunately, a doctor was found in another building who, they said, developed a case of nausea just by hearing the words “rocking in a boat.” He came, sat down on my bed, and listened to me describe how I felt and he nodded.“ Yes, seasick on dry land,” he said. Then the nurse came over and gave me an injection that made me feel better. There was no change in my outward appearance that time.

It seemed I had put a dent in the blood supplies, because I heard on the radio that donors were being called on urgently to give blood.

Little by little, I regained my strength and I was discharged in three weeks. Only later did it dawn on me. I am so thankful to the doctors and nurses of Pelgulinna maternity centre.

I’m very thankful to all the people who donate blood. A TV programme recently profiled the man who has given the most blood in Estonia. He said that in spring 1994, he was called in urgently to give blood. I think this was because of me. I want to thank him and all the others! You’re life savers!

My little girl has now grown up and is a donor herself. I hope it’s a way of expressing thanks to everyone who has given something so precious – their blood.