Ode to a Medical Student: A Note of Gratitude for Driving Me Toward Life!
To begin at the beginning, the beginning of my daughter’s life, and the beginning of my illness, I must take you back to early December 1971. I had just come home from the hospital after giving birth. Peter and I grinned at our baby. I cuddled her in my arms, amazed at her tiny fingers and wispy hair, and the little pout on her mouth that looked almost like a smile.
Snow fell outside the window of the small Montreal apartment. I fed tiny Jessica and diapered her. I lowered her softly into the cradle alongside my bed, and I drifted into sleep.
An hour or two later, my friend Norman rapped at the door. He was an intern at the hospital where Jessica had been born. “Hello,” he said to my partner. “How’s Elizabeth? I’d love to see your new baby.”
Peter led him into the bedroom. I felt a nudge on my shoulder, and then the blankets were pulled away from me. “Can you hear me?” Norman asked.
My eyes fluttered as I tried to focus my mind. The mattress seemed damp. I looked down and saw that I lay in a puddle of blood. Norman pushed at my stomach to try to expel pieces of placenta.
The dark flow of blood didn’t stop. He covered me with a fresh blanket, scooped me into his arms, and rushed down a long flight of stairs. Soon I was surrounded by a howling white blizzard. Norman sloshed through the snow with me and took me to his car.
He swerved, skidded, and maneuvered in his little Datsun through the snowstorm. He stopped in front of the hospital, where orderlies placed me on a stretcher. I dipped in and out of consciousness. I woke briefly in the emergency room. Tubes ran into my veins, and one was red with blood.
It took less than a week to recover from the transfusion but more than 40 years to learn what it had done. In the spring of 2014 I was diagnosed with hepatitis C. It was just one week after the antiviral combination of sofosbuvir and simeprevir had been approved by Health Canada for use against the disease.
My gastroenterologist found my liver to be close to cirrhotic. He put me on 12 weeks of the antiviral combination. In April 2015, I achieved a sustained virologic response.
In my gladness of having a frightful illness behind me, I pondered how it had entered my body. If not for a young medical student, who was my friend, I would never have contracted hepatitis C. But if not for that young medical student, I would have never survived the hemorrhage and never lived to see my wonderful daughter grow up.
She was a gift. My life—even with hepatitis C lingering in my body—was a gift. Thanks to medical science, the easy cure for my hepatitis C was a miracle. All I have to do now is to find Norman and to thank him too.
About the Author: Elizabeth Rains is an editing instructor at Simon Fraser University and a long-time journalist. She has written for dozens of newspapers and magazines in Canada and the United States, often on medical issues and also writes about hepatitis C on her blog. She will have a book about the disease published by Greystone Books in fall 2016. Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected].
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