The events leading up to the days I walked through the valley of the shadow of death remain hazy, but there are remnants that have remained in my mind.
Martin did make it back in time from his business trip to Italy to be with me in the operating room.
I remember the mildly uncomfortable sting of the epidural I’d received.
…the tugging sensation I’d felt when my obstetrician cut into my abdomen.
…seeing the doctor holding up Zoe as I feebly lifted my head to lay eyes on her for the first time. She was tiny and looked emaciated – her skin hung loosely on her tiny bones. She looked unlike any newborn baby I’d ever seen previously. I don’t remember her crying at all.
Months later, I would read in her medical chart that she had to be resuscitated. I am grateful that I was spared that devastating detail at the time it had happened.
I remember waking up in a recovery room many hours later, being told my symptoms weren’t improving as expected, and being wheeled into the maternal intensive care unit.
For the next three days, I would cling to life in the ICU while our newborn daughter fought for her own life in the NICU.
My mother had named me Dalila Asha, which when translated from Hebrew meant “Gentle Life”. Many years later, I’d be sitting in the pew in a church service when I’d learn that Zoe was the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe the kind of spirit-filled life that Jesus had promised his followers.
I’d known instantly that it would be our daughter’s first name. Since I hadn’t even considered any other possibility, I’d told Martin he could pick our second child’s name to limit any resistance he’d have to the idea. I wasn’t willing to discuss it.
Zoe’s middle name came about a bit more randomly, but just as divinely inspired in my mind. I’d only known that it should have an ‘S’ and ‘Z’ in it, so that the phonetics of her full name would flow like poetry.
But, none of the names I’d come across seemed right.
Until I attended a holiday party at a colleagues house. There I’d met this young lady, whose first name arrested me in my tracks when she’d introduced herself.
“Can you repeat that?” I’d asked eagerly.
“Sanaz,” she’d replied.
“How do you spell it?” I responded instantly, not even caring how crazy my line of questioning must have seemed to my brand new acquaintance.
“Do you have any idea what it means?”
“Well, I know it’s Persian and I think it means something about grace.”
With the widest smile and a gleam in my eye, I’d declared unabashedly that she would have a namesake soon. I’d been looking for the perfect middle name for our unborn daughter, and her name fit the bill perfectly.
A quick internet search later revealed that ‘Sanaz’ meant ‘full of grace’.
Zoe Sanaz was born on St. Patrick’s Day. The week after I was discharged from the hospital I would learn that St. Patrick was the 5th century missionary who’d brought the gospel to the country of Ireland, and was credited with the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons.
To this day I wonder about the calling God has on her life considering the obstacles she encountered to get here. But for many weeks after her birth, I’d wondered if she’d have any future at all.
Martin came to my room with the first pictures of Zoe he’d taken at her NICU bedside. These photos would be the only way I’d lay eyes on our newborn for the next three days.
Martin had told me how she was struggling to breathe and how helpless he’d felt. We’d wept that day in each others’ arms. It was the first time I’d seen my husband of three years cry.
When I was lucid again on the day of her birth, I’d checked my cell phone. Someone at church had added me to a text prayer chain. I’d read text after text from numbers I hadn’t recognized of saints all over the city who were praying for me and Zoe.
Knowing how we were being interceded for gave me hope that perhaps we’d both have a future after all.
Pictured Below: The email update that went out to our Adult Bible Study study class at church.
I went to sleep that night with peace, but woke up in the middle of the night with a start, totally unable to breathe. As I struggled to get air into my lungs, I desperately reached for the red call button on the contraption next to my bedside.
Overnight, I’d gained 30 lbs of water weight as my organs continued to fail. My lungs had filled with fluid, which explained my breathing struggles. A thought rose unbidden in my mind.
This was it.
I would die alone in this hospital while my loved ones slept, and they’d wake to learn the news that I didn’t make it.
But by God’s grace I did survive.
I was assigned to an in-house cardiologist who took me off of the high dose magnesium I’d been on since being admitted to the hospital. He put me on a number of other drugs, including a diuretic to get the excess fluid out of my body.
Continuing to deteriorate, I went along with the constant additions of ever more pharmaceutical drugs. I’d asked the attending nurses to give me information on each drug I was being given and why.
But when I showed no sign of improvement, in fact, quite the opposite, I’d begun to question the treatment I was receiving.
The last straw was when we’d reached the 15th concurrent medication I was being prescribed. When asked about it, the cardiologist casually shrugged his shoulders while explaining that he “was throwing everything at me to see what would work.”
“All at the same time!!??” I’d wondered incredulously.
Two days later, the nurse on call walked in with a needle full of God knows what in a syringe the length of my forearm. I’d demanded to speak with my OB/GYN immediately. The same obstetrician who it seemed overnight was now eager to listen and be an advocate – probably from the terror of being on the verge of losing one of her patients.
I’d wanted her to arrange a second opinion as soon as possible.
I feared that what my own body had failed to do up to that point, my treating cardiologist would succeed at very shortly – separating my soul from my physical body.
The cardiologist whom I’d asked to review my case had a special place in my heart. She was the same petite spit-fire of a woman who’d taken excellent care of my mother and convinced her to have the heart procedure that saved her life.
Unfortunately, she’d been away on vacation.
But the demand alone had already served its purpose.
The very idea that I had the audacity to request a second opinion incensed my treating cardiologist so much so that he’d taken me off of all 15 medications, and switched me back to the high dose magnesium.
The minute I’d started improving, he’d unceremoniously had me discharged from the ICU the very next day.
I never saw him again.
It would only be the first in a series of unfortunate encounters I’d have at that hospital – the next would be the first time I was physically able to get to the NICU to visit my daughter’s bedside in person.
Even though the doctors and nurses employed at Women’s had kept me and Zoe alive, I would eventually come to despise that place over the coming months, and with good reason.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DALILA JONES STITZ
Founder and CEO, Health Insurrection LLC
Dalila is a native Houstonian and currently lives in Switzerand with her husband and two kids. She received her health coach training through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and Hallelujah Acres and teaches in-home bible studies and online courses.