Enter the Goran
You wake with a familiar wetness between your legs. It’s not long after midnight.
Oh no, here we go again. It feels like those bomb drills you did at school back in the Eighties, during the State of Emergency. When a siren would wail and you’d all have to climb under your graffitied wooden desks, whispering and giggling, until given the all-clear to resume your lesson about Bartholomew Diaz or The Great Trek. As it turns out, this is not another drill, or false alarm, but the real freakin’ deal.
Kicking off the duvet, you roll onto your side, simultaneously throwing your lower legs over the edge of the bed and hoisting the upper half of your seven-month pregnant body upright. You then stand and steady yourself against the bedroom wall, before lurching to the bathroom, and flipping on the light switch. As you lower yourself onto the toilet, and reach for the loo paper to mop up the mess, there is an audible whoosh! and a bizarre sensation of liquid gushing out of you, splashing into the water at the bottom of the bowl. Could this be your waters breaking? It is certainly how you imagine it would feel. But spreading your thighs and peering through the gap, the sight that greets you is so grim, for a moment you think you might vomit.
The bowl is full of blood. The water has turned a terrifying shade of crimson, its surface covered with hundreds of tiny bubbles. And the pristine white porcelain is now splattered with red, like a macabre Jackson Pollock.
‘Lee!’ you scream, your voice sounding like it comes from somewhere far away. ‘I think I’m having a miscarriage!’
Within a split second he is at the bathroom door, face puffy, eyes like saucers, hair wild.
‘Jesus!’ is all he manages when he sees the amount of blood. ‘I’ll go get the car.’
You stuff a few wads of loo paper in your knickers, then roll up a hand towel into a sausage and wedge it into your crotch, before yanking up your tracksuit pants as high as they will go, to try and keep the towel in place. It is big and bulky, like those old skool toweling nappies and safety pins you all wore as babies in the Seventies. Where two weeks prior you had been pretty level-headed, now the floodgates open, and you find yourself sobbing uncontrollably.
You probably should’ve lain flat on the back seat, but you are already in the front passenger seat, and on the road, when you feel another gush between your legs. Oh fuck, Lee’s going to be pissed if you bleed all over his Range Rover’s cream leather seats!
Digging your feet into the depths of the footwell under the cubbyhole, and pushing the chair back as far as it will go, you use both hands to grab onto the handle above the passenger door in an attempt to suspend yourself in a more-or-less horizontal position, to try and stem as much of the haemorrhaging as possible.
‘I can’t feel him moving!’ you weep. ‘I think he’s dead!’
‘Hang in there, baby,’ Lee says as calmly as possible. Words of comfort for his hysterical wife. A prayer for his unborn son.
The growl of the V8 engine is deafening as you hurtle north along the empty N1 – newly revamped for the FIFA World Cup which had come and gone in a month-long whirlwind of jubilation and infectious national pride just six months prior. Now suddenly the thought of your future together without this child – a little person you’d never met, but whom you'd already grown to love and even given a name – fills you with a sense of sadness so deep, your chest physically aches.
It’s a twenty-minute drive door to door, from home in Northcliff to the hospital in Olivedale, and with Lee’s driving, you’re making good time. But shortly after taking the Malibongwe exit and then turning onto President Fouché, you get stuck behind an old Merc puttering along at a snail’s pace. You are in a single lane, sandwiched between the pavement on the left and a long winding concrete island on the right, separating your lane from oncoming traffic.
‘MOVE, fucker!’ Lee snarls between gritted teeth, gripping the steering wheel for dear life, his knuckles flashing white in the slow, strobe-like effect of the passing street lights.
‘Ram him!’ you shout through your tears. ‘Just ram him!’
‘I can’t bloody ram him out of the way!’ he shoots back. Finally, he sees a gap and pulls an overtake manoeuver that would've stunned even the likes of Ayrton Senna.
As you roar up to the well-lit and welcoming entrance of the hospital, you fling open the passenger door. Lee shouts to the security-guard-slash-porter to bring a wheelchair, and within seconds you are carefully lowered into the seat and then pushed quickly past the lone receptionist, along bright-white, ghostly quiet corridors, and into the maternity ward.
You are in a shocking state, your unwashed hair clinging to your tear-streaked face and sweaty neck, as you hug your distended belly as tightly as possible. One of the nurses recognises you from your previous emergency visit a fortnight prior and, confirming your name, grabs your file. After seeing you off safely in the wheelchair, Lee had gone to park the car, and he arrives back just in time to sign the necessary paperwork.
You are then ushered to a small delivery room in the far corner of the ward, transferred to a hard, narrow bed on wheels, and hooked up to a foetal heart rate monitor and blood pressure monitor. When you hear the familiar yet alien sounds of a little heartbeat, your own heart skips a beat and you utter a gasp of relief – your baby is still alive! Although he doesn’t appear to be in any sort of distress, your blood pressure is off the charts; your swollen abdomen so rock hard, you could probably play coinage off it.
The obstetrician on duty that night arrives and introduces himself as Dr V. After one look at your blood pressure reading and the scarlet-soaked hand towel, he immediately orders a nurse to start prepping you for an emergency C-section.
‘But I’m only 30 weeks!’ you cry. ‘It’s too soon! I’ve still got two months to go!’
‘It looks like you are having a placental abruption. I’m afraid if we don’t get this baby out within the next 20 minutes, there’s a good chance we may lose the both of you,’ he replies. In that instant your eyes lock, and the gravity of the situation sinks in. From that moment on, your life, and that of your baby, is in their hands.
A nurse sets about dry shaving where they will do the incision, and you silently curse her for the inevitable ensuing ingrown hairs. Lee, registering that this is it, rushes back to the car to fetch the Sony Cyber-shot which he knows you always carry around in your handbag. (The Nikon SLR which he’d given you for your birthday the year before is at home).
You are then transferred to a gurney, and what feels like mere moments later, find yourself under the glare of lights in an operating theatre.
It's frigid in here. Like a morgue. Dr V, who has a strange accent which you can’t quite place, introduces the anaesthetist, Dr M, and the rest of the team. (Later Lee claims that Dr M was the driver of the Merc).
‘You’re not allergic to anything?’ asks a voice, somewhat rhetorically.
‘Just latex,’ you reply.
There is an abrupt halt in activity as half a dozen masked faces turn towards you, eyes flashing, followed by a muffled grumble or two, and then a flurry of slapping sounds as they all replace their regular surgical gloves with latex-free ones. Clearly somebody hadn’t checked all the info on your armful of 'raver' wristbands.
A black male nurse with kind eyes helps you to sit up on the gurney, and asks you to turn your whole body, so your legs are dangling off the side. Your hair hangs loose in greasy rats tails. You ask him for a hairband, a rubber band, anything to tie it all back. He looks at you apologetically, and says, ‘I’m afraid we don’t have anything like that in here. We’re going to do the spinal block now.’
Out the corner of one eye you catch sight of Lee, in scrubs, standing on the fringes of this maelstrom. He wears the wide-eyed look of a kid in the front row seat of a Tarantino film. Out the corner of the other eye you see Dr M moving in behind you. The nurse with the kind eyes stands directly in front of you, takes each of your hands in his, as though you are about to waltz, and tells you to press your forehead as hard as you can against his chest. What follows is the most excruciating pain you have ever experienced, like a sword being plunged right through your spine. You yowl in agony, tears literally springing from your eyes. Then the nurse helps you lie down, and within seconds it feels like your entire lower body has died. You try to wiggle your toes, but from the waist down you may as well be a chunk of lifeless wood; ancient, petrified. Lee is invited to take his place behind your left shoulder, as a blue sheet is raised between your midriff and the gore fest about to unfold below.
‘Ohmygod, that feels so weird!’ you half-laugh, a little delirious, your lower body rocking gently from side to side as the scalpel see-saw slices through flesh.
The same half-dozen pairs of eyes turn towards you, this time filled with a sense of horror, rather than the earlier irritation.
‘Are you in any pain?’ asks Dr V, panic rising in his voice.
‘No, no, I’m totally numb,’ you chuckle. ‘I can just feel my body moving as you cut me open.’
There is a collective sigh of relief and one or two raised eyebrows as the same half-dozen pairs of now slightly exasperated eyes turn back to the task at hand.
Barely a minute later, the furtive silence is broken by the most pitiful little cry. Your heart lurches as you catch the first glimpse of your baby boy, still attached to his umbilical cord, being held up by Dr V over the top of the sheet. A fresh flood of tears erupts, only this time they are filled with intense relief and joy. You find yourself in a state of unexpected euphoria, like a really intense Ecstasy high.
‘Well done, my angel,’ Lee whispers into your ear, squeezing your hand.
Your heart feels like it’s going to explode. It’s over! Goran “Against All Odds” Gruben is suddenly, finally here. Tiny, but very much alive.
What was supposed to be a Valentine's gift just became an early Christmas one instead. A gift you’d never asked for, but a gift bestowed upon you nevertheless. As always, the Universe knows best...