Can you imagine the trauma of giving birth to a baby girl, just to be trapped in a coma from which you can’t escape? Unable to see your child or even ask after her.
This was Julie’s introduction into motherhood, in an oxygen mask and unable to move. And this was only the beginning…
Before her pregnancy, Julie Lyon Cheifetz’s health was excellent and she exercised daily. But because of a previous late-term miscarriage, this pregnancy was considered high-risk and her doctor restricted her physical activities.
“I didn’t feel strong,” she adds but suggests that it could have been due to the sudden lack of exercise.
“I went into labour exactly on my due date and I was left in active labour for four days before being given a Caesarian section,” Julie says.
After three days of contractions two to three minutes apart, Julie’s doctor still refused to give her a Caesarian.
On day four, she upped her petosin dosage to increase the contractions. They shifted to one minute apart.
Twelve hours later: still no baby, and Julie’s husband pleaded with the doc to give her that C-section.
“This was the first of several times my husband saved my life,” Julie says. It was only then that they realised that her pelvic bone structure was not allowing a baby to pass. “And suddenly I was being rushed into emergency surgery.” Finally.
The trauma of this extended active labour is believed to be the cause of the complications that were to follow.
After the birth, Julie returned home with her baby. “[But] suddenly, I was overcome with pain unlike anything I could have imagined,” she recalls.
The pain began across her lower back and enveloped her entire midsection. She thought it must be normal, considering what she’d been through. But the pain built and finally Julie said to her husband, “I think I’m dying.”
“I collapsed outside the emergency room,” she says, “I remember lying outside the entrance in nothing but a nightgown and watching people step over me and around me… A nurse took me away. That is the last thing I remember before losing consciousness.”
Julie went into a coma, blood clots began forming and her organs started shutting down, beginning with her kidneys and lungs.
As time passed, the clots multiplied and the doctors began to fear that Julie’s heart and brain would be the next organs to fail.
“My body was filled with 70 pounds (over 30kgs) of excess fluids, and I was later told that what I experienced was much like drowning,” she adds. Her family were warned that it was unlikely she would survive.
“It felt like I was lying inside a dead body. I couldn’t move anything.” she recalls.
Her mind felt normal – filled with thoughts and questions – but her head was inside an oxygen tank which emitted a buzzing sound. She was able to hear this but it muffled what the people around her were saying.
She could see, “but no one understood that I was ‘awake.'”
The hospital in question was a teaching hospital and residents would often pop in to examine Julie as her case was rare.
“They undressed and examined me,” she remembers, “I was helpless. I couldn’t move so I couldn’t protect myself or cover my body.”
On one specific day, the usual stream of residents came in and stood around Julie’s undressed body, chatting. One of the men left his hands on my bare breasts as he joked with the other residents.
It was the final straw. “A fury rose up within me and I pleaded with God to rescue me,” she remembers. Focusing her entire being on her hand, she imagined it moving. Feeling crept back into her fingers and she felt movement. Pushing the resident’s hand off her chest, she cried out repeatedly, “I am a person!” After 10 trapped days, Julie was free.
Three weeks to live… then “death”
On waking, what Julie didn’t know was that she’d been given three weeks to live but she was aware that her condition was serious.
One Saturday, Julie simply could no longer breathe – even with the aid of the oxygen tank.
Watching her grief-stricken husband as he spoke to her doctor, she knew it was time to say goodbye.
With her family watching over her, Julie stopped breathing.
“I remember a lot of what happened in death, I prayed to God for rescue,” she says, whatever that rescue would be.
“When I returned to my body, the room was bathed in light,” she recalls, and she was now able to breathe unaided.
Julie remembers her doctor saying that, “the only explanation is divine intervention.”
She had returned in a healthier state, her lungs functioning and blood clots dissipating. But the road to recovery was still a long and bumpy one.
23 years later
Julie was cautioned that her diet and quality of life would be restricted and that there was a chance that she would not live to see her daughter turn one.
Julie’s marriage did not survive this experience but she and her former husband are both currently happily remarried.
Her daughter is happy and healthy and she also has a son. Life after death can never be described as ordinary and Julie says that, “this experience freed me to be comfortable living my life from my heart and to approach everything from a place of love.”
Julie considers herself the strongest she has ever been, far stronger than she (or her doctors) ever believed possible.
She has been teaching Pilates since 2002. She adds that her experience “now guides everything I do and is teaching me how to be a healing force in my work with others.”
Her business is appropriately called Lifted and Julie teaches the restorative power of the body.
“No matter our current physical state or age, we can always reach for deeper strength.”
This article was originally published on Women's Health South Africa.