I’m a single father because my wife, Keisha died in hospital. This shouldn’t have happened. Keisha should still be alive and here with our son, Byron and me.
Shortly after Keisha gave birth to Byron, I noticed that the fluid in her Foley catheter, the thin tube inserted in patients to drain urine was tinged red. I was alarmed, of course. Then, twenty minutes later, it was draining bright red blood. The catheter was replaced but the blood ran through that one too. An ultrasound showed that there was fluid in Keisha’s abdomen. I could see that she was in a lot of pain. They gave her medication for it. By then, I was frantic to know what was going on with my wife. She encouraged me to stay calm.
An ultrasound was done and it showed that Keisha had a blood clot and that the replacement catheter continued to drain blood. She received fluids and blood transfusions even as she experienced “intractable abdominal pain.” I was frustrated with the doctor who was supposed to be in charge of her care because he wasn’t attending to her as often as he should have. At one point he didn’t return to her bedside until hours later, just after 8pm.
When Keisha’s blood pressure plummeted, a nurse notified the doctors but hours passed and still nothing was being done to find out why she was bleeding. I was scared stiff. My wife was lying there in pain, getting paler and groggier and I felt helpless.
I kept asking the medical staff why weren’t they helping her but nothing happened until after 11pm when two of the two attending physicians recommended taking her to surgery so that they could investigate. We later found out that the leading physician had decided against this. Then, an hour later, she was taken to surgery where the doctors discovered that she had three liters of blood in her abdomen.
Around 1am in the morning, my wife was pronounced dead. She had died of hemorrhagic shock. I couldn’t believe it. I had prayed that she would make it but, she didn’t. My beautiful, vibrant wife and the mother of our precious son had bled to death because the medical staff had been slow to act to find out what was causing the bleeding in the first place and stop it.
Instead of taking my wife and our child home, I sat there, numb. In my mind, I was thinking, This can’t be happening. I can’t be sitting here, holding my dead wife’s hand. This is a nightmare and I will wake up any minute and find myself at home watching her holding our son.
I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards. It was all a blur. When I took our son home, my mother was with me. I couldn’t deal with all the changes I must now face, alone. My father and my sister took care of the funeral arrangements while I took care of Bryon. The house felt so empty without Keisha. My mother moved in and helped to take care of the cooking, housekeeping and so forth. I was very thankful to have her there. She prayed everyday and night, asking God to give me comfort and strength.
Keisha’s parents and I filed a suit against the hospital, particularly the physician whom I believed was negligent in his care. I left my job and have joined forces with an organization which pushes to change laws more women from pregnancy related deaths. I can’t say for certain if being African-American played factor in the kind of care Keisha got but I often wonder if she would still be alive if she were a white woman.
Malcolm’s story is fictional but it is based on the true story of Kira Johnson, a 39 year old African-American who died in April 2016 after a scheduled cesarean section at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Her husband, Charles has founded the nonprofit 4kira4moms and he’s lobbying for national legislation to better protect pregnant women. Sadly, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.
The Johnson’s tragic story inspired an episode of Fox’s series, “The Resident” The episode addressed maternal mortality in the U.S. particularly the fact that black mothers are more likely to die from childbirth than white mothers. All women, regardless of color and economic status should receive quality medical care. If doctors and nurses can’t provide unbiased care for patients then they should not to be in that profession, period. And those who provide poor, negligible care should be charged. All lives matter. Men should not be losing their wives nor children, their mothers. A hospital is a place where everyone should get the best care possible.
If you are interested in learning more about what Charles Johnson is doing to prevent other women from the same fate as his wife whose death he will never get over, visit 4kira4moms.
Here are informed intervention recommendations for black women or women of color:
- Go to the doctor to discuss conception before becoming pregnant. Ask questions until you are satisfied with the answers
- During pregnancy, eat nutritious food, limit your weight gain, avoid alcohol and smoking and have regular checkups
- Have postpartum checkups
Fathiyyah “Tia” Doster who was diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome, a life-threatening liver condition has seen how mistrust of the medical establishment has made Black people afraid to seek care and ask questions. “I will forever be an advocate for people to take control of their health. Silence can really be the death of us. She strongly believes that, “Awareness can save lives!”
Sources: Essence; USA Today; NBC Los Angeles; Nicklaus Childrens’ Hospital; Black Women Birthing Justice