“My God, I’m dying.” Williams was on the verge of death because of doctors’ negligence
This episode would have been the climax of the new BBC marvel “It’s Gonna Hurt” about a male obstetrician in a maternity ward somewhere on the outskirts of London. Or it would go into the golden collection of those tragicomedy episodes of “Clinique” when you’re already wiping away a tear by the tenth minute.
The story of the 23-time TBS champion followed roughly the same script: When all is well, it has to get dramatically bad. Her confession was published in Elle.
Prologue. “The baby? I mean, she recently took the 23rd Slam.”
In 2017, she had her firstborn, daughter Olympia. It wasn’t even the mom herself or her sister Venus Williams who first announced it, but the champion’s coach Patrick Muratoglu – something he scribbled on Twitter. Weird! But only after the fact did it become clear why the relatives were silent.
Consequently, the American held the February Australian Open – 2017 and even won it while pregnant. Only in April, the tennis player officially announced that she was expecting a child and took a pause in her career. Serena’s daughter was born at a clinic in Florida.
The father was 34-year-old businessman Alexis Ohanian – his great-grandparents fled genocide-stricken Armenia to New York in 1910 and settled there. Decades later, the man started one of the world’s most popular social news resources, Reddit, and met Serena around the same time. They communicated closely, and in December 2016 they got engaged. After that, the tennis player published a poem on Reddit about her engagement to her lover.
The stint. “I loved the cramps.”
Williams was obsessed with giving birth in early fall – she’s September herself. The first contractions just started on Aug. 31. From the process itself, Williams was surprisingly terrifyingly high.
“It was great! I know it’s not what people are supposed to say, but I enjoyed it like a job. I was totally in the moment. I loved the cramping. I loved feeling my body trying to push the baby out,” Serena described the moment in her memoir.
The next morning the contractions became stronger and more frequent. With each one the baby’s heartbeat dropped drastically. Then Serena thought about epidural anesthesia to reduce the sensitivity to zero. But the mother-to-be got into a rush and still decided to give birth, feeling every painful spasm.
On September 1, the doctor insisted on a C-section after all. “I liked her confidence: if she had given me a choice between further labor and surgery, I wouldn’t have known what to say. I don’t know how to make decisions,” Williams says. – Being an athlete often means controlling your body, using its power, but also knowing when to give up.
The decision became a defining one, and that same day they met a new family member, Olympia. And here’s where we need to give a little disclaimer: In 2010, Serena found out she had blood clots in her lungs. In a restaurant in Munich, she stepped on broken glass, ruptured her tendons and collapsed from blood loss. She had to undergo treatment, dozens of stitches, and surgery. But the problems didn’t end there: she suffered a pulmonary embolism – a blockage of the arteries in her lungs. The thrombosis made it difficult for Serena to breathe.
The climax. “I’m dying”
The disease didn’t go anywhere and manifested itself just after Olympia was born. Soon Williams realized she couldn’t breathe properly again. Serena asked a nurse to schedule an IV with heparin, a substance that interferes with blood clotting. Then, in her experience, there would be no blockage. All she was told was, “We really don’t know if you need it right now.” No one listened to her. They refused the drug because it could cause bleeding from the wound after the C-section. “I felt it was important, and I kept insisting. The whole time I was in excruciating pain: I couldn’t move at all.”
Inactivity caused a terrible cough, and that could have caused the stitches to rupture. No one knew then that she would have to have surgery twice in one day. The doctors found a hematoma – a clot of blood – outside the blood vessels in the abdomen, and then an even larger clot, which was important to keep further away from the lungs. At any rate, that’s what the medical report said. “For me, it was just a fog of surgeries – one after the other.”
“When I woke up after surgery in a hospital room with my parents and my husband’s in-laws, I thought I was dying. They tried to talk to me, and all I could think was, ‘I’m dying, I’m dying. My God.” Even after what happened, the doctors continued to ignore Serena’s requests for a CT scan of her lungs on both sides and a heparin drip. The only answer was, ‘I think all these drugs are making you crazy,'” Serena recalled.
After much cajoling and calling the specialists, the nurses did take an X-ray and found a blood clot in her lungs. Williams had to have a filter inserted into her veins to dissolve it. That’s how the champion’s third and fourth surgeries happened. “I went to the same operating room so many times that I started saying, ‘I’ll be back!” – Williams recalls with a touch of irony.
“When I woke up after surgery in a hospital room with my parents and my husband’s relatives, I thought I was dying. They tried to talk to me, but all I could think was, ‘I’m dying, I’m dying. My God.” Even after it happened, the doctors continued to ignore Serena’s requests for a CT scan of her lungs on both sides and a heparin drip. “The only response was, ‘I think all these medications are driving you crazy,'” Serena recalls.
After much coaxing and calls to the specialists, the nurses did take an X-ray and discovered a blood clot in her lungs. Williams needed an urgent filter inserted into her veins to dissolve it. That’s how the champion’s third and fourth surgeries happened. “I went to the same operating room so many times that I started saying, ‘I’ll be back!” – Williams recalls with a touch of irony.
“In the United States, black women are nearly three times as likely to die during or after childbirth as white women,” Williams once again reprimands. – Experts believe many of these deaths are preventable. Being heard was a matter of life and death for me at the time. I know these statistics would have been different if the medical establishment had listened to the experiences of every black woman.”
The denouement. “Serena Leaving?”
As you know, Serena has been trying to get back into the sport and behind the 24th major of her career all five years after giving birth. But Australian Margaret Court’s record looks set to remain Williams’ unclosed gestalt. After eternal aches and pains and joyful motherhood in contrast, it seems as if Patrick Muratoglu put a bold end to the matter – the coach has found a new, albeit temporary, mentee.
And it seems that Serena is finally out of this race for the American dream – at age 40, has it finally come true?
“I didn’t know what kind of mom I was going to be. And I still don’t. Instead, maybe for the first time in my life, I just exist.”