“Apparently I Almost Died as an Infant” Club

I don’t remember almost dying as an infant, but apparently, I did. My mother recounts the story of my Soviet birth ripe with exaggerated old-world details. She describes laboring in a room with nine other women, all of whom took turns pushing their babies out, while an orderly with a thick mustache mopped the floor with dirty water. She witnessed one woman give birth to a stillborn baby. There were no Lamaze classes, epidurals, sonograms, or oversized beach balls to ease contractions. When it came time for my mother to push, the doctor told her she was not dilated enough. In modern day America, this common complication is generally confronted with the use of medicinal or mechanical cervical ripening. In 1974 Kiev, however, this goal was accomplished with a technique my mother uses her hands to demonstrate. She positions her hands into a prayer position, then darts them rapidly towards me, and spreads them open, keeping her fingers connected, creating a teepee shape. Labor Progression: Soviet-style, rubber gloves, optional.

I was born with copious amounts of black hair covering my head, my shoulders, and my back; in other words, a healthy Soviet specimen! My mother and I remained in the hospital for two weeks, the standard length for normal deliveries. Typically fathers were not permitted to visit their newborns at the hospital, but my father boastfully prides himself on being the exception to the rule. He bribed a nurse to hold baby me up to the window, where he stood in the hospital courtyard, squinting through the August sun, to gain a peek at his swaddled Soviet monkey.

My 20-year-old mother and my 24-year-old father spent their first two years of married life in a two-room apartment with my paternal grandmother, my father’s sister, her husband, and their 12-year-old diabetic son. At six weeks old, I got sick and promptly “a professor” was summoned to conduct a house call (because obviously, you couldn’t take a sick baby outside).

My mother’s six-week-old baby LOSING WEIGHT landed her on top of an imaginary list of terrible mothers. She survived a pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum (throwing up the entire nine months) followed by a labor and delivery where her crotch was hand-ripped open by a gloveless doctor. When it came time to breastfeed, she said, “I never had enough; my milk was transparent – it was blue! All I had was skim milk and you were always hungry.!” American Millennials would say she was not “crushing it at motherhood.”

My sickness had nothing to do with her blue milk. The professor diagnosed me with pneumonia and demanded my parents take me to the hospital right away.

Upon arrival, my father, Russian Super Dad, (and honorary blood expert) demanded the doctors give me a blood transfusion. He was certain this would cure my pneumonia. When he tells the story, he flexes his biceps to demonstrate how he physically offered up his arm. “Just look at these veins,” he points to the pulsing blue highways under his skin. I am 44 years old and to this day, my father offers up this moment as the Magnum Opus of his life, the day he single-handedly brought me back to life with his blood.

“You should see the size of the shpritz* they pricked me with,” he says with exaggerated animation. “I think those doctors took a gallon of my blood. Maybe more. I didn’t know where they were going to put it; you were so small. I think they gave it to half the babies in that ward.”

My mother thought her blood was inferior because it was Type B, rather than Type A, as if blood types were grades on an exam. She justified how her Type B blood made her a sicklier person, with a weaker immunity, compared to my father with his first-rate Type A.

“They replaced all of your blood with mine,” my father says, “and as if by magic, you instantly got better. The doctors were amazed; your cheeks turned pink and you got your appetite back.” 

In retelling this story there are medical details missing and the inner scientist (um,  hypochondriac) in me desperately craves further answers. The doctors said they wanted to run tests and hold me for observations but my father said, “If there’s nothing wrong with her, I’m taking her home.” He wrapped me in the plaid wool blanket and marched out of the hospital. Clearly, I was never sick again.

The blood transfusion eternally bonded me to my father. I have always thought part of why he loved me as intensely was because it was his blood coursing through my veins. He envisioned his blood cells multiplying inside my seven-pound body, saturating my veins, penetrating each capillary, and immunizing me from all illness for an eternity. I’m not sure if that was accomplished, but whenever I had any triumph in life – a 100% on a test or passing the road test on my first try – or getting into every college to which I applied, my father always had the exact same retort: “That’s my blood!”

*shprtiz – Russian for “needle.”

56 thoughts on ““Apparently I Almost Died as an Infant” Club

  1. Thanks for sharing this story. My wife had a near-death-as-an-infant experience involving a stroke, so we can appreciate where you’re coming from. Thankfully all is well that ends well for both of you.

  2. You’ve gotta love those near death infant stories. I personally hope I never have to tell one. I enjoyed hearing about your Russian heritage. I feel like I know less about Russia than other countries for whatever reason. I could really picture your parents as I read–the mark of a good writer.

  3. I definitely pictured this entire story in an old school, black-and-white film being played! So many people have gone through these infant near death experiences that it makes you wonder how most of us are still here!

    Mine’s definitely not as epic, but I had apparently turned all colours of the rainbow while choking on a hard candy. As I was told, “I hit you so hard on the back, I was afraid I was going to break your bones!! But, you were turning purple so I couldn’t stop!”

    Scary to think we’ve been on the verge of death at least once already.

  4. Sounds like you could have been severely jaundice…
    Look up ABO incompatibility
    It may have caused lethargy and inability to feed? = losing weight

    Very cute that your Dad saved you xx

  5. Great story. I almost had a near death experience as an infant. Though, I don’t remember it, my mother told me that I had pneumonia as a child and one of my doctors told them that it was not serious. I was later rushed to Sick Kids that evening.

  6. One time when I was a baby I had a really high fever. My mom brought me to the doctor and she said that if I wasn’t rushed to the hospital right away, there was a good chance I would die! Clearly, I did not.

  7. Well written! “Eventually I was born, looking similar to a monkey, with thick black hair covering my head, shoulders and back. In other words, a healthy Russian baby.” This was hilarious 😂

  8. Woow I loved this, I really felt like I had just taken a time machine to your birth. I can completely relate with not remembering my childhood and birth but being told it so often, that I can now tell it like an outside viewer watching in. Great post loved it, thank you for sharing your story!

  9. It’s easy and often funny to reflect to our childhood experiences because our conscious mind somehow doesn’t remember them. Now that we’re healthy adults humor comes easily!

  10. That’s so sweet; I actually always thought I was an ugly baby until I had my daughter and thought she was so beautiful – and then her baby pictures looked like mine!

  11. Thanks for sharing, the story brought back a lot of memories. I too am a survivor of a ‘brush’ that you too had experienced. Funny how reading someone else’s story brings back a flood of memories. I now remember my own brush, and how I have the only memory of my grandfather jumping down the stairs – frozen forever – as I looked up from the blood stained pillow I had used to cover my face. Long story, but I lost at the sharpen the stick game.
    Thank you for letting us know we are not alone.

  12. Amazingly written. Kudos.
    I’d like to know if you’ve had other encounters where the thought that your father’s blood runs in you made you toughen up and face the problem rather than run away. Just interested. Cheers!

  13. Such a beautiful story and I love the last paragraph about heart. im a big fan about the heart transplant theory 😄

  14. Really engagement insight into such a outer body experience. I nearly died at 2 weeks & always disassociate the event with myself.

  15. Reblogged this on Damon Lifestyle Therapy and commented:
    I love the idea of HeartsEverywhere’s blog. She writes, every day, about another life club that she identifies with. For those suffering from depression or any other mental illness, loneliness is a very real feeling and symptom. This project might help an individual (maybe someone who loves to write or wants to share their stories) feel a bigger sense of belonging. Any thoughts? Would you try this project?

  16. When I was an infant I was allergic to honey. But no one new about this, not my parents, not the doctors, not me (obviously). So i accidentally ate something that had enough honey in it to cause a very violent allergic reaction. My throat swelled up and I could not breath. I was instantly rushed to the doctors but they could not do anything. Luckily my grandma had connection to a doctor who specialized in homeopathic medicine. She worked in the same hospital. She gave me some pills that un-swelled my throat. Its a very complicated study but long story short I lived. My whole family still keeps in touch with that doctor. A person who saved my life.

  17. I didn’t die. But I have a feeling that I had a twin who died in the womb before we were born. Is this a common occurrence according to biology?

  18. I don’t know about that, but I know in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (see if it if you haven’t – the second one is coming out soon) the aunt had a twin that never developed in her neck 🙂 It was a comedy.

  19. I had a nde at approximately 1 years old. It was in 1981. Me and my older brother was in the pool. Those blue round circle ones. With the pictures on the bottom. The pools were they discontinued because so many kids were drowing in them. My older brother got up to go inside the house. He left me in the pool. I got up as well. But being a one year old. I could barely walk.

    So as soon as I stood up I fell face first into the water. I remember the water going into my lungs as I took a deep breath. After a while it started stinging and burning my lungs. I was fighting to stand up, but I couldn’t. My face was submerged into the water.

    After a while I stopped moving
    I felt as time has stopped. I wasn’t in pain no more. I remember a bright light. Bright as when you turn on your flashlight and stare into for 10 minutes. But the only thing this light, didnt blind you or made your eyes hurt. The light was peaceful,calm,loving. I felt like I was at home. For whatever reason I didnt want to leave. As I got older I tried to ask myself how could I know all these type of feelings when I was barely one years old.

    I remember a loud buzzing noise for about 10 to 15 seconds then I’m back. I felt my older brother slapping my back as hard as he could. I remember coughing up mass amounts of water. And I started crying. Then my brother brought me in the house. My family never called 911 or took me to the hospital. My mom was afraid my dad would be upset because she wasn’t watching me.

    I never had any lung problems. My lungs are healthy to this day. I have no brain damage. No ill effects from a person who drowned or was submerged under water for at least 10 minutes. The only way I remember this story. Is the older I got the more I started to remember. Until one day it all came together. As one story. Then I told my mom the whole story as I remembered.

    She ask me how did I know all this I was just a baby. I told her I just remembered it. It made sense. Because the same brother who found me in the water, is the same brother who died at 16. He was real protective of me. I never understand why. But now I do he was scared of losing me a second time. But instead I lost him.

    There truly is a God

  20. Interesting question….does the blood have any soul? I guess it must do since it travels through our hearts and our brains…it’s our life. What a start to life…your poor mother.

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