Right now, I should be in Cancun, on the last day of my short vacation with my husband, enjoying the sun and sipping exotic mixed drinks.
Instead, I’m thinking about my time in the hospital last week, and how it’s going to impact everything going forward.
At least I’m here, and for that, I’m grateful.
Three years ago, I staggered into my primary care doctor’s office, barely able to walk more than 10 feet at a time – severely short of breath. The receptionist, a friend of mine, was very startled, and rushed out with a wheelchair, rushing me to the back.
Somehow, all my vital signs were very normal – even my oxygenation stats showed numbers at 98%, even though I was clearly struggling to breathe. My doctor thought I had something related to pleurisy, but he was not taking any chances, as I had a history of asthma, so he called an ambulance and sent me to Memorial Hospital in Savannah.
At the hospital, as they performed numerous tests, I slowly deteriorated, to the point where I was having chest pains, and having problems talking. Standing up caused too much exertion for me. The emergency room doctor came up to me right before I went back for a CT and told me I had either a pulmonary embolism or congestive heart failure.
WHAT???? My grandmother, who was over 50 years older than me, had both of those before, and I was only 38! How could that happen??
Thankfully, they had given me morphine, or I would have been in full on panic mode, as I was in the ER by myself. Some kind of shooting victim with an officer involved had been brought in, and though my husband had made it to the ER, he was not being allowed back, because the ER was locked down to visitors.
After my CT, I came back to a room full of doctors with masks on, and I knew the news was not good. Something about surgery, a huge clot, and so on. I needed my husband right away, so he was allowed to come back.
I was told I had a massive saddle pulmonary embolism, and they also found DVT’s in both of my legs. I needed surgery now, and they were going to place a filter in to keep the clots in my legs from coming up further.
The surgery to take the clot out did not go well, so they placed the filter. They also found a hole in my heart, which would need to be fixed later. I was placed on a TPA and heparin drip for 20 hours to bust up the clots. I was in the ICU and hospital for four days.
The surgery to repair the hole in my heart, called a PFO, was performed about 6 months later, and after being on anti-coagulants for 6 months after that surgery, I was told I would just be on aspirin for the rest of my life.
I was also told the PFO likely saved my life, relieving some of the pressure the massive clot was causing.
Over the next three years, I visited the hospital repeatedly, with numerous symptoms – chest pain, leg pain, leg swelling and shortness of breath – and thankfully, there was nothing to really explain those symptoms, until last Tuesday, when I almost didn’t go the hospital.
I had been short of breath for over a month. I had been to the hospital in August, had my blood checked, had my chest checked, and told I was having a bad asthma attack. I was given medication for my asthma and sent home. But, my breathing never improved. It just got worse and worse.
And last Monday night, I just could not sleep. At all. Something told me I should go to the hospital. So we went. And they found another large clot, this time in my right lung, and a DVT in my left leg.
This time, they just put me on heparin, waiting until I was on a therapeutic dose, then sent me home with high dose anti-coagulant pills the next day.
I did well for about 12 hours, and then developed sharp chest pains, which prompted me to call EMS to come and get me to take me back to the hospital.
Thankfully, there was no involvement of my heart, but I was kept in the hospital for a couple extra days on a heparin drip to be sure I was feeling better before I was sent home again.
Before my first PE, I was a “fraidy cat”. I was afraid to try a lot of new things – mostly adventure stuff. When my PE happened, and I realized I had a close brush with death, I decided I needed to take the bull by the horns and not be so afraid.
Since the PE, I’ve gone into caves (somewhat conquering a fear of claustraphobia) and I’ve developed an addiction to ziplines (somewhat conquering a fear of things that cause my stomach to drop). I have a long list of other fears I am wanting to cross off my list.
This second PE puts a damper in lots of things. I realize things could be a lot worse, but as I make my living working as a travel agent, and discovering new things, it’s kind of hard not to take this a bit hard. I have to be on blood thinners forever now. That means traveling different now, and not doing some things I had planned to do.
There’s another purpose to telling this story, besides sharing a bit about me, and my unexpected trip to the hospital last week. I decided to share my story so others could learn from it.
One of the risk factors for DVT and PE is obesity, of which I am definitely guilty. Another risk factor is hormone replacement therapy. Other factors are family history and prior clots. These are the only factors that affected my getting a clot. The first clot, which occurred in 2013, was affected by family history, obesity and HRT. This recent one was affected by all these factors.
Most clots, however, occur because of other factors, and you can read about those factors here.
As I mentioned above, I will have to change the way I travel, perhaps taking less plane trips, depending on what my doctors advise. You can learn how you can prevent DVTs and PEs for yourself while traveling by reading this (it’s a handy PDF you can download to print).
My hope is my story keeps someone else healthy, aware, and away from clots – for life.