I had planned to be sharing photos of my trip to Bali with you these last few days but I ended up having a crazy health scare with deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in my leg) and pulmonary embolisms (blood clots on the lungs) that landed me in the hospital last weekend. I've been sharing some of the story on Instagram and wanted to share a bit more of an update here.
My hope in sharing some of the more private details in this post is to encourage you to listen to your own body and to take action if/when it's needed to save your life or potentially that of someone you love. There is a lot more information about blood clots online (they can be caused by a variety of different things and not just long plane flights) but my suggestion is to talk to your own doctor if you have concerns. The internet can be a very scary place for health-related information and misinformation.
Here's my story:
After returning home from Bali I had a leg ache/cramp in my lower right calf that wouldn't go away. For me it was a pain that made me want to keep stretching it - it was not noticeable on the outside of my leg (no redness or swelling). We had returned to the US on Sunday and I resumed my regular day to day life activities. By Thursday the calf pain was still present and I developed a low grade fever and was experiencing an overall feeling of "not goodness" (which can sometimes be known as jet lag to make it that much more complicated). I worked in the morning and then told Katie I needed to take a nap. Once I was up and walking around again I continued to not feel good and told Aaron that I wanted to go to a local Urgent Care (it was after 5pm) to have them check me out because the pain hadn't gone away and I was starting to feel nervous about it (fearing a blood clot due to my recent long travel). After arriving at Urgent Care I was told to go to the ER because they didn't have an ultrasound machine to test for a clot.
There was a lot of mental second guessing going on along the way even in the beginning. Should I just wait until tomorrow and talk to my regular doctor? This is probably nothing. I hate going to the ER because I know how much it costs just walking in the door. It's probably nothing. But I'm definitely the person that wants to know what's going on and my anxiety is the kind that motivates me to take action/get a resolution vs. hide.
I drove over to the ER and checked in. They called in someone to do the ultrasound and told me that I had a clot in my right calf that stretched into my right knee (called deep vein thrombosis/DVT). After some discussion they decided to start me on a blood-thinning medication (Pradaxa) and send me home. They asked multiple times if I had tightness in my chest or trouble breathing and at that point it wasn't an issue I was aware of for myself. At the end of my time there the last nurse I talked to said to me, "Here's the deal: if you feel anything strange, anything out the ordinary like shortness of breath or lightheadedness or pain in your chest, come back in here right away. This isn't something to mess around with." I think his very specific warning helped guide my decisions the over the course of the next day. Just a note for the sake of my memory - the wait that night for some people in the ER was 9 hours. I was lucky (or unlucky as the case may be) to be in and out of there in just a little over 3 hours.
The fear with blood clots in your legs (or in your arms) is that they break off and travel to your lungs, heart, or brain. Without being overly dramatic, it can be fatal. According to the Mayo Clinic, "About one-third of people with undiagnosed and untreated pulmonary embolism don't survive."
So with that in mind (yikes), I went about my fairly regular routine and drove to fill my new subscription and did some work at my desk. I was tired and a little scared/anxious about what was happening, but okay. Early in the afternoon I was on the phone and walked upstairs to my bedroom and was winded and had trouble catching my breath while holding the conversation and needed to sit down. That is not normal for me at all and I definitely took note but chalked it up to just an overall feeling of fatigue that I was experiencing (international travel + moving in + getting back to work + the stuff of life).
I was scheduled to go sign loan papers for a refinance of my house at 2pm and had planned to drop Audrey off with her Mom on the way to the appointment. While driving there I became lightheaded (and, at that point, very scared). I wondered if my anxiety was getting the best of me and was I creating these feelings or was it really a very bad sign (I learned after the fact that anxiety can be a warning sign for pulmonary embolisms - even more challenging for someone who already deals with anxiety). I dropped Audrey off and then decided to drive straight to the ER. I walked in and, through big crocodile tears, told the intake person that I swear I wasn't crazy and that I could possibly be making this up because I'm so worked up or something could be really wrong with me. I told her what I had been experiencing and they got me started in the triage process.
I had an ekg and my vitals were fine. I was moved out of triage to a bed in the main section of the ER and met with a doctor. There was more crying on my part as I told her my story and that "sometimes I just cry when I talk when I'm really afraid" (those of you who've been around awhile might remember me learning the lesson about continuing to talk even when you're crying). After listening and checking me out she suggested doing a spiral ctscan because then I would either know it wasn't an issue or it would be and we'd go from there. Aaron arrived. They hooked me up to an IV to receive some kind of iodine injection during the ctscan. It was all very surreal but I felt really glad to be getting checked out to either alleviate my fear or take the next steps.
I waited close to an hour and then the doctor came back and let me know that there the ctscan detected a series of small blood clots on my lungs (I remember her saying two but at the follow-up visit to my doctor today we got to see the scans and there were definitely more than two). I might have cheered a little bit just in knowing that I wasn't making it up but I was also still very scared about what it all really meant. From there I ended up being admitted to the hospital for monitoring while they started me on Lovenox (a low-weight molecular heparin that is injected). I spent the night in the hospital and had the chance to talk to a bunch of different nurses and the doctor about what was happening - if everything stayed stable they planned to send me home the next morning.
I know not everyone likes the hospital but I'm one of those people who doesn't mind. I was really happy to be monitored and to alleviate some of the bigger fears I was experiencing under the care of nurses and a doctor. I wasn't in a hurry to get out of there.
The noisy chatter of all that is regular life (work, the internet, meetings, decisions to be made, putting all the stuff away in the house, etc) stopped and all that was left was the most important things: the people. I'm really thankful to my local community of friends and family who reached out with support and help with all the kids (and support directly for Aaron) while I was in the hospital. It's amazing how people mobilize when things like this happen.
The next day we talked about discharging me. I was still feeling "off" overall but my vitals were fine and I wasn't experiencing shortness of breath or any other major symptoms. We decided to have me do a walking test around the floor (I was in the cardiac unit of a section of the hospital called the Heart & Vascular Center) to watch my blood oxygen levels. As I walked around I was doing okay but towards the end my oxygen levels starting dropping below a level they were comfortable sending me home. So I stayed another night.
I really do try to live a life that focuses on gratitudes in my everyday life. Sitting in my hospital bed I had time to reflect on all that from a very different perspective once again. Health scares have a way of bringing the most important things, what truly matters, of our lives into acute focus. I might have laughed out loud a few times there in the room by myself - at the absurdity of the whole situation - and I gave so much thanks that I was okay and not the alternative. It was a very direct message to stop and rest.
The next day (Sunday) I had an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and I did another walk-around test where my levels stayed closer to where they should be so it was decided I didn't need to take any oxygen home with me. The orders from the doctor were to rest and to continue getting the Lovenox injections for a few more days and then go back on the Pradaxa and check in with my doctor within a week. If I experienced any of the same symptoms again I'm supposed to go to the ER. I felt comfortable going home and was ready for the next phase (and significantly more calm then when I entered the ER on Friday night).
Coming home was the best gift. That night I sat on my bed with Aaron and all the kids while he played guitar while watching The Killers concert on Quello (an ironic band name for the situation but one of my favorites) and all the kids were either dancing or watching and I was overcome with gratitude for what is right now. It was one of those moments I don't think I'll forget.
The next few days were spent in bed with the exception of going to an infusion clinic for the Lovenox injections each morning (thankful to my friends who came over and took me to my appointment). I've been taking it as easy as I can with lots of resting, napping and reading. I was seriously so glad I had my Kindle along with me for the entire experience. So much waiting and resting both in and out of the hospital. From Thursday to yesterday I read Dark Matter, Where'd You Go Bernadette, Before The Fall and The Aviary. I didn't watch any TV. I turned off any noises on my phone. I just let my body rest.
Today I'm heading to the doctor for a check-in after this week. I'm looking forward to asking more questions and seeing what his take is on things. I'm cautiously optimistic that the medicine is doing what it's supposed to do and I'll be on it for the next three to six months at least. I'm taking it super slow and doing a little bit here and there and resting when I get tired (which is still often).
But I'm here and I'm oh so very thankful.