This patient story “A Double Whammy” was written by Ruth Work for the Blood Clot Recovery Network Blog.
I am a 51-year-old clinic nurse with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I’m on those nasty meds that keep me moving, but they also make me immune suppressed. At the beginning of August 2016, I was feeling run down, and I thought it was my allergies acting up. I took my RA meds on a Friday night, and I woke up the next morning feeling like I’d been hit with a mac truck, like you do when you have influenza. I went to urgent care, and I was diagnosed with a sinus infection and sent home with an antibiotic. The next morning, I woke up feeling worse, my fever had gone up and the lymph nodes in my neck had blossomed. I called the Urgent Care with this update and was instructed to go to the ER.
After three hours in the ER, I was admitted with pan-sinusitis (all sinus cavities infected) that had gone septic. The next day, I had a CT scan of my neck, which showed one of the lymph nodes suspicious for malignancy. The next day, I had more scans looking for other malignancies. On day three, I had surgery to remove the suspicious lymph node. I finally got to go home on day four to await pathology results.
During this hospitalization, the doctors did everything right. I was on birth control pills for menopausal symptoms, and they took my pills away. I received Lovenox injections, wore the Jobst compression stockings, and had the pressure booties following surgery. They were being proactive which I thought was overkill at the time. The surgeon called me the next day and told me the local pathologist was leaning towards a lymphoma diagnosis but to confirm, they were sending my specimen on for further review. In the meantime, I was instructed to make an appointment with the oncologist so we could get things rolling after the final pathology report came back. I saw the oncologist on August 12, 2016, and I was told I did not have lymphoma! What a blessing! But, four days later, I was huffing and puffing just trying to make my bed.
I called my primary doctor who instructed me to go to the ER to check things out. That day, August 16, 2016, my life changed so drastically! A positive D-Dimer and CT revealed extensive bilateral PEs. I was admitted again, started on Lovenox shots again then started oral Eliquis. I was sent home and told to do nothing. I was terrified! I was afraid to even sneeze for fear I may throw a clot and die. As many others have commented, even getting up to use the restroom was a major feat. As a nurse, I was familiar with DVT and Pes, but I was not aware at how long a recovery it can be. It has been a very slow go for me. I no longer make plans, I make goals. Some days I make my goals, some days I don’t. Little things like walking to the mailbox was a huge accomplishment. I returned to work on a very limited basis last September. My doctor was very protective, which I greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, I was not able to increase my hours to my normal work schedule in November. I was so fatigued, continued to be short of breath, and heart palpitation had also set in. Since I wasn’t getting better fast enough, I was placed on a ‘layoff’ status since I was not at this job a year yet, and I was not protected by Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). I was put on ‘layoff’ for 90 days, and if I was not placed in another position by the end of 90 days, my employment would ‘conclude.’
I just can’t believe everything that has happened these past few months! It was the perfect storm, how one issue led to another issue. Due to the sepsis, I had to go off my RA meds so my RA symptoms returned. Due to the blood thinner, I can’t take any anti-inflammatories. I have recently been able to start a different RA med, which is not helping. I’m trying to be patient and give it time to work, but I’m feeling very down lately. I’m sure it’s a combination of the slow PE recovery and the RA symptoms, a double whammy. I’m not able to do the things I used to, don’t have interest in many of the things I used to, and with anything that takes a lot of energy, count me out. It saddens me to lose my nursing job, but I understand why. How can I take care of my patients when I can barely take care of myself? I feel like I’ve let my co-workers down, and I’ve let my family down. Six months later and there are so many things I just can’t do. I guess I’m not a very patient person, but am trying to be. I’m usually a go getter and this has shaken me to my core.
I’ve learned that PE recovery isn’t just a physically recovery, but an emotional recovery, which I was not expecting. Through it all, I continue to make goals and I keep trying. My husband and I love to travel and being told I couldn’t travel for six months after my PEs has been so hard, especially with most of our family being out of state.
To celebrate making it to my six-month anniversary, we flew to see our kids. I was so scared, but determined. I knew what I needed to do, what not to do, what to watch for, but I was still scared. What if I got sick again? I am happy to share, our short flight to and from our kids and grandkids went great! I was really nervous before we left because I had bronchitis the three weeks prior to our trip. I kept thinking I was going to be fine by the time we left, but I can tell my lungs have changed. The day of our flight, I went to the doctor, the pharmacy, and then the airport. With an antibiotic, steroid and inhaler on board, I made it. We had such a great time! I had the same nap time and bedtime as our grand-daughters, but that was okay. What a blessing to be with family again.
I went off my Eliquis after we returned home, and I have noticed I feel better since going off it. I seem to feel less fatigued. I had my genetic testing labs drawn last week, and I see my hematologist tomorrow to review the results. Due to my latest illness, I had to go off my RA meds again, and I am starting a new injection tomorrow. We will see if this one is more beneficial. Will see what happens next. I am taking it one day at a time!
My journey continues, but I am here for a reason. God has a plan for me and I will continue to take life one day at a time. I’m hoping to look back at this all a year from now and realize how far I’ve come, but right now, it’s still hard.
Editor’s Note: Thank you, Ruth, for sharing your story with BCRN. Connect with Ruth, or share your thoughts, in the comments below.