Seven years ago, a blood clot in my leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) that broke apart and traveled through my bloodstream to my lung (pulmonary embolism or PE) nearly ended my life. I remember this day seven years ago pretty vividly. It was a Saturday, and I got up early to meet my training group and run a few miles. I had just returned to training after running a marathon in Florida after taking some time off to let what I thought was a knee injury heal. I was dismayed to feel the familiar pain in my calf, only this time it radiated down to my ankle too. I said goodbye to my friends, went home, and took a nap.
I woke up several hours later with a really bad cramp in my left side. It hurt to take a deep breath, and I pretty much said I was done with running. I blamed the cramp on dehydration and took a hot shower. That made me feel better, but I was still tired, and didn’t feel motivated to do anything or go anywhere. I laid on the couch most of the day, barely cooked dinner when my husband got home from work and went to bed early. It crossed my mind that it was worrisome that it hurt worse to lay flat then to slightly recline.
Sunday morning, I woke up feeling worse, only my leg hurt to put any weight on it. It felt like I couldn’t catch my breath, so I resolved to take it easy and rest before going out to dinner for my sister’s birthday later that night. By the time evening rolled around, though, I called to cancel, stating I didn’t feel well. My husband and I tried to find an open urgent care, with no luck. My family called my primary care physician out of concern – I never bailed on outings like birthdays – and he called me on my cell to ask what was going on. I explained that I pulled a muscle in my side, and I could barely breathe or talk. I told him that wasn’t my concern though, my concern was that I couldn’t walk on my leg. The next 30 seconds of silence were the longest I have heard in my life. My doctor said, “You need to go to the nearest ER and if you’re not going to go, you need to tell me where you are so I can call an ambulance.” Alarmed, I asked why.
He told me he believed I had a blood clot from my leg go to my lung, and I was in immediate danger of losing my life. Bewildered, I told him I would go. He said, “which hospital?” and I named off a small one three minutes from where I lived. “No,” he said, “I need you to go to one with a trauma center. This is serious, and I’m calling ahead.” Now completely alarmed, I hobbled down the stairs and told my husband to drive me to the ER because I was dying.
I don’t remember much of the next week of my life. I was admitted ahead of a very long line at the hospital and within a few hours, I was diagnosed with a DVT in my left calf, and a PE in my left lung. None of it meant anything to me, and I was in too much pain to ask or care. My husband was told the next few hours were uncertain, and my family came to see me – one by one – in a strange ICU room where my bed was wheeled next to a crash cart for safety. I had one nurse whose job it was to watch me for the next 24 hours. I wasn’t allowed to move or use the bathroom. I blacked in and out of consciousness for the next several days as either pain or pain medications fought for control of my body and mind.
I work up a few days later in a different ICU room with my husband sitting next to me holding a doctor’s card that said “Oncologist” on it. I asked if I had cancer, and my husband said they had no idea what was wrong with me, but they were coming to talk to us soon. I fought to stay awake, only to hear that I had a disease I couldn’t pronounce. I fell asleep that day with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my mouth. It was the last thing I would eat for awhile aside from shakes to keep me sustained.
I was diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome, or APS, which is an autoimmune disease that, in simple terms, causes the body to clot when it shouldn’t. There is no cure for APS, and it can cause some pretty serious problems like blood clots, miscarriages in women, heart attack, and stroke. Doctors do not know why I have it, or what caused the disease to cause blood clots when it did. To this day, I don’t have any more answers than I did then.
I was discharged from the hospital about a week later in a wheelchair and with an oxygen tank. I was ecstatic to go home, but little did I know, my road to recovery would be long and winding. The next few weeks months were filled doctor’s appointments. I had my blood tested numerous times, and I had a couple follow-up scans to see if or how my clots were healing. I struggled physically with more pain than I have ever felt in my life. It hurt to do simple things like walk, talk, breathe and move. I needed help showering and getting to the restroom. The pain was unimaginable.
Emotionally, I faced more challenges in the coming months – and years – that I did not know I would face. My self-esteem was destroyed. I eventually lost the job I had then, and my personal relationships were tested and strained. Living in constant pain was miserable, and I lost all hope that things would ever get better. There were times I wanted to end my life because the pain was so bad. My dad encouraged me to keep a journal and write down what I was going through, so I could look back and tell other people what happened to me. I started writing bits and pieces of memories and days that made no sense to me or anyone else. From those journals, I started this blog, because I knew didn’t want other people to suffer like I was, even though I was suffering still. I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone, and I wanted other people to know they weren’t alone. Writing this blog helped me hang on in my darkest moments, when I often had nowhere else to turn.
Now, seven years later, I am physically healed from my blood clots, but not from APS. I take warfarin every day and have my blood monitored regularly to make sure it is working as it should, and I see my hematologist every three months or so. I am ever vigilant for signs a clot, even though I have faith in my medication that works to prevent clots. I live pain-free most days, although sitting or standing for too long can cause my leg to ache from time to time. I am also vigilant for signs of stroke and heart attack. Today, I consider myself physically healed from blood clots. Aside from medication and medication management, my life is pretty much the same as it was before.
Seven years later, I am emotionally healed from my blood clots, but that took a lot longer to do. It is just within the last couple of years that I can tell my story without crying, I can hear another story without crying, and I can separate what happened to me from what is happening, or will happen, to other people. My thoughts and emotions are once again safe with me, not recklessly rocketing through my mind. Now I just work to manage general anxiety about my health, stress, and try to obtain a good balance between life and work (that doesn’t always go so well). I’ve conquered some major obstacles, including a long-haul flight and vacation to Europe and several extended road trips, which are now some of the greatest memories that I have.
Seven years later, my life is nothing like what it was then. Sometimes, what happened to me feels like a very distant memory, yet with the work I do, not a day goes by where I am not reminded of how very real it all was. However, my thoughts have shifted to from “what I went through” to “what can I do.” I know that I have an important role in this community, and I know that a lot of people rely on my work here as a symbol of hope when they have no other. That is not something to take lightly, or to take for granted.
Seven years later, I am still blogging here at Blood Clot Recovery Network. Healing from my experience, I believe, has led me to be a better blogger. Being able to acknowledge my emotions, but not let them control me, has allowed me to lend a greater empathy to you, the people who are suffering like I once was. I see you. I see that you are suffering, and I want you to know that there is hope for better days ahead. The pain, for most people, gets better. And, if it doesn’t, you can usually find ways to manage it or address it. It doesn’t make it hurt any less right now, though, if you’re stuck there in that dark, painful place.
It is true that most people do recover from blood clots and go on to live normal lives again. It just might not feel like it from where you are right now, and you might not believe it. That is okay. Healing is hard work, and it can be a long road. If you’re struggling physically, talk to your doctor about how to manage your pain, and if you’re not getting better, talk to your doctor about a plan to help you. If you’re struggling emotionally, reach out for help. You should not suffer alone, or in silence. There are people to help you, both in the medical profession and in the community. Ask for help, make a call, make an appointment, or reach out to someone that you trust.
Seven years later, I thank you and this community for everything you have done to support me, to support one another, and to help raise awareness about blood clots and clotting disorders. If you have a blood clot or clotting disorder, know someone who does, or even if you lost someone to these conditions… you are so loved. My healing has come full circle, and I am here to help others through the same journey, which I try to do each and every day. My professional work at the National Blood Clot Alliance has given me an even bigger platform to give back, but this blog retains a pretty special place in my heart, particularly for those of you that are suffering and struggling.
If you’re feeling better like me and are called to lend your support to others who are still healing, you can do so in several ways: Join my private Facebook Group and talk about it or connect with me on social to share my blogs. You can also support the National Blood Clot Alliance (the largest patient advocacy organization in North America). If you’re called to advocate and raise awareness, you can learn more about that here.
My mantra hasn’t changed seven years later: There is hope for healing from blood clots, and you are not alone. It rings true to this day, even for me. Thank you for supporting me on this journey. Whether you are here for the hundredth time or the first time, thank you for taking time to read what I have to say. Thank you for talking about your blood clot recovery with me, and with this community. It matters, you matter, and blood clot awareness matters.
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,
- Recovery Notes: The First 30 Days
- What Recovery from a PE Looks Like
- One Year
- Three Years
- Getting Out of the Deep End
- Making My Own Wish Come True
- Hope for Healing