The Falling Down the Stairs Story

Falling down the stairs is something that will give anyone a scare. Falling down the stairs on blood thinners, which can increase bleeding and bruising risk, is even scarier. Falling down the stairs on blood thinners in the middle of a worldwide pandemic might be the scariest of all. When it happened to me, right after our state went into isolation, I was too embarrassed to talk about it. My husband, however, insisted that if I went through it, maybe my experience could help someone else in the same situation. He might be right.

These are the stairs in my house. This picture, taken from the top, is not an exaggeration of how steep and long they are.

Let me back up: My house is nearly 100 years old, and it has two staircases. This one and the one leading down into the basement. The main one, which is pictured above, is the most treacherous of all. If you’ve spent any time in a house as old as mine, well you know the stairs are precariously steep, narrow and sometimes long too.

I knew when we bought this place that it would happen eventually. I knew that I would go flying down them (not on my feet). We’ve lived here for nearly eight months now, and I am surprised it didn’t happen sooner. What I didn’t know is that falling down the stairs would happen during the COVID-19 pandemic when a trip to the doctor or ER was not necessarily at the top of anyone’s to-do list. That was what I was thinking my entire way down that day: I will probably just bleed to death because I’m not leaving my house.

I don’t exactly know how it happened. One second I was standing upright, and the next, I was flying like I was on a waterslide. I hit hard, really hard, about halfway down. Then I slid the rest of the way to the floor. I banged my wrist and my behind. I thankfully did not hit my head. My husband, who witnessed it all from the kitchen, looked horrified. He said: “Do you need to go to the hospital? Who falls down the stairs on a blood thinner in the middle of a pandemic!?”

That would be me.

I got up. I wasn’t broken, but I felt panic creeping in. There was a pandemic outside, and I just fell down the stairs! I put on the brakes – STOP – something I have worked on with my therapist to curb spiraling thoughts. My mind is the race car on the track, and I can put on the brakes. It’s easier said than done in times of panic, but I’ve been working on it and it does help.

I said it out loud: STOP

I assessed the situation: I wasn’t outwardly bleeding – a very good thing. My arm hurt, and it was turning red. It was noticeably swollen. I made a choice to take action: I messaged a friend. She told me about the times she’s fallen on blood thinners. She said to put ice on it for the swelling, so I grabbed the frozen green beans, and then I walked to the couch where I gingerly sat down.


I assessed some more: I still wasn’t bleeding and nothing was where it shouldn’t be. My limbs were working, and I could walk fine. I didn’t see any immediate bruising. I assured my husband again that I did not hit my head. It hurt, but my arm moved and bent normally.

I kept a close eye on the situation for any abnormal bleeding or bruising that night. Everything looked like I would expect the next morning – normally bruised and still red in some spots. The swelling in my arm was just a small painful knot.

I knew I did not need emergency medical care, because everything was as normal as it could be, but I still needed to know that I was okay. So, out of caution, I got my INR checked at the lab, which involved leaving home. I had been to the lab at the start of the pandemic a few weeks prior, and I felt safe with the processes in place (temperature checks, spaced-out appointments, minimal time spent waiting and getting the draw), so I went again. When my doctor’s office called with the results (it was in range), I let them know about the fall. We agreed I did not need medical care. I was reassured by my normal INR result that I most likely wasn’t bleeding anywhere I shouldn’t be.

Falling on blood thinners can be scary, but you shouldn’t experience anything entirely unusual. You might bruise easier, which some people do. If you really hurt yourself and are bleeding or notice unusual bruising, call your doctor right away – even during the pandemic. If you require emergency medical attention because you broke something or have a head injury, go to the hospital – even during the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic is scary, but doctor’s offices and hospitals have processes in place to protect you from being exposed. If you need emergency medical care, please seek it, as you normally would

Falling down the stairs, or any at-home accident or injury can be scary, especially if you take a blood thinner, which can increase your bleeding and bruising risk. But, you also must remember that for the most part, you are in control of your situation. You have to discern what requires medical care and what doesn’t, based on what you know about yourself and your medical situation. If you can’t do that, call your doctor or 911 to ask. Many insurance companies also have a nurse line you can call for guidance.

  • You can learn more about head injuries and when to seek medical care here.
  • You can read more about bleeding and bruising and when to seek medical care here.

Take care of yourself physically, be kind to yourself emotionally, and you’ll probably be just fine.

There is hope for healing from blood clots, and you are not alone.

Reader Writes In: Have you had a fall or accident while taking blood thinners? How did you handle it? What is one thing you would share with someone else?

Share your story in the comments below.

March: Blood Clot Awareness Month

I seem to have always known blood clots were a serious health concern – especially if you had one in your heart, lungs or brain. I heard about them in the general sense; for example, when discussing the elderly who had passed away or when talking about recovery from a major surgery or hospitalization. I didn’t know the signs or symptoms; that fatality from a blood clot could happen within moments of the first symptoms; or that it would ever happen to me at 29 years old and as an active runner. I thought I had a simple running injury and if I had known the symptoms, it may have made the difference between a treatable Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), behind my left knee, and the Pulmonary Embolism (PE) that went to my lung and almost killed me. It was nearly two days since my calf started to hurt until I went to the Emergency Room, breathless and in excruciating pain, both in my leg and side. I couldn’t believe the extent of the injury to my body, mind and emotions. It completely changed my life – no aspect was left untouched. And the thing is, other people – like me and unlike me – don’t know or don’t think it can happen to them. March is Blood Clot Awareness Month and as a blood clot survivor, I am doing everything I can to spread awareness about this deadly and often treatable injury.

I know they majority of people I know do not understand what I went through during my PE and recovery. They do not understand my physical pain and how I could look okay in spite of it. They do not understand that I took almost a month before I could even breathe without the assistance of an oxygen tank and how I went from running several times a week to not even being able to walk from one room to another. They do not understand how I could not use the bathroom by myself in the hospital, that I was in a hospital room well-equipped for medical personnel to take life-saving measures at a moment’s notice or that I couldn’t even sit up for days on end. They do not understand how my personal relationships, professional life and self-confidence suffered, some to irrevocable ends.

I attribute most of this to the fact that many people simply do not understand blood clots and the damage they cause to the body. People understand what it means to have a heart attack, stroke or cancer, but they do not often understand what it means to have a blood clot. They also do not understand that it could happen to them. I am trying to change that and help spread awareness not only for Blood Clot Awareness Month, but always. Consider this post a crash-course in blood clots and while it is in no way all-inclusive, I hope to present to some useful information for you or others you may know who don’t understand what happens when a person has a blood clot. Share it, print it or post it! Let’s get the word out about this silent killer.

Just the Stats

  • Blood clots (DVT and PE) affect am estimated 900,000 Americans each year (Source).
  • Blood clots (DVT and PE) kill an estimated 300,000 Americans each year. The number of deaths from blood clots  exceeds those from breast cancer, AIDS,and motor vehicle accidents combined (Source).
  • Blood clots are a leading cause of preventable hospital deaths in the United States (Source).
  • Blood clots are the leading cause of maternal deaths in the United States (Source).
  • 1 in 3 people who are diagnosed with PE will die.
  • In 25 percent of people who experience a PE, the first symptom is sudden death.
  • One person every minute will be diagnosed with DVT in the U.S. One person every six minutes will die from a PE in the U.S. (Source)
  • 10 to 30 percent of people affected by DVT/PE will die within one month of diagnosis.

The Facts

  • Can get a blood clot? Anyone can develop a blood clot for a variety of reasons. There are many risk factors that increase your risk for a blood clot (see below for more detail). In a nutshell, you are at increased risk if you or a close family member have had a blood clot before; you have had recent major surgery; you have an inherited clotting condition; have cancer; are immobile for a long time (confined to bed, long-duration plane or car trip, etc.), or use birth control pills. It’s important to understand your own personal risk and also that anyone can develop a DVT at any time.
  • Most commonly treats a blood clot? Patients commonly see their general practitioner for treatment of a blood clot, but can also see a pulmonologist, cardiologist or hematologist. A hematologist is best equipped to handle ongoing care particularly if the patient has a clotting factor or other blood condition/disease contributing to the blood clot.
  • Is a DVT? DVT (short for Deep Vein Thrombosis) is a type of clot that forms in a major vein of the leg or, less commonly, in the arms, pelvis, or other large veins in the body.
  • Is a PE? DVT can develop into PE (short for Pulmonary Embolism), a dangerous condition in which the clot detaches from its point of origin and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it becomes stuck and prevents blood flow.
  • Causes a blood clot? Blood clots may form when either the flow of blood in a vein slows, damage to a vein occurs, or the blood is more clottable (such as with a genetic or autoimmune factor already in the body/blood).
  • Is a blood thinner? Also called an anticoagulant, a blood thinner helps to prevent clots from forming in the blood. They include medicines like aspirin, clopidogrel or Plavix, Warfarin — more commonly known as coumadin — and a variety of other medications that are used in the hospital setting, including injections like Heparin and Lovenox.
  • Happens after someone is diagnosed with a PE/DVT? Often times, a person is admitted to the hospital, especially if he or she is experiencing a PE. They are usually put through a variety of blood and imaging tests to check for high blood clotting factors in the blood (D-Dimer) and actual blood clots (Dopplar Imaging scan). Patients are usually put on blood thinners of some sort as soon as possible. Patients are often treated with pain reliving drugs and sometimes surgery is performed to remove the clot or place a filter to stop the clot from moving (usually in the groin), but these procedures are not always performed.
  • Does it mean if someone has a clotting factor? If someone says they have a clotting factor, it usually means they have a genetic (an example would be Factor V Leiden ) or autoimmune (an example would be Antiphospholipid Syndrome) mutation or condition that causes their blood to clot when it should not.
  • Can you develop a blood clot? You can develop a blood clot anywhere you have veins, but they are most commonly in the leg and less commonly in the arms, pelvis or other large veins of the body.

  • Is a blood clot so damaging? A blood clot is damaging because, depending on it’s path, it can cause great trauma to the body’s circulatory system, including the heart. It takes time and energy for the body to heal damage done to the heart and lungs, even if it is micro-damage. A PE is consider a traumatic event for a person’s body to go through.
  • Isn’t there more public awareness about DVT/PE? A lot of times blood clots are not named as the cause of death because a person may have also suffered from underlying conditions, such as cancer. There seems to be more public energy focused on educating people about heart disease, diabetes and cancer, yet organizations like the National Blood Clot Alliance (Stop the Clot) and Clot Connect are making great strides to raise awareness. More recently celebrities such as NACAR’S Champion Driver Brian Vickers, 2010 Olympian, and two time US Sprint Champion, and a Master Sprint World Champion in Speed Skating Rebekah Bradford and Reality TV Star NeNe Leakes have spoken out about their personal encounters with blood clots to help bring awareness to the public.
  • Long does it take for someone to recover from a DVT/PE? Recovery from a DVT and/or PE varies greatly from individual to individual and can take anywhere from several weeks to a year or more. Some people will face complications from DVT, including Postthrombotic Syndrome (PTS) for the rest of their lives.
  • Can I prevent a blood clot?  The good news is, yes, there are many things you can do to help prevent a blood clot. Stay active. Immobility increases the risk of developing clots. If you’ve been sitting for a long period of time (such as at your desk or while traveling) stretch your legs often; Maintain an ideal body weight; Know your risk factors for developing a clot (see below) and discuss with your doctor; Know your family medical history; If you are hospitalized or planning for surgery, ask your about what will be done to prevent blood clots (such as being placed on blood thinners or wearing anti-embolism, also called compression, stockings).

Did you know?

  • One-half of clot patients will have long-term complications and one-third will have a recurrence within 10 years (Source).
  • An estimated $10 billion in medical costs in the US each year can be attributed to DVT and PE (Source).
  • Blood clots are a treatable condition and often preventable condition.

You may want to know

  • A PE is sometimes called a “heart-attack of the lungs.”
  • Deep red is the awareness ribbon color for blood clots, including DVT.
  • Red and white (together) is the awareness ribbon color for PE.
  • Burgundy is the awareness ribbon color for clotting disorders.

DVT (and subsequently PE) risk factors include

  • Hospital stay
  • Major surgery such as abdominal or pelvic surgery
  • Knee or hip replacement
  • Major trauma such as an auto accident or fall
  • Nursing home living
  • Leg paralysis
  • Older than 65 years
  • Trips over four hours by plane, car, train or bus
  • Active cancer or chemotherapy treatment
  • Bone fracture or cast
  • Birth control pills, patch or ring
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Pregnancy or a recent birth
  • Prior blood clot or family history of blood clots
  • Heart failure
  • Bed rest over three days
  • Obesity
  • Genetic/hereditary or acquired blood clotting disorder

Symptoms of a DVT

  • Swelling in the affected leg, including swelling in your ankle and foot.
  • Pain in your leg; this can include pain in your ankle and foot. The pain often starts in your calf and can feel like cramping or a charley horse. It won’t go away with regular stretching, massaging or rest.
  • Warmth over the affected area.
  • Changes in your skin color, such as turning pale, red or blue or purple.
  • You need to know in about half of all cases, deep vein thrombosis occurs without any noticeable symptoms.

Symptoms of a PE

  • Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath, cough or even lie down
  • Feeling light headed or dizzy, or fainting
  • Rapid pulse
  • Sweating
  • Coughing up blood
  • A sense of anxiety, nervousness or impending doom

What to do if you think you have a DVT

If you are at all concerned or have any of the symptoms listed above, make an appointment with your primary care physician or visit your local emergency room.

What to do if you think you have a PE

PE is life-threatening, seek emergency medical care immediately or call 9-1-1.

Also visit

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,


A Survivor Speaks: Ankle Injury Turned Deadly by David

Survivor Speaks David

A Survivor Speaks: Ankle Injury Turned Deadly by David Bock

I was seriously injured when I slipped and fell in Upland, California on March 8, 2008, while visiting there from my home in Arizona. I was rushed to the Emergency Room (ER) of the nearest hospital where the ER doctor diagnosed fractures of my left tibia and fibula in my lower left leg (left ankle bimalleolar fracture). I was in a great deal of pain, and was told that the fractures needed open reduction internal fixation, a surgical repair. However, at that time the doctor only prescribed a pain killer, put a splint on my leg, and told me to follow up with my primary care physician when I returned to Arizona.

The next day, my wife and I drove back to Arizona, which turned out to be an extremely uncomfortable trip because of excruciating pain. The following day, I went to my primary care doctor who immediately referred me to an orthopedic specialist. The orthopedic doctor examined me and stated that surgery could not be performed right away, due to the delay in treatment which resulted in soft-tissue swelling.

A few days later on March 14, 2008, I had noticeable trouble breathing, and was taken to the closest ER by ambulance. Based on test results, I was diagnosed with a massive pulmonary embolism related to an undetected deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that had formed near the sites of the fractures in my leg.

I was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital for treatment of my pulmonary embolism, and my condition rapidly worsened.  At 2:34 AM on March 15, 2008, I became cold and clammy and my skin color turned pale. The hospital records indicate that I was unresponsive, stopped breathing, and my eyes had rolled to the back of my head.  A code blue for a respiratory arrest was called.  Fortunately, I responded after about 3 minutes of resuscitation. I was also treated with tPA (clot busting drugs) at this time. On March 17, 2008, I underwent surgery for the placement of an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter to stop any more clots from traveling to my lungs.

These blood clots developed as a result of the lower leg fractures I sustained in the accident, which then detached and traveled to my lungs and became the pulmonary embolism that produced my shortness of breath and chest pain. It was a near fatal episode, and I was fortunate to survive and be discharged from the hospital on March 19, 2008.

I believe that the postponement of proper treatment of my ankle injury, as well as delay in preventing or recognizing my DVT, led to this medical emergency when I almost lost my life.

Connect with David in the comments below!


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Learning to Live on Blood Thinners (a.k.a. That Time I Fell off a Cliff)

cliff cover

My life came to what felt like a grinding halt after my PE in early June 2012. I went from running half marathons, working out, eating right, hanging out with friends and spending time outside to what felt like nothing. I didn’t run for nearly a year, ate whatever was quick and easy (and usually not healthy), withdrew except for a close friends and family and stayed inside as much as possible. Not only that, my thoughts, emotions, reactions and even my personality changed. I became afraid to do everything and didn’t take any more physical risks if it could be avoided. Having withdrawn from people and activities I previously loved, I also became depressed, unsure of myself and fearful. Everything was different from my thoughts, to my body to what I needed to do to take care of myself. I felt like I was serving a life sentence after being diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome placed on blood thinners indefinitely. Not only that, didn’t particularly like learning to live on blood thinners so I gave up on life for the past year.

I knew I should expect a long recovery, my doctor told me a week after my discharge to expect to be in intense recovery for one or two years at the least, but what I did not expect was the toll it would take on my physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. Running was the one thing I could do to feel good about myself, take care of myself and still feel connected to my mother who passed only two years ago – and I couldn’t even do that anymore. I asked “Why me?” and “What did I do to deserve this?” without any discernible answers. I attempted walking and running several times over the last year, but I always stopped when it hurt or when I was gasping for air. I handled pain differently – as in, not at all – and I used to thrive on pushing my body to and even past limits I thought I never would.

After 363 days of recovery, I ran again and felt good about it. I was feeling normal again and physical fitness, including pushing myself past my comfort zone became part of my life. I trained for and ran my second first 5K, which was more difficult than I ever imagined. Still, I did it and while running will never be the same for me (I’m struggling to run since that 5K), my body, mind and soul still longed to be challenged in new and different ways. While I remained cognoscente of the fact that I was on blood thinners, including reporting for my weekly INR checks without fail, I gradually stopped living in the past in terms of my illness and started to take on new challenges again.

When my husband, an avid woodsman, invited me to go backpacking last weekend I jumped at the chance without hesitation because I had never been before. The hesitation came after I made the commitment when I briefly pondered what precautions I needed to take since taking blood thinners. I packed my pills, alerted friends and family as to where I would be and donned my compression stockings. I was ready – and it was a big step for me to take on a new physical challenge since my PE. I was scared, yes, but also excited.

There is something undeniably liberating about placing your belongings on your back, lacing up your boots and walking into the woods. You have to rely on your own instincts, your own abilities – and not to mention your own strength, of which I am lacking at this time. About a quarter mile into the four or more mile hike, I was struggling with the weight of my pack (about 30 pounds) and the rough terrain of the Zaleski State Forest in Southern Ohio.

Zaleski sign

The countryside is riddled with hills and ravines and while not mountainous, the trails harbor steep inclines. In many places, the trails border the cliff face with a path only about a foot wide and are littered with roots, sticks and loose rocks. One wrong step and you could be dangling over the edge of a cliff or sheer rock face. I quickly discovered that I had lost my sense of balance over the past year and had to work had at simply walking and staying on the trail. It was a challenge and sure enough, I fell flat on my back after about a mile on a slab of previously unnoticed wet rock. It hurt. My husband and I checked over myself completely before moving on for signs of bleeding or injury. There were none and my husband asked numerous times if I wanted to turn around after the fall, but I was out to prove a point and we continued on – and on.

I was feeling confident. I had fallen on the trail, picked myself up, checked for injury and moved on when there was none – all while on blood thinners. I exhaled a little longer as I mentally told myself I had overcome the worse – injury on the trail and I was okay! Why had I lived my last year afraid to do anything?

It was then that the trail took a long detour out of the ordinary way and we came to the cliff. I had been on my feet for several hours at this point and was tired. A detour was not something I had counted on – either had my husband – but I figured it was all a part of backpacking in the wild, unpredictable and quite often unforgiving, great outdoors.

My husband asked me if I was comfortable going down the hill. It was steep at about a 60 percent incline and the soil beneath my footing was loose. I nodded I was, too tired to think about it too much, and started down the hill after my husband. My original plan was to shimmy between the few trees that were there, but after slipping almost immediately, I sat down and slid downward. The hill was steep enough that even sitting down, I was moving forward without meaning to. I made it to the first tree and stood up to catch my breath. Braced against the tree, I noticed we were actually on a cliff shelf, as I call it, with one smaller shelf below us and a cliff edge just beyond that. I put it out of my mind and prepared to sit down to slide to the next tree. I was tired, hungry, frustrated and sore. All I wanted to do was make camp before nightfall.

I don’t know what happened next. All I know is in one instant I was standing against that tree and the next; I was tumbling head over heels down the shelf, barreling towards the cliff edge. I briefly remember seeing my husband turn around to say something and I remember my ankle twisting behind me in a way I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to. I remember feeling 30 extra pounds pushing me faster and I remember trying to determine which way was up. Once I did, somehow, I dug my fingers into the soil and tried to do the same with my feet. Too much pain in my right ankle. I felt my wrists being bent backwards and then, I felt myself start to slow down. Just as abruptly as it started, it stopped. I was on the second cliff shelf and my pole went over the edge. I didn’t see where it landed – but it was out of sight. The woods were deathly quiet.

The first sound I heard was my husband making his way to me, asking me if I was okay. I don’t remember if I answered. I remember I was lying on my side/stomach, fingers still in the dirt and my right ankle sprawled awkwardly in front of me. I tasted dirt in my mouth and spit out sticks. It suddenly occurred to me to check my teeth to see if they were all there, and they were. I didn’t move. I couldn’t move. I remember staring at my ankle, not sure of what I would find under my pants. It seemed like several moments passed before I felt it – pain surging from my ankle to my leg and back down.

“Can you walk?” my husband said the moment he got to me, a look of panic flashed over his face, and I know he tried to hide it. I didn’t answer. I didn’t know. And we were a long way from any form of assistance.

Are you bleeding? I thought to myself as my husband started touching me all over, lifting my clothes and looking under my hat. He asked me to move my ankle and I did with a slight grimace.

“I don’t see any blood,” he said.

“Okay,” was the first thing I said, “Just let me sit here for a while.”

He helped me up and I gingerly put my right foot down. It held my weight, even though it hurt and I knew it wasn’t broken.

“We have to get you down,” he said, which was when I realized I didn’t even fall all the way down the hill. You have got to me kidding me. I nodded my head took a deep breath and prepared to slide down the rest of the way when the extreme terror overtook my body. I stared shaking from head to toe and I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I was done. I looked around me wildly – I couldn’t go up, I couldn’t go down and no one could do anything to help me, but me!

Somehow, I made it to the bottom of the hill without further incident and eventually, we made it to camp, although my ankle slowed us down even more. We set up camp just before nightfall and after eating, I immediately laid in my hammock where I could elevate my ankle.

Our Camp

I fell asleep almost instantly, but awoke in the middle of the night with vivid dreams of extreme swelling, recurrent clots and helicopter extractions from the middle of nowhere. My ankle was throbbing which made it even harder to fall back asleep and I tried to have faith in my compression socks. I fell back into a restless sleep and awoke with the sun.

Completely dedicated to hiking back out.

I did walk back out, but we took the access roads to avoid further incident on the trails. What should have taken a couple of hours actually took half a day.

 Me and Michael at the end of the trip

I’ve struggled with what to write about all of this – besides I am extremely lucky to have very minor injuries and the ability to walk anywhere, let alone out of the woods. My purpose in writing this is two-fold, I think. First, don’t let blood thinners stop you from living the life you want to live. It’s scary, it’s rough and you might get hurt – but you might also get to do something you never thought you could before and make a beautiful memory along the way.

And second, if you are recovering from a blood clot be careful while learning to live on blood thinners. While I have a wonderful (and all too exciting) memory from this weekend, I also need to keep in mind that I do have extenuating circumstances that other people, may not and that puts me in a different situation. I do need to be careful, pay attention and take care of myself above all else. In hindsight, going down the hill was not the smartest decision I made that day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did, but next time – especially if there is a cliff involved – I need to take some extra precautions.

Learning to live on blood thinners is about balance and we all need to find the balance that works for us. I would say to you – don’t be afraid to live your life, have new adventures, try something different and make the most of the precious gift we have been given; but also respect what your body, mind, heart and soul have been through. Sometimes, that might mean slowing it down a little bit or taking a different path than the one you want to take –literally or figuratively! Be kind to yourself, respect what happened to you and your recovery, but don’t let it rule your life.

Share your story. How are you learning to live on blood thinners? Have you been afraid to do something because of your diagnosis or did you do something you never thought you would in spite of it? Have you been seriously injured since your clot(s) and what did you do? Have you ever fallen off a cliff? Would taking blood thinners stop you from doing what you want to do? Why or why not?

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,


The pain that kills

I remember it like it was yesterday. The brain, in fact, has a hard time forgetting pain and research shows that any pain lasting more than a few minutes leaves a trace in the nervous system that is not easily extinguished. Ever since the beginning of time, pain has played an important role in the lives of animals and humans alike, and is an indication that we should stop what we’re doing or take alternative action – or, that something is gravely wrong with the body. Pain has to be intense and hard to ignore in order to initiate the ‘flight or fight syndrome’ in which our bodies prepare to either stand and fight or turn and run; and, it is clear that adherence to pain signals have kept humans thriving for centuries. Little did I know, it is often the pain that kills if left ignored for too long.

I ignored the pain – and almost didn’t survive, just as my ancestral counterparts may not have and just as the 1 in 3 people that die today after having symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, but ignore them or wait too long to seek medical help.

How many die a year graphic

I never thought it could happen to me – why would it? I was a runner and had just completed a two mile training run, a little slow, but done nonetheless, and complained to my friend and fellow coach about what I believed to be the start of plantar fasciitis, an inflammatory running injury that causes pain throughout your heel, foot and sometimes lower leg. I stretched, I went home and iced, showered, ate leftover vegetable stir-fry I had made the night before and took a nap. It was exactly like every other Saturday for the past two years, why would it be any different?

I woke up from a two hour nap and the sun was shining brilliantly through the window. It wasn’t until I was fully awake that I realized my side was aching, and I sat abruptly, which caused me to take in a deep breath. I winced a little and stretched my arms. I knew I had fallen into a deep sleep and slept on my side wrong. It was the start of a new running season and clearly I was more out of shape than I thought as I hobbled into the bathroom – on my throbbing leg – and took another shower. The warmth of the water temporarily eased the pain in my side and my thoughts turned to what I was going to do for the day.

Any plans I thought I made didn’t happen and by that night, when my husband came home from work at 9:45 p.m., I was propped up on the couch with a pillow on either side of me. He asked what was wrong and I said I pulled a muscle running and couldn’t move my side very much. He asked if I needed to go to the hospital and I declined. I would be fine after a good night’s rest. Only, I didn’t get a good night’s rest that night – I slept propped up in the recliner with my two dogs and my husband pacing in and out of the room wondering what was wrong.

By Sunday morning, I woke up after a fitful sleep and I felt a lot better. I got up from the chair, heading for the shower again, and as soon as I put weight on my left leg, it felt like someone tightened the flesh behind me knee in a vice. I yelped in pain, grabbing my leg – which caused me to bend over – and I was astonished to feel that I could not catch my breath due to what felt like a knife in my left side. I hobbled backwards and collapsed into the recliner, trying to catch my breath. My husband came running and said, “I think you might need to go to the hospital,” but again, I said I was fine and out of shape. I called my father and cancelled dinner for the evening, barely able to speak an entire sentence without gasping for a breath. I also managed to croak out that I did not need to go to the hospital. My husband and I looked it up online and determined it was not appendicitis, a heart attack or my gall bladder, but that it must be constipation (after all, I couldn’t remember when I last went) and we made a herbal tea to ease the pain. I even believed it worked, until my dad called again and I sounded worse.

It wouldn’t be until almost 8:30 that evening that I got a call on my cell phone from my family physician (who my father called out of concern) and I explained my symptoms, convinced it was a muscle strain. The doctor, who I now credit with saving my life, instructed me to go to the emergency room immediately (or call 9-1-1 if I was alone) because he believed I was suffering from a blood clot in my lung, that travelled there from my calf. I was in disbelief, but the urgency in his voice – coupled by the fact that he called me on his cell phone on Sunday evening – convinced me that I should go. I all but fell down the stairs and told my husband we had to go. He all but muttered “I told you!” and we were out the door. I remember he helped me walk to the car because I couldn’t and I remember asking him if I was going to die because I felt like it. I remember he said he didn’t think so, but the hesitation in his voice caught me off guard. I cried all the way to the hospital and actually thought about discussing funeral arrangements in the car before it was too late. I had never even been to the hospital for as much as a bump or bruise before and I was certain this would be the end of me, as it nearly was.

And I remember feeling the worst pain I ever felt in my life. Radiating pain in my lower leg that felt like a vice and a stabbing pain in my side that felt like a knife. I couldn’t draw a deep breath, couldn’t lie down, could barely speak and could not put any weight on my left leg without increased pain. And, I remember that although I was seen without question (and bypassed a very long line of sick and injured people) it would be almost three hours before an ER doctor determined what was wrong and an ER nurse gave me morphine that suddenly made it all okay – or so I thought. Little did I know, I had a very, very long road ahead of me and one that I would be very lucky to make it out of alive on the other side of.

Stay tuned for more of my story coming up….

In healing there is hope and you are not alone,