Sharing My Patient Journey

When I was first asked to share my patient journey at the Diabetes Sisters Weekend for Women in Alexandria, Virginia I thought one thing: Why me? After all, I talk about my personal recovery from blood clots, and I don’t have diabetes. Excited as I was to explore the possibility, I returned the call to decline and said, “I think you have me confused with someone else. I don’t have diabetes.”

“No, we don’t,” was the answer I received, “We want you to speak because you do not have diabetes. We want to share a different perspective on the patient journey.” Excited by the possibility to speak to a different audience than the ones I am used to, I dove into preparing my presentation to talk about my personal journey from being a patient to being a patient advocate. I’ll be the first to admit, attending an event specific to a disease separate from the one I have was intimidating at first.

Before I went, I learned what I could about DiabetesSisters, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the health and quality of life of women with diabetes, and advocate on their behalf. What I soon realized is, this resource – including the support and educational conference I would be attending – is the type of resource that the VTE community doesn’t have right now. We’re getting there, but we still have some progress to make.

Part of the support that DiabetesSisters offers is regular meetings, or in-person opportunities, to share information, experience, and support with people who have been there too. The Weekend for Women even offered support for partners of women with diabetes (Partner’s Perspective Program) and the Diabetes UnConference, which was exclusively to discuss deeply personal and sensitive issues such as the fear of the unknown when managing a lifelong illness. I soon realized how incredibly fortunate the people attending these sessions are to have this measure of support in their lives, and I immediately wanted to be a part of it.

At the conference, I shared my personal thoughts about how to navigate the path from patient to patient advocate through storytelling, and I shared my thoughts about how telling our stories can in fact lead to healing and empowerment. I also took some time to share important facts about blood clots, including risk factors, and signs and symptoms. I had several women come up to me after my talk to either share their personal blood clot story, or the story of a family member. I also had a few people tell me they had no idea they could be at risk for a blood clot, and about how they planned to discuss their risk with their doctors upon their return home.

I was invited to sit in on the workshops, in which I observed some thought-provoking discussions about how to support a spouse or loved on who has diabetes, and how to handle our worst fears when facing a chronic or long-term illness, like the fear of being incapacitated and left alone, or even the fear of death. I realized these are all thoughts I have had throughout my recovery from blood clots, and I still have some of them today. The fear of the unknown is a great obstacle for many of us, and it was encouraging to hear other people talking about it, face-to-face.

By now, you might be thinking, “Great, but I’m not diabetic, I have a blood clot, so why are you sharing this information with me? The answer is: Whether you have diabetes, have a blood clot, or have a clotting condition, we all share the same journey as a patient. We all must live day to day with an illness that might never go away. We have the same fears, the same struggles, and the same concerns. A person with diabetes might have to consider what he or she eats, and check his or her blood sugar. I have to consider what I eat and check my INR because I take warfarin. We both have to remember to take pills, go to regular follow-up appointments, be proactive in our health, and sometimes, we even have to miss out on things because our illness might take precedence over what we want to do.

What these people taught me is, no matter what the condition is, we all face the same fears, struggles, setbacks, triumphs and joys as a patient, and as a person. They taught me what I was supposed to be sharing with them: Sometimes it is easy to become fully consumed by our own disease and our own situation, but in fact, there are people all around us who can relate to what we have gone through, or what we are going through. As a blogger, and as a patient advocate for the VTE community, I become very consumed with that, because it is my passion, but it’s important to remember that I truly am not alone, even when I look outside of this community.

Below are some some resources that I want you to have. If you have diabetes, or if you want to begin your journey from patient to patient advocate, explore the links below for some essential tools.

Extra Diabetes Resources for You:

Did you know? Long-term diseases like diabetes are a risk factor for life-threatening blood clots. If you have diabetes, I would love to connect you with some of the resources and bloggers from the DiabetesSisters Weekend for Women.

DiabetesSisters
Blood Sugar Trampoline
Below Seven
Diabetes Mine
Yoga for Diabetes

Patient Advocacy Resources for You:

Did you know? Anyone can become a patient advocate just by sharing their story. Below are some resources to help you get started.

Charting Your Own Patient Journey (my slideshow from the conference)
How to Raise Blood Clot Awareness: Discover Your Personal Plan
Sharing Success as an Online Health Blogger
From Make-A-Wish Employee to Making One of My Own Wishes Come True

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

 

 


Reader Writes In: Are you dealing with other health conditions besides blood clots? Where are you on your own patient journey? Where would you like your journey to take you?


Are you new here? Welcome to BCRN. Here is my story and more about me.


Are you worried that you might have a blood clot? Here is how to talk to your doctor.


Connect with BCRN on Facebook and in our private Group.

When should I call my doctor?

After my blood clot, I felt like I could no longer trust my body anymore. After all, I was taking care of it – exercising, eating well and losing some extra weight – when a blood clot from my leg went to my lung and almost ended my life at just 29 years old. I was healthier than I had been in a couple of years, I was happy, and I had no other out-of-control health problems. The very last thing I expected was a blood clot, in fact, I didn’t expect one at all. If I couldn’t trust my body when it was healthy, how could I possibly trust it when I was sick, on blood thinners, and recovering from a mind-blowing event that nearly killed me? I couldn’t. That was almost as scary as surviving something that kills one in three people that it affects. Not only could I not trust my body, I also wondered if I could trust my head: How would I know if I should call my doctor during my long and difficult recovery?

In the initial days after my discharge from the hospital, I was at my hematologist’s office once or twice a week to have my INR checked. I had an appointment with my doctor every month to discuss my treatment and my recovery, and I had a lot of appointments with a variety of other specialists to fill the rest of my very miserable time with. I am very fortunate that my hematologist – and my main point of contact for my care – is very understanding and supportive and assured me early on that no question was dumb, no phone call was a waste of anyone’s time, and he absolutely expected to hear from me a lot as I went through the stages of healing. So, I figured, what did I have to lose? I called him a lot – for everything in the beginning. If I had any pain, unusual feeling, or question, I just called him. I treated it as a non-negotiable part of my treatment plan: Take your medication, go to your appointments, and call your doctor.

He always answered me in some way. Sometimes, his answer was, “That’s normal, you can expect that,” or it was “Why don’t you make an appointment to come see me?” or, one time it was, “You need to go to the emergency room right now.” That time I thought I had another PE, and thankfully, I didn’t. I did have pleurisy, or inflammation of the lining of my lung, which was nearly as painful and required admission to be treated.

As time went on, I started to learn how my doctor would answer me, and I started to learn how my body felt after a blood clot. I started to learn what was “normal” for me, what was unusual for me, and what was downright frightening for me, or sent me into panic mode. Eventually, I noticed I was calling my doctor a little less than once or twice a week, as I learned to manage my health with my own knowledge and experiences. I went from calling my doctor a couple of times a week, to calling him a couple of times a year. I now know when I need to seek help right away, make an appointment, or when I can handle a situation at home, by myself.

One of the questions I hear frequently is, “How do I know when I should call my doctor?” The answer is simple: If you have to ask, call your doctor. That being said, calling a doctor is not easy for everyone – and not everyone has a supportive doctor. If that’s how you feel, there are some things you can do to help you decide if you should call your doctor.

Listen to your body.

You may not trust your body – or you might be really angry with it after everything you have been through – but trust me, your body is smart. Listen to it. Your body is very good at letting you know, most of the time, when something is wrong. If you feel pain or have symptoms that are unusual for you, your body might be trying to tell you that something is wrong.

Work with your doctor, or healthcare professional.

Your doctor is your best resource for understanding your symptoms and what they may mean. Your doctor works for you – and you should not worry about bothering him or her. If you don’t have a doctor who you feel is a partner in your care, take steps to find a doctor who is. You, and you alone, are in charge of your body and your recovery. Talk to your doctor about a plan to manage your health. Can you call him or her? Can you send an email? Should you proceed right to the emergency room for certain things? What symptoms should you watch out for? What symptoms might be normal for you? Work with your doctor to develop a plan of action – no matter how simple – for handling your health questions. My plan was as simple as this: Call my hematologist with any questions I have.

Trust your past experiences.

This ties together listening to your body and working with your healthcare provider. Once you do these things, you will start to learn what is and what is not normal for you during your recovery. For example, let’s say you have a pain in your leg that feels exactly like your DVT, so you call your doctor, and he or she advices you to seek medical attention right away. You automatically know what to do if and when it happens again. If you have pain in your leg that hurts a lot, but goes away with rest and elevation – when your DVT pain did not – you start to learn what that pain means for your body. Maybe it means you walked too much, or worked out too hard at the gym. Simple thoughts like, “This pain is different,” or “I have never hurt this bad before,” are clues that something could be very wrong, and you should call your doctor for guidance. Thoughts like, “This feels familiar, I need to take it easy this afternoon,” or “I have felt this tired when I don’t get enough rest at night” might be clues that a particular feeling is normal for you. If you can’t remember, or if it seems overwhelming to understand your experiences, keep a journal or log book with simple entries about what you feel, when you feel it, for how long, and what the resolution is.

Some Important Things to Watch Out For  

There are some signs and symptoms that you should be aware of – especially once you have had a blood clot – and you should always call your doctor if you question how you are feeling.

A blood clot in the leg or arm (or other parts of the body) is called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, and is dangerous because it can break apart and travel through the blood stream, leading to life-threatening problems, like a blood clot in the lung. If you experience signs or symptoms of a DVT, call your doctor or seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Signs and symptoms of a blood clot in the leg or arm (deep vein thrombosis or DVT):
  • Swelling in the affected leg, including swelling in your ankle and foot, or swelling in your arm
  • Pain in your leg, ankle, foot, or arm. The pain in your leg can feel like severe cramping, or a charley horse, and often won’t go away with your regular methods of pain relief
  • Warmth and/or tenderness over the affected area
  • Changes in your skin’s natural color (red, blue, white, or purple)

A blood clot that breaks off from the leg or arm and travels to through the bloodstream to the lung is called pulmonary embolism, or PE. A PE is life-threatening because it can block blood flow and oxygen to the lung(s). If you experience signs or symptoms of a PE, go to the emergency room, or call 911, immediately.

Signs and symptoms of a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism or 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 lightheadedness or dizzy
  • Rapid pulse
  • Sweating
  • Coughing, or coughing up blood
  • A sense of anxiety, nervousness or impending doom

If you are taking blood thinners, you might also worry about unwanted or dangerous bleeding. If you have any questions about bleeding, you should call your doctor right away.

Signs and symptoms of dangerous or internal bleeding can vary greatly depending on where in the body bleeding may occur. If you experience these symptoms – or any other symptoms that cause you concern – call 911 or seek medical attention right away.

Signs and symptoms of bleeding
  • Abdominal pain and/or swelling
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, or fainting (can result from any source of internal bleeding once enough blood is lost)
  • A large area of deeply purple skin, or bruising, especially around the chest or abdomen areas
  • Swelling, tightness, and pain in the leg or arm after an injury
  • Headache and/or loss of consciousness
  • Blood in urine or stool (black or tarry stool)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Nosebleeds, cuts, scrapes, etc. that do not stop bleeding after applying direct pressure for 10-15 minutes
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Unexplained bleeding from another body cavity, including ears, nose, mouth, or anus
  • More symptoms of internal bleeding
Even though it can be difficult to learn about your body after a blood clot, there are some things that you should never ignore. In the event of a head injury – such as a bump, bruise, cut, etc. – always consult with your doctor as soon as possible for further instruction, or seek immediate medical attention. If you have shortness of breath, chest pain, or the worst headache of your life, always seek immediate medical attention because these might be symptoms of something serious. 

Managing your health after a blood clot is not easy, and there are many things to think about, consider and worry about. In time – as you learn from your experiences and your healthcare provider – it does get easier and eventually, I hope you will find that you know your body very well. While it may take some time to get there, you too can manage your health after a blood clot. In the meantime, if you wonder, always make the call. Your health – and perhaps ultimately your life – are always worth making the call.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,


Reader Writes In: How do you decide when to call your doctor? Is your doctor a partner in your care? Why or why not? How do you manage your health after a blood clot?


There are three symptoms you should never ignore. Find out what they are.


Are you worried that you might have a blood clot? Here is how to talk to your doctor.


Connect with BCRN on Facebook and in our private Group.

Patient Story: When Blood Clots Are Just the Beginning by Shelia

This patient story “When Blood Clots Are Just the Beginning” was written by Shelia Ipock for the Blood Clot Recovery Network Blog.

It was the scariest day of my entire 45 years on this earth. I had been complaining of a pain in my lower right side for about two years and had numerous tests. I got to the point where I figured I would just have to live with the pain. At the end of August 2014, I stretched my legs into a straddle and felt a burning sensation in my left inguinal, or groin, area. Over the next few days, it started hurting and it got very warm to the touch. I had been going to the doctor about the pain in my right side and had recently been told it was psychosomatic, or all in my head. I figured I just pulled something and it would resolve itself. We had some friends that we hadn’t seen in a while and we all went dancing that Saturday night. We did three rounds of a line dance, and when I went to turn into the next round, I started seeing spots and I thought, “uh oh.” Then, I passed out.

I came to and was surrounded by people. An employee at the bar assumed that I was intoxicated. My husband told him that I was drinking water, so there was no way that was possible. I got up from the dance floor and took a few steps, and I couldn’t catch my breath. After that episode, I just wanted to go home, but everyone insisted I go to the hospital.

I went to the emergency room at about one o’clock in the morning on Sunday and waited. They found a space for me and sent me in for an MRI of my head. This was after my husband told them I never hit my head. The doctor said nothing was wrong and sent me home. I still had issues breathing, but I figured that it must not be that bad since I was sent home. My husband instead insisted that I go back to ER. I went again and this time they did an x-ray of my chest and stomach area. The ER doctor disregarded the fact that I couldn’t breathe. He took one look at the x-ray and said I was constipated. He gave me some medicine and had a nurse give me an enema and they left me in a room and forgot about me. I had enough and my husband found someone to discharge me. They even admitted they forgot me and then sent me home.

On Monday, I went in to see my general practitioner. I wasn’t looking all that great. I was having more difficulty breathing and walking. My doctor had blood tests done and I went home. I could barely keep my eyes open. On Tuesday, I went back to my doctor. I was gray and couldn’t walk. I was also barely breathing. From there, I went to the hospital and had to be put in a wheel chair just to get to my doctor. She took one look at me and said she thought she knew what was wrong and had to take one more blood test. She sent me to ER so they could do a CT scan. In the machine, I could hear the techs in the back talking quietly to each other in an urgent manner (I later found out they thought I had died in the machine).

Once I was back in ER, everyone began to rush around me. I was quickly put in a bed, an IV was put in, and I was put on oxygen. Then an ER doctor came in and told me I had a saddle pulmonary embolism. He told me I was lucky to be alive, upon viewing the CT scan he said he had never seen a saddle embolism that large. The scan showed 90% of my left lung was blocked and 50% of my right lung was blocked. They got me as stabilized as they could, and I was sent upstairs to Intensive Care Unit (ICU). One of the few things I remember about that time was apologizing to my mother for being admitted to the hospital on her birthday, which was September 17, 2014. I was in the ICU for a week. A week after that, I was back in the hospital with a pleural effusion. That was more painful than the embolism. I was on oxygen for a month. I had to take Coumadin for six months.

When I finished my six months of Coumadin, I was rushed in to have a colonoscopy.  It was determined I had a baseball size tumor that was staged at 3B cancer (so much for psychosomatic, huh?). I ended up finding out that when a person has cancer their blood hyper-coagulates. I finally found out why I had so many blood clots.

I lost my mom to colon cancer the week I finished chemo. I lost my dad nine days later of a broken heart. I have good days and bad days. It’s been two years since my initial diagnosis of a saddle pulmonary embolism. It’s been almost one year since finishing chemotherapy. I have been through a lot. I still have this fear that I will fall over with another blood clot. I also fear a return of cancer. Life will never be the same for me, but I’m alive, and I’m working on getting to a point where I feel healthy again.


Editor’s Note: Thank you, Shelia, for sharing your story with BCRN. Share your thoughts with Shelia in the comments below.


Read more Patient Stories from BCRN.


Visit How to Share Your Story to share your story with Blood Clot Recovery Network.

How to Raise Blood Clot Awareness: Discover Your Personal Plan

March – Blood Clot Awareness Month – has been a very eventful month for our community. This month has provided us with an opportunity to come together as one not only to raise blood clot awareness, but to share stories, ideas, and life-saving information about blood clots. This month, I have read countless stories from you. There have been stories from people who are celebrating survival and stories from people who grieving the loss of a precious loved one. I have spoken to people who had no idea that a blood clot could affect them, and I have spoken to people who work hard every day to share information about blood clot risks and signs and symptoms. I have spoken to people who are newly diagnosed with a DVT and/or PE, and I have spoken to people who have been battling blood clots for years. Some people have reached out for reassurance and support, while others have reached in to give back to the community that has helped them. Some people are scared, hurting, and overwhelmed, and others are joyful and reassuring. Some people are healed, some people are not. Some people are at the beginning of their journey, while others have not even stopped on their journey to look back until now.

What this month has done is brought us all together, in one place at one time, to raise a united voice about an issue that has deeply affected us all, in one way or another. And believe it or not, people are listening. You can see it in the comments, the shares, the likes and the readership here, and in all the other communities you are all a part of. If you doubt, simply type #BCAM into a social media or internet search bar, and see all the conversations that are have taken place this March, and are taking place right now (it’s not too late to jump in on any of them, either).

On this last day of Blood Clot Awareness Month, I want to leave you with something everlasting, something that you can take with you into the days, weeks, months, and even years ahead. Just because March is over, does not mean we should stop communicating, connecting and sharing about blood clots, or how they have impacted our lives. In fact, it is my hope that we use the momentum this month has created to continue talking about the issues that affect us all, and to continue alerting people who don’t know, about how dangerous blood clots are. Not only that, it is my hope that we continue to bring awareness to blood clots, and we continue to support the organizations, groups and communities that can effect change to ensure no one ever stops talking about blood clots, an often-overlooked public health concern. It is a concern that indeed affects us all.

Along with these thoughts, I am leaving you with a personalized plan for raising blood clot awareness. Anyone can do it, and anyone can make a difference. In fact, you already have. These are the things I did to start talking about blood clots, and today, my work here reaches over 25,000 people a month. Over 1,000 people a month receive my newsletter, and nearly 5,000 people connect with our community on Facebook every day. The good news is, you don’t have to start a blog or have a thousand followers to raise awareness. You can raise awareness where you are right now, with what you already have, regardless of what month it is, in just three simple steps. Here’s how:

 Step 1: Find your passion

After my blood clot, it seemed that my entire life fell apart. Everything in my life suffered – my job, my relationships, my health, and my happiness. I lost everything, and I had no idea how to get it back. I felt alone, scared, worthless, and even self-destructive at times. I was fighting a losing battle, and nothing anyone said or did, including myself, could make it better. It was the worst I have ever felt in my life.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what purpose any of my suffering had, and what my purpose in life was. My attempts to discover this was futile, leading me to one dead-end answer after another. There was no justification for the suffering I was going through. There was no explanation for why I had lost everything. There was nothing I could possible give back to a body – and a world – that had treated me so cruelly.

Then one day, I stopped looking for a purpose, and I started listening. I wasn’t the only one who had been through a DVT and PE diagnosis. As it turned out, there were a lot of people out there who had also lost everything, just like me. There were a lot of people out there who had no idea what had happened to them, or why. Things started to shift in my mind, and I began to focus on what I believed was my passion: Helping other people through a blood clot diagnosis and recovery. I became determined to be the guide that I wished I had after my experience. I started Blood Clot Recovery Network – not even sure if anyone would read it. But, people did read it, a lot of people, and my work here continued to grow. Over the years, my work here has led to speaking engagements, freelance writing opportunities, advocacy events, and eventually, my career in the same field.

When I look back from where I am now, to where I was then, I still cannot believe one thing sometimes: My passion to lead me to my purpose.

If your passion leads you to blood clot awareness, you can: Talk about your experience, write about your experience (publicly or privately), tell everyone you know about blood clot signs and symptoms, tell everyone you know that they could be at risk for a deadly blood clot (and tell them why), educate other people about how to prevent blood clots, and get involved with patient advocacy groups programs and services. With the far-reaching impact of social media today, anyone can make a difference, and anyone can share their story. By sharing our stories, we share facts about blood clots. Facts that matter. The possibilities are virtually limitless. Use your social media platforms – and your voice – to make a difference. Do as much – or as little – as you can or want to.

Step 2: Let nearly everything that you do be to help someone else   

After my blood clot diagnosis, I felt worthless. It is hard for me to describe just how worthless I felt, in fact. It was unlike anything I had felt before, or anything I have felt since. I thought it would never get any better, and I thought there was nothing I could ever do to feel self-worth again. To sum it up, I couldn’t figure out what I had not died, because I had no reason to live anymore, I felt so hopeless.

Slowly, and not without pain and heartache, I started to realize that I was not worthless, and there were things I could do. These things came primarily in the form of helping other people, and were things I was already starting to do. Whether it be sharing my story, sharing my experience in an online forum, telling someone about what my PE felt like, or simply letting someone else know I felt the same, hopeless way that they did – I was helping someone else. How do I know that? People started to tell me, even a simple “Thank you,” is evidence that you have made a difference. People would say, “I didn’t know this could happen to me!” I started to realize, that because of me, now they did know a blood clot could happen to them. Never underestimate the power of helping another human being, especially during their darkest hour.

Ways you can help other people: Share your story, share information about blood clots, share information about recovery, tell your friends and family about what you are going through (if they don’t listen – that’s okay – they can save this for later), get involved in online support groups and forums, and tell your doctors about what you are experiencing after a blood clot diagnosis.  

Step 3: Always remember that there is hope for healing from blood clots

Each day, I talk to numerous people who are at different stages of their recovery. Some people are at the very beginning – they don’t even know they have recovery to do – and some people are far, far removed from the horrible things that happened to them – yet, they still have a story to tell. Some people have been recovering for a week, while others have been recovering for three years. Each of us is different.

I am often asked, “How far are you in your recovery from blood clots?” It has been four, almost five, years since my DVT and PE, and now, I consider myself healed. Sure, I will always have medication to manage and things to take into consideration that I never did prior to my diagnosis, but I am through the hard part, and I have seen that there is life – and purpose – on the other side of blood clots. There is beauty and healing and compassion and freedom from pain and suffering.

For some people, healing takes a lot longer, and still some people seem to struggle their entire lives. I don’t believe everyone moves through recovery with the same outcomes, but I do believe there is hope for healing. That healing might not look the same for all of us, but it is there.

What helped me heal more than anything, was helping other people heal. Each day, I try to remember that in the work that I do. Helping other people is healing – for me and hopefully, for them too.

What you can do to help people heal: Share your experience, share your struggles, share your joy, let other people know they are not alone, invite them to join you in the online groups and communities, set up a weekly check-in email or message with someone you have connected with, and learn as much as you can about blood clots.

There you have it, your personal plan to raise blood clot awareness and to share life-saving information about blood clots. Take this information, think about it, and begin making a difference when and where you can. You are a valuable person, you have a lot to contribute on this subject. We all do. When you have been affected by something like blood clots, awareness is ongoing. There is not right or wrong way to do it, when it comes to your personal story. I know you can and will make a difference, because you already have.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

 

 


Reader Writes In: How are you going to raise awareness? What is a part of your personal awareness-building plan?


That’s Called Hope: A special message for you during Blood Clot Awareness Month


Want more BCAM information? Find out why blood clot #AwarenessMatters.

 

Patient Story: A Double Whammy by Ruth

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.


Reader Writes In: Has anyone else dealt with PE’s and RA? Share in the comments.


Editor’s Note: Thank you, Ruth, for sharing your story with BCRN. Connect with Ruth, or share your thoughts, in the comments below.


Read more Patient Stories from BCRN. Visit How to Share Your Story to share your story with Blood Clot Recovery Network.

Hope: A Special Message for You During Blood Clot Awareness Month

Nearly five years ago, my life changed forever when I suffered from a blood clot in my leg and in my lung. I went from being an active runner, to needing an oxygen tank to breathe. I spent several days in the hospital – my life in the balance – while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. Up until that time, I thought blood clots only happened to old people who were sick, or who weren’t able to move around very much. I was 29 years old, not 89.

March – Blood Clot Awareness Month – serves as a prime opportunity to talk about blood clots. Each year, about 900,000 people a year are affected by blood clots in the U.S. alone. If a blood clot starts in your leg, like mine did – also known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT – and then travels to your lung – also known as a pulmonary embolism, or PE – it can kill you. About 100,000 people die every year due to a blood clot. t can also cause damage to your vital organs, like your heart and lungs. Blood clots – both in my leg and in my lung – were the most physically painful things I have ever experienced in my life. Quite frankly, it felt like I was dying – maybe because I was. The scary thing is, I didn’t even know that I was at risk for a blood clot, or that one could happen to me.

Know Your Risk for Blood Clots

Many things can place you at risk for a blood clot. Some of the major risk factors are hospitalization or surgery, hormonal birth control, pregnancy, treatment of menopause symptoms with estrogen, traumatic injury to the bone or muscle, a family history of blood clots, and sitting for long periods or best rest, just to name a few. Mine were caused by estrogen-based birth control and also the clotting condition antiphospholipid syndrome, which I will have to treat for the rest of my life. If you don’t know if you are at risk for a blood clot, find out right now. Speak with your doctor about your risk, and learn more about how you can prevent blood clots. Blood clots are preventable, and even treatable if detected early.

Know the Signs and Symptoms of Blood Clots

Just as important as knowing your risk for blood clots, is knowing the signs and symptoms of blood clots. I had no idea that the pain I felt in my leg – it felt like someone had the fleshy part behind my left knee in a vice that kept getting tighter – was a symptom of a blood clot. It hurt when I walked, the pain radiated down my leg to my foot. The pain did not go away with rest, elevation, ice, or even Tylenol. I did not know – and this is the scary part – that my inability to lay down flat, take deep breaths, or speak in full sentences was a sign of a life-threatening blood clot in my lung. Thank goodness, my primary care physician did, and he instructed me to the nearest Emergency Room without delay. I tried to live my life normally for two days before I went to the hospital, barely able to walk or breathe by that time. The admitting physician told me I would not have survived for a third day. If you don’t know the signs and symptoms of blood clots, learn about them right now.

I was in intensive care for several days as doctors worked to figure out why I was so sick. They worked to stabilize my heart, my lungs, my breathing and various levels and counts in my blood. I was discharged with a wheelchair and an oxygen tank, and I thought it was all over. What I did not know was that my journey had really only just begun. I spent a total of two years recovering from the physical damage that was done to my body, and nearly another year recovering from the emotional damage that was done to my mind.

Recovery: Not Just a Physical Journey

The emotional side of recovery is what I want to talk to you about this March. It’s the part that gets left out most often, if not entirely ignored in some cases. Sometimes, people don’t understand. Even people that we know and trust, like our family, our friends, maybe even our doctors.

People ask me all the time, “How did you survive?” To be honest with you, I have spent years thinking about my answer to this question. First, I had to ponder, did I really survive? People survive physical things that push them to their limits every day – floods, fires, animal attacks, being lost in the wilderness, and car accidents, for example. I believe some people even survive illnesses and diseases. After thinking about these types of situations versus my own, though, I don’t think I actually survived my blood clot – not in the same way. Surviving my blood clot was completely out of my hands. It was in the hands of my doctors, and perhaps even more importantly, a higher power – for me, it’s God – who wanted me to still be on this Earth. You see, I didn’t actually understand I might be dying, so in some respects, I couldn’t make the conscious decision to survive my ordeal.

What I did was overcome. After my pulmonary embolism, life became brutally unfair, and I dealt with a lot more than some people will ever have to deal with in their entire life. I lost a lot, nearly everything, and I experienced grief unlike any I had ever felt before. I lost my friends, my job, my medical insurance, my self-esteem, and my confidence – to name just a few things. I was in more debt than I could have ever imagined, more sick than I knew was even possible, and the blows just kept coming one after the other. I dealt with them one by one, battle by battle, fight by fight. Everything was a fight, it seemed. I tried my hardest to do what I could to improve my situation. Sometimes it did improve, sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes it got worse. Sometimes, I found, I had to accept the help of others to be able to help myself.   

What I did not do was give up, not completely. Now, this is not to say I didn’t throw in the towel on certain days, weeks, or even months, and swear I was done with it all. I did that. I did that a lot during my recovery. Yet, somehow, someway, I never gave up completely. I always found something to believe in. Even if that something was the thought that it couldn’t possibly get any worse. Then, when it did get worse, I thought, “It can’t get any worse than it is right now. Eventually it has to get better.” My dad told me the same thing, and I clung to that belief. He told me, “Someday, Sara, it all has to get better.” A few important things kept me going when I gave up on myself – my family, my dogs, music, and my writing. Without them, I would not be where I am today. 

Hope: A Special Message for You

Through all the loss and heartache and heartbreak, I always told myself there was something better on the horizon. The way I looked at it, if there wasn’t, then why was I still here? Back then – during those first weeks, months and years of recovery – you could have never convinced me that I would see better days. Yet, deep inside my heart, I believed there were better days ahead, even if it seemed like a child’s fairly tale at the time. That tiny, tiny ember never stopped burning, and I never stopped believing. I think that’s called hope. Hope for a better tomorrow, for less pain, for health, for wellness, for love, for peace, for forgiveness. Whatever it is that you need, there is hope that it will one day come to you. 

I am a different person than I was before my blood clot. I don’t think someone like me – or you – goes through a life-threatening illness and comes out the same on the other side. I also don’t think a person can understand that unless they have been through it themselves. This is the part of Blood Clot Awareness that is important for me to share: Surviving, overcoming or managing a blood clot is life-changing.

The second this that is important for me to share with you is: There is hope. There is always hope. Even when you hurt more than you ever thought possible, cry more than you ever thought you would, have reached the end of your rope, lost everything, are alone, or have a broken heart. Even when it’s all over and you have nowhere to turn – there is hope. There is always hope. Find something – no matter how small that something is – to cling on to, and cling to it with all of the strength you have left. Whether it be God, your spouse, your parents, your children, your pet, yourself, your garden, your journal, your favorite song, your favorite book, your home, your memories, your dreams – hold on to it and don’t let go. Don’t ever let go of hope. If you can’t find something to cling to, here it is: There is hope.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

 

 


Reader Writes In: What is the hope that you hold on to? What is one thing you want to share during Blood Clot Awareness Month? How did you survive or overcome a blood clot?


March is Blood Clot Awareness Month (BCAM). Get the information that everyone needs to know.


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