When I suffered from a DVT and PE in May 2012, it was completely unexpected and unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I had never been ill, never been to the hospital or had surgery. I was not prepared for the physical pain and long process of recovery. I was especially not prepared for the emotional and psychological burden of such a traumatic event. Every aspect of my life was changed as a result of surviving a blood clot. But, now that I survived a blood clot, what was next? Here are a few things I have discovered during the recovery process that are important for recovering, healing and ultimately moving on with the gift of life we, as Survivors, have been given.
Do not let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.
The words should and should not have become a detrimental necessity of the English language so it seems. It’s toxic, it’s invasive and it seems we all do or say it to some extent. I know I am guilty of often thinking “I shouldn’t feel this way,” “You should find out about,” or “I should have.” What’s the big deal with shoulding, you ask? (Yes, I made up a word, just now). It’s a one-way fast-track guilt-trip seeded in self doubt, to say the least. By dwelling on our shortcomings and failures (which is what we do when we say should), we tend to not look for solutions or take the necessary steps for action to improve our situation. Do not let anyone, including yourself, tell you what you should or should not be doing when it comes to your health. If you wish you would have done something differently (for example, ask more questions from your doctor in the beginning), you may say “Next time I will” or “In the future I plan to” or “At my next appointment I will ask what this means for my overall health.” Not shoulding yourself will allow you to take steps that help you to ultimately feel better about yourself and your health. And when it comes to someone else and his or her treatment – you are not them and he or she is not you. We may face common issues or diagnoses’, but at the end of the day, only you and your medical team can decide what is right for you.
Find a medical team.
While I do believe that one doctor can make a difference – even save a life – I also believe it is important to have a medical team to treat your after surviving a blood clot. And, in reality, you probably already have a team forming. Treating a blood clot is not simple by any means and while your hematologist or general practitioner or vascular surgeon may be your main point of contact for follow-up care, keep a team of professionals at your disposal. This way, when something comes up (or goes wrong) you have a team of varied specialties and therefore hopefully talents) at your fingertips already.
Here is what my medical team currently looks like as an example. I have a hematologist who handled my case in the hospital. He is my primary contact for managing my blood, antiphospholipid syndrome, warfarin management and anything new that may pertain to my blood or ongoing condition. For everyday problems (or what I think are everyday problems (like a sore throat), I start by seeing my Primary Care Physician who is a DO. I regularly visit the outpatient lab at the hospital to have my blood drawn to check my INR levels. I also have a rheumatologist to handle any current or new autoimmune concerns (at the direction of my hematologist) and I have an endocrinologist to monitor what has been a lifelong thyroid condition. I also have a pharmacy that I use consistently and am comfortable asking the pharmacists there questions about over-the-counter or prescription interactions. Even though I do not see all of these specialists all of the time, they are there if I need them or have a concern. I have built a team I am confident relying on if I need something or have a concern.
Find and build a team of doctors you trust your health to. For a list of common specialists seen after a blood clotting incident, visit here.
Gather your resources.
Just like building a medical team is important, it is also important to have a pool of resources to help you through the recovery process. This could include things like books, websites, personal contacts and in-person or online support groups; not to mention things like assistance with food, housing, insurance, prescriptions and medical expenses. What people often do not understand is that the effects of a blood clot are devastating and often far-reaching.
When I suffered from a blood clot in 2012, I was not prepared for the fallout. I lost my job, my insurance, my income – everything – and I was not prepared for the financial, emotional, physical and emotional fallout. I already didn’t feel good and on top of it all – I lost it all. That is not something one can easily rebound from. I began gathering my resources from the beginning. I inquired about financial aid at the hospital (you would be surprised most people qualify for something), searched for prescription assistance programs, asked for help in searching for jobs, let my family help when they were able, cut the cable and phone bill, etc. Anything that I thought would make a difference in my situation and relieve the pressure of trying to live with a debilitating injury/illness, I did. Resources exist and yes, many are hard to obtain, but there are some out there. If you can’t buy food, visit a local food pantry or church. If you need help keeping a roof over your head, search for a housing assistance program in your area. If you can’t afford your medication, ask your doctor’s office if they have a social worker available to help you navigate the hurdles. This is not to say any of this is easy, but it is at least worth gathering what resources you can, when you can.
Build a support network.
I will be the first to tell you, people generally do not understand first, what a blood clot is and second, what the recovery is like. It is important to start building a support network early on. Searching for my own support during my recovery is how Blood Clot Recovery Network began. It is crucial that you reach out to other people who can relate to what you have been through – because they have been through it too. But, even if you are not comfortable reaching out to people you do not know, build a support network of people who care about you be it family, friends, fellow survivors and/or an online support group. You can join BCRN’s private Facebook group, or find more online support resources here. Having at least one other person to support you unconditionally in your recovery is important. If you don’t have that person in your life, please find support here, at BCRN.
Recognize your recovery is expansive. And listen to your body.
Recovery does not happen overnight – or sometimes even days, weeks or months after a PE and/or DVT. Physical recovery from a blood clot take anytime up to two years (or more or less, depending on the individual) and sometimes the emotional recovery from a blood clot can taken even longer. Physical and psychological complications can be long lasting and far-reaching. In the beginning of my recovery, I wanted to “get better” right away, and it was hard for me to understand why I didn’t feel better in a week or two – or even a month or six months or a year down the line. Recovery takes time. And your body is very good at telling you exactly what it needs – or does not need. Throughout your recovery, listen to your body. If you try to go back to work, walk around the block or go back to the gym and you are struggling with fatigue, more complications or pain – your body is probably telling you to rest. A DVT and especially a PE causes micro-damage, sometimes to organs like the heart or lungs, that the body has to heal. Healing takes a tremendous amount of resources and energy from the body.
Put yourself first.
For the first time in maybe my whole life, I had to learn to put myself first during my recovery – and that was not easy to do. I had to say no to things like meeting up with friends for dinner, a phone call to catch-up, cooking, cleaning the house and running errands. I had to say no to things that made me unhappy or uncomfortable – including people who did not support me during my recovery. It was very hard to put myself first, but it was a necessity. You have to come first during your recovery. Learn to say no and if you have things that need to get done in a given time period, ask your support network for assistance or advice. As you begin to heal, you can start to do things that you used to do or take on more tasks, but in the beginning, don’t be afraid to say no, or yes, and focus on yourself.
Work on finding your new normal.
Everything changed after I survived a blood clot and finding my new normal is an adjustment I am still working on to this day. Even more so than adjusting to what is the new normal, though, is recognizing that things can no longer be the same as they were – because I am not the same person coming out of this survival as I was going in. I have faced more pain, fear, uncertainty and failure than I ever thought possible. I have survived something many people do not. I have to live with the burden of a lifelong and complicated illness that I am still unsure of what the outcome will be. Do I have to give up the life I loved and the things that made me happy? No, I do not believe I or anyone does, but I do have a new perspective on life that is different than the one I had before. I have different limits, different expectations, different fears and a new appreciation for the life I have now. A blood clot changes everything. Give yourself the time and patience you deserve to adjust to that fact.
Never, ever, ever give up.
There is hope for recovery. Just over two years out from my blood clot, I consider myself physically recovered although I still face complications from time to time and will always have to manage my medication and risks that come with that. I still face the emotional burden of what happened to me, but I am working on it little by little. I wanted to give up so many times during my recovery, but somehow, I always managed to hope for a better tomorrow. I am passing that hope on to you. You can recover. You can make improvements. You can find support and love. Find something you are passionate about and keep your sights on a goal. For me, if I can help one other person going through the struggle of recovery, I know my own struggle was worth it. Find what makes you happy, what drives you – your children, your family, your career, your pets, your love of music or art, your creativity, your friends – anything – and hang on to the hope that in that happiness, you will succeed.
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,