I am two years into my recovery from a DVT and subsequent massive PE that occurred in early June 2012. The incident left me reeling – not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
It is difficult to explain what this recovery was like. It was not like taking six, eight or even 12 weeks off for a stress fracture or shoulder surgery. It’s not like having the flu or bronchitis or pneumonia that just won’t go away. It’s not like fighting an infection or a nagging running injury. No matter how much you think it might be, it’s just not. What it is like (so I’ve been told via comparison) is going through chemotherapy, recovering from a heart attack or learning to live again after a stroke. Cancer. Heart Attack. Stroke. Blood Clots. Except recognition of the last one comes far less often than the predecessors.
Public awareness of the signs, symptoms, risk factors and effects of blood clots are are not widely known, both is the public and medical sectors. Yet, blood clots kill an estimated 300,000 Americans each year (source), which is more lives than those claimed by AIDS, car accidents and breast cancer combined. Blood clots are also the leading cause of preventable hospital deaths. Every six minutes someone in this country will die of a PE, or blood clot in the lung. The lifelong effects of a DVT, or blood clot in the leg, can be devastating and far-reaching ranging from constant pain and swelling to skin ulcers physically and PTSD emotionally. Often, a diagnosis of a DVT or PE is a result of an underlying condition, sometimes previously unknown, such as hereditary or autoimmune clotting factors, lupus or cancer. Sometimes, the diagnoses of a DVT or PE comes as a result of pregnancy, sitting for long periods, smoking or weight gain. Sometimes, the diagnosis of DVT or PE comes out of the blue. Blood clots can happen to anyone, of any size and physical ability, at any age.
At my two-year follow-up, my hematologist stopped what he was doing and said to me, “You look like I imagine you did before this happened to you. I didn’t know you then, but I imagine this is more of the real you.” He was silent for a moment and then continued, “I just don’t see many people come back from as ill as you were. You’re really lucky to be here.”
Two years post-PE, I would agree that I am physically recovered from what happened to me. I can breathe without oxygen, walk without assistance and get out of bed every day. While I am not back to running yet, I feel like I could start exercising to the best of my ability again. Before this time, the desire to even try was gone. To say I am “healed” is another story. I will constantly need to have my blood monitored via intravenous draw (weekly to monthly) to monitor my blood clotting levels due to the disease that caused them to go awry in the first place; manage medication; deal with continuous pain and swelling in my affected leg, chronic fatigue and constantly be under the watchful eye of specialists for diseases like Lupus, mixed connective tissue disorder and rheumatoid arthritis, not to mention another clotting incident. I know running saved me physically. I believe training for long distances and being healthy before this happened is what helped my body physically overcome what is the worst thing to have ever happened to it.
Two years post-PE I would agree that I am very much in the middle of recovering from the emotional and psychological trauma of DVT and PE. I am nowhere near recovered from that – and I don’t yet anticipate when I will be.
Talking about what happened to me and advocating for increased blood clot awareness has become a primary focus in my life. I find that most people do not know what a DVT and/or PE is and if they do, they do not think it is something that could ever happen to them. I find that the athletic and health communities in particular – communities that I am still very much engaged in – are particularly unaware of the dangers associated with blood clots. Perhaps most frightening is that people just do not know what the symptoms of these conditions are, more proof that we need more awareness. I am grateful to have recently had the opportunity to share my story and awareness efforts in an interview with Everyday Health as part of my ongoing efforts. Please read and share!
While I have come so far in my recovery, I have some distance to go, but I know there is hope for the future. Hope that I will continue to recover and hope that the world will get out about blood clots, their symptoms and their devastating, often deadly effects. And, while I will always face the burden of health and an uncertain future in terms of it, I know I also have much to be grateful for. I am one of the lucky ones who survived.
Tell me about you. What has been the toughest recovery period of your life? How have you overcome physical struggles? Mental struggles? Did you previously know about DVT and PE?
Until the next mile marker,