I quit my job in the non-profit world on Thursday, May 31 and anxiously prepared for a three day weekend before beginning a new job in my field at a local police department. There was a party; there were drinks and even a cake to celebrate my new endeavor.
At least, this was all the news I planned to blog about that weekend. The big announcement, the big surprise. I had been trying to get this particular position for well over a year and it was worth announcing in a whole post, all of its own. You might notice that did not happen.
You may have noticed I apparently dropped off the face of the earth for almost two entire weeks. If it weren’t for a Facebook post, carefully crafted by my loving sister, my whereabouts may have still remained unknown (okay, not really, but you do get the point).
That sounds serious. I guess it was. At least people keep looking at me like it’s a shock to see me still here up and moving around. So, what the hell happened?
June 2 began like any other Saturday morning. Nothing new or different happened. I woke up early to meet my pace group for a two mile run with MIT. I ran two miles with the 13’s in about 28 minutes (I think, I never did upload the data) and enjoyed some great conversation with my friend and fellow Coach Judi. She walked with me to my car at which point, I casually massaged my calf and said it was aching. I told her Duane thought it might be the start of Plantar Fasciitis and gave me some exercises to do. You have to understand, the three of us coaches appear to be pretty unlucky when it comes to injuries, aches and pains so it’s far from abnormal for one, two or even all three of us to be nursing an ailment or injury at any given time. I mean, that’s why we’re the Lucky 13’s, right? I thought so.
I drove home, grabbed something to eat (my famous stir-fry, I think), showered and took a nap. Nothing new or different. I was feeling good, refreshed, excited for the upcoming running season, especially since my calf felt fine by the time I got home.
I slept for an hour and a half or so and woke up early that afternoon. When I sat up in bed, my left side was hurting, especially when I took a breath. Honestly, it felt like a really intense side stitch. I got up anyway, did some stretches (which I thought made me feel better) and went about my day. I stretched out my calf because that was bothering me too. My honest thought? I pulled a muscle on my run or was severely out of shape again. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
My husband came home that evening and I was literally propped up on the couch with pillows surrounding me. I don’t quite remember how I got there, but sitting upright was the only thing that eased the pain in my side. He asked if I was okay and I said I was and that I had apparently hurt myself running. He asked if I needed to go to the hospital and I choked out a no. In the back of my mind, I thought something was really wrong, but I figured I needed to rest (Note to self: Never ignore your gut instinct or husband’s concern again).
Let me back up for a moment, I can be am a hypochondriac most days. If something is physically wrong with me, I probably have the worst possible disease or injury known to man. So, naturally, this would be the one time my hypochondriac tendencies fell by the wayside as I decided to “walk it off.” That would turn out to be the worst possible course of action in this situation. (After all, what could possibly be wrong? I was starting a new job on Monday and nothing was going to stand in my way).
I went to bed early, even for me (like 7:00 p.m.) I tried to go to bed early (like 7:00 p.m.), but the thing was, I couldn’t lay down without a sharp pain stabbing into my left side so I lay propped up in a recliner, only dozing off here and there throughout the night. My husband checked on my frequently, but I maintained that I was fine.
And, just like I had anticipated, I woke up Sunday morning feeling much better. I knew it! That couldn’t be farther from the truth, either. I got up from the chair and took about a half a step onto the floor and the pain in calf was excruciating, which made me wince – drawing in a sharp breath – that then sliced through my side like a knife. Still, I was fine and completely convinced I had overdone it on Saturday.
Without going into monotonous detail about all of Sunday (we’ll move right on to the exciting part), all of Sunday went pretty much like this:
Husband: Are you okay?
Me: Yeah, I think so.
Husband: Are you sure you don’t want me to take you to the Emergency Room?
Husband: Are you sure? You look like you’re hurting.
Me: I pulled a muscle, I think.
Me: Yeah, I’m pretty sure.
And of course, we exhausted internet resources for any information in an attempt to self-diagnose. We ruled out the pancreas, gall bladder, liver, kidneys and heart. We settled on constipation and I kid you not (ask Judi), I made a fresh ginger and cinnamon tea to ease the pain. I was convinced I was feeling better as I drank my third cup. I may have even of had to go to the bathroom.
Sunday evening, we were supposed to go to dinner for my husband and sister’s birthdays’, but as the evening wore on, I started speaking in two or three word sentences, gasping for air with each word. My husband called my father and said we had to cancel, much to my protest. I remember speaking to my dad who asked if I thought I should go to an Urgent Care or Clinic. Good idea, maybe I should. So, at 6:30 on a Sunday night, my husband drove me to CVS, Walgreens and an Urgent Care – all of which closed promptly at 5:00 p.m. My ability to walk was seriously lacking as we walked up to each of these places. I was limping, mostly dragging my left leg because any pressure I put on it was incredibly painful.
Husband: I told you we should have gone to the Emergency Room.
Me: I’m fine. Let’s just go home. I have to work tomorrow.
Husband: You can’t breath, how are you going to work?
Me: Actually, I can’t walk either.
Husband: You have to let me know what is going on!
Me: I just can’t breath and my leg is killing me!
We drove home in silence and I went back to the recliner. My husband called my Dad again, who proceeded to call our family doctor and briefly explain my situation.
The doctor (Dr. K.), who I now credit with saving my entire life, called me on my cell phone and asked me how I was feeling. Still unable to speak in sentences and completely breathless, I told him about my run Saturday and how I felt like I pulled a muscle so that I couldn’t breath right. He asked me a few questions and said, “I’m not really sure that this is musculoskeletal, Sara.” I told him I thought I could deal with the pain in my side if I could “freakin’ walk!” He asked what I meant by that, and I told him that it felt like someone had the space behind my kneecap in a vice and just wouldn’t stop tightening.
Me: Do I panic now or later?
Doc: Panicking is not going to help this situation at all. What I do need you to do is drive to the nearest Emergency Room immediately. If you can’t get someone to drive you there, I need you to call 9-1-1.
Doc: You need to go to the hospital and when you get there you need to tell them your primary care physician believes you are at risk for a blood clot that has travelled to your lung.
Me: You mean like a Pulmonary Embolism?!!!! Like I could die??
Doc: I mean a Pulmonary Embolism. Which is very serious, especially for as long as you have been having symptoms. Do you have someone to drive you?
Me: My husband is here.
Doc: Which hospital are you going to? I’ll call your Dad back and tell him.
Me: I can call him.
Doc: YOU NEED TO GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM RIGHT NOW.
I don’t remember hanging up the phone. I don’t remember getting out of the chair. I just remember hobbling down the stairs, limping into the living room and telling my husband to take me to the Emergency Room. I remember crying as I shuffled out to the car and I remember how crying just made breathing even harder. I remember feeling like I needed to panic, but I couldn’t. I remember asking my husband if I was going to die and I don’t remember what he said, but I’m sure he said, “No.” What else would you to say to someone who might actually die?
I remember parking outside the E.R. doors and us leaving the car there. I remember going through security and my husband got stopped for a pocket knife. I kept walking. I practically fell onto the reception desk and said to the lady, “I might have a blood clot in my lung. Like a Pulmonary Embolism.” Again, I kid you not, the receptionist said, “Please stand back and wait a moment because I am currently out of printer paper.”
“THIS HOSPITAL RUNS ON PRINTER PAPER?!?!?!?!” I thought to myself.
I stepped back. I hunched over. I started crying harder. My husband joined me after surrendering his weapon and asked me what I was waiting for. Printer paper. It seemed like we waited forever before a guy came around the corner, loaded up the printers and scurried away. “Now, how can I help you?” she asked me.
“I HAVE A PULMONARY EMBOLISM AND I CAN’T BREATH!” I screamed out loud, I know I did because people were staring.
I did not have to wait after that. I was ushered back into the emergency room, past a row of people in the waiting room, and seated in a chair. A nurse listened to my lungs, heart, took my blood pressure, and looked at my leg and a few other things. No one would answer my questions about what was happening. The next thing I knew, I wasn’t allowed to do anything on my own. I got put in a gown, a wheelchair, and then a bed and was wheeled to a room. Tests, tests, test and more tests. An ECG, a chest XRAY, A CT scan, even an IV.
My Dad showed up. I remember he had tears in his eyes. “This must be it,” I remember thinking to myself, “I might be dying.” Waiting, waiting and more waiting. Until almost 2:00 in the morning when the doctor came in and told me I had a blood clot in my left leg (Deep Vein Thrombosis) that broke off and went into my left lower lung quadrant (Pulmonary Embolism). As a result, my leg was blocked and part of my lung was dead. Hence the excruciating pain, which reminded me, I still felt it.
Husband: Can you breathe better now?
Me: No, but I don’t even care!
Doc: You’re being admitted to the hospital, Sara. You are very sick.
Me: No! I have to start a new job tomorrow!!
Doc: You can’t go to work right now, honey. You’re very sick.
Me: I’m fine!
The next 48 to 72 hours were spent in the ICU and Cardiac ICU. I couldn’t pee on my own, eat on my own (I only half got food into my mouth) or move on my own. Hell, I couldn’t even sleep on my own because they had to give me a pill for that. I definitely couldn’t breathe on my own because I was on oxygen (due to essentially no air going into my lower left lung) and I would remain on it for the next two weeks. I remember nurses and doctors talking over me in distinct yet hushed tones, asking me about my medical history, medications and overall health. I don’t remember what I told them except that nothing like this had ever happened before. The official diagnosis? A Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or a blood clot that develops deep inside a larger vein, usually within the lower leg or thigh paired with a Pulmonary Embolism (PE) or a clot that blocks the blood flow to the lung.
People kept referring to me as “very sick,” “extremely lucky,” and “hanging in there.” They were saying things like, “Bless your heart,” “It’s okay, sweetheart,” and “Take it easy.” More tests, bedpans, doctors, specialists, special specialists and more nurses than I could count.
It wasn’t until I got home that I learned that most people who are going to die from a PE do so within 30 to 60 minutes of the event. Apparently “Since Saturday afternoon,” was not a normal answer to “How long have you been having this pain?” Now I know? PE causes or contributes up to 200,000 deaths annually in the U.S. alone. One in every 100 patients who develop DVT dies, due to a PE. Immediate medical intervention is essential to reduce the risk of death to less than 10 percent. Thank you Doctor K.
I would spend a total of seven days in the hospital, still mostly unaware of how lucky I was to even be there. I had a partially dead lung, an acute clot in my vein and no idea what would happen next.
In Case You Missed It….
Pace Points: Could YOU Have a Blood Clot? Learn more about my symptoms of DVT and PE and how you can help make sure you don’t have to experience the same thing!
“That’s Why I Pray.” God is not finished with me yet – and that’s why I’m still here! Do you believe in the power of prayer to make a difference? Do you believe there is hope when all seems hopeless? Do you believe in better days? I do now more than ever! The lyrics and meaning of this song got me through some seemingly hopeless moments in the days after my discharge from the hospital.