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I am a 58 year old teacher, a life-long runner, and live in Bedford, NH. I noticed tightness in my right calf in early February 2007, and ignored it for a couple of weeks. It was not painful, and I thought it was a slight muscle pull or soreness due to insufficient stretching after my early morning run of 5-6 miles. At one point, I did go to see the school nurse at my high school, who advised me to go to a doctor if the tightness persisted. She told me this was especially important if I noticed redness on the surface of my leg, or if the tightness seemed to gravitate up my leg. Even when I noticed these symptoms, I did nothing, comforting and kidding myself that my near perfect health would serve me in good stead. I also possessed a runner’s illusion of invincibility.
Now I will “fast forward” to the end of March of that year. I was getting more and more tired, and also had a dry cough that persisted for most of that two month period. The tightness in my leg seemed to disappear, but returned at that time. As the school’s drama director, I was working late afternoons and evenings on our school’s annual spring musical, performed the last weekend in March. On Saturday, March 31st, I went out for my usual morning jog, but had to stop after less than a ½ mile, because I was very tired and short of breath. I had never had to stop during a run before. I felt as if I only had enough energy to sit down on the curb. I managed to return home, and my worried wife called “Ask a Nurse” at Dartmouth Hitchcock in Manchester. The nurse listened to the symptoms—a little shortness of breath, extreme tiredness, light headedness—and recommended I go to the ER immediately. I stubbornly refused my wife’s pleading, and said that I had to finish my commitment to the musical (since the final performance was that night) and that I would take off on Monday morning to see my doctor. I was convinced that it was bronchitis or something minor. I did not feel any pain-just a dragging tiredness that I thought was a result of all the extra work on the play.
That Monday, I saw the doctor as I promised my wife. He examined me and had a chest X-ray done to see whether my lungs were congested. The X-ray showed nothing remarkable. My wife (bless her) insisted on coming into the examination room, and asked me if I had told the doctor about the tightness in my leg. He recommended going to the nearby hospital for an ultra-sound. The ultra-sound showed a 20” clot in my right leg, and that led to a CAT scan which revealed several clots in my lungs. Her insistence probably saved my life! I ended up in the ICU for 5 days and was placed on Coumadin® for a year. Blood tests before the Coumadin® showed no abnormalities or any genetic pre-disposition to clotting, which was very frustrating for me, because I was seeking some explanation for the blood clots.
After a year on Coumadin® and a slow but steady return to running, I was taken off the drug in April of 2008. I resumed my normal lifestyle until February 27th of this year, which was the day after my annual physical at which I was given a clean bill of health! That same day I slipped on a discarded drinking cup at Boston Garden and severed tendons in both of my knees. After the operation to repair the torn tendons, a precautionary ultra-sound revealed blood clots in both knees. I am back on Coumadin®, perhaps for life, which has been difficult to accept, given the absence of any blood clotting disorders.
I have learned two lessons from my experience. The first is to listen to spouses and nurses! Even when you may think you feel well enough to avoid a visit to the doctor, people close to you or healthcare professionals may observe things that you discount or disregard. (Denial is powerful!)
The second lesson is to channel any negative energy from such a life-threatening event into something positive. I chose to share my story with others, and also wrote a one act play that was recently performed at my school, entitled Clot Girl. I changed the main character from a man to a woman to create some distance and perspective, but revised my story with some humor along with a serious purpose—to raise awareness about the danger of blood clots and how to cope with them.