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The day my life almost ended was a picturesque, snow-dappled Saturday in December. I was a 22-year-old on an adventure, visiting Germany for the first time and staying with some old friends. I couldn’t wait to see what an authentic German “Weihnachten” had to offer. Little did I know, my life was about to be seriously shaken up in the worst way.
On the afternoon of December 12, 2015, I suddenly noticed I was struggling for breath after climbing a flight of stairs. The harder I tried to breathe, the more difficult it became. I had suffered from asthma since I was a child, and someone had been cleaning the flat that afternoon. I chalked it up to the dust, stumbled to my room, and took a few puffs from my inhaler.
The problem didn’t subside. In fact, as the day progressed, it worsened. I began panting and coughing uncontrollably whenever I moved. I knew I needed medical attention, but I doubted I could afford the bill. While it lingered in the back of my mind that my mother had survived a massive PE at 38 years old, I convinced myself it was nothing.
However, when I began to cough up blood, I decided that regardless of cost, I needed help. A German friend of mine agreed to take me. When we arrived, the staff rushed us into a room. I told them about my mom’s PE, and the doctor immediately asked me if I was on hormonal birth control. I said yes, I had been on the combo pill since July. I will never forget the look of horror on her face.
The next hour was a blur of tests and pure panic. Finally, the doctor came in and told me I had several clots, including one large, centrally-located clot nearly blocking the right side of my pulmonary artery. She injected anticoagulants into my IV, and told me I’d be admitted to the ICU. If I hadn’t come in that night, she said, I wouldn’t have made it. I was terrified, and my heart rate jumped to 180. I noticed one of the nurses quietly crying in the corner.
Thankfully, I made a speedy and full recovery, and was out of the hospital within five days. Gradually, my symptoms faded. I was given heparin injections for three days, then took a new oral anticoagulant for the following six months. This diagnosis deeply frightened me. I dealt with severe health anxiety, which resulted in many false-alarm visits to the ER in the first few months after I was released. However, a year later, I don’t have lingering effects from my PE.
In hindsight, I wish someone would have told me that youth doesn’t equal invincibility, and that health is priceless. So, to anyone reading this: Listen to your body. Know the signs and symptoms of PE, DVT, and other serious health problems. If something feels off, get it checked out. Rolling the dice may mean losing everything. I am grateful every day that I didn’t.