A pulmonary embolism – PE or blood clot in my lung – nearly took me away from my family last August. Not to mention, the weeks of misery and surgery that followed due to fluid build-up from pneumonia and scar tissue combined to entrap the same lung. I was 31 years old, a vegetarian, non-smoker, had no recent surgeries or injuries, a runner, and had no genetic or acquired clotting disorders. My family does not have a known history of blood clots. The only cause my pulmonologist could imagine – and it’s kind of a long shot – was a six-hour car ride nearly two months prior to my PE.
I have a beautiful wife and two children – two and five years old – who love their daddy very much. On August 13, 2016, I thought I was suffocating in front of them all. It all began two days prior. I had rib pain shortly after a four-mile run on rigorous terrain. I wrote it off as a pulled muscle and pushed on through the week, despite a decreasing ability to sleep or be comfortable, and an increasing shortness of breath. That Saturday, I found myself on my knees in our bedroom unable to breathe. The slightest breath felt like a knife was twisting in my ribs. I just knew I was going to die in front of my frightened wife and kids.
We rushed to the ER where I credit a stubborn and highly qualified team of medical professionals with investigating the cause of my symptoms, and with saving my life. After hours of tests, an elevated D-dimer level warranted a CT scan, which made my diagnosis clear: I had a pulmonary embolism. We had no clue this could happen to me. No clue it could happen without warning, and no clue what a PE was.
After spending the weekend in the hospital, I entered the recovery stage. I was rather stubborn, and I was trying to get back to work too soon, all while continuing to help at home as much as possible. Pneumonia struck less than a week after leaving the hospital. After several rounds of medications, the pneumonia subsided, but the fluid under my lung did not. I cannot explain the pain, the night sweats, and the diminished ability to do the simplest things. My physical appearance matched the misery I was experiencing. After a failed thoracentesis procedure to remove the fluid – which was gelatinous – I had to undergo my first ever surgery. I had a V.A.T.S. decortication to get the bottom chamber of my right lung free from entrapment. I experienced more pain, more drugs, and a lot more misery.
Five weeks after surgery, I was back at work. Today, I feel better than ever. I took my last blood thinner pill a little over a week ago, and I’m not sure I will ever live without fear of another PE. Every morning, my scars and my “stiff” right lung serve as a reminder of my mortality, and give me a reason to be grateful.