In July of 2019, I nearly fainted in my lobby on my way to work. My roommate was gone all summer, so I phoned my parents who talked me through the symptoms I had and advised me to call an ambulance. I met the emergency medical technician (EMT) outside and after a quick electrocardiogram (ECG) of my heart, they concluded that I was fine and would have a wait at the hospital if I chose to come with them. I was 22 years old at the time with a history of generalized anxiety, so I was convinced that it was just that.
I went to the local clinic instead and they referred me to a cardiologist where I underwent a stress test, 48h Holter heart monitor, and heart ultrasound. At the time, I was genuinely ashamed of myself because I was convinced that my anxiety was making me look weak at my new job. I pushed myself to go back to work every day on my own account despite the support that I was offered. I went as far as to hiding my heart monitor under a hoodie when I was there.
The follow-up discussion at the clinic was dismissive and discouraging. I was told to simply increase my dosage of anxiety medication. Concerned, my dad offered to fly me back home for the weekend. I flew twice, and this evidently increased the size of the blood clot that I didn’t know I had. While home, I begged my dad to take me to the local hospital because my heart felt like it was going to explode. He did. However, after triage, I was still told that my case wasn’t a priority and I would have to wait 6-7 hours to be seen by a doctor.
In hindsight, the dismissal of my symptoms happening not once, but twice could have been fatal. I believe this is a blind spot in our health care system being too quick to attribute cases like this with anxiety. I returned to the city in order to do my heart ultrasound, hoping for more concrete answers. Two days afterward and still no results, I fainted at work and was rushed to the hospital with a resting heart rate of 170 bps. After a CT scan, I was immediately diagnosed with a sub-massive pulmonary embolism (blood clot in both of my lungs) and severe heart dilation. I had been on new estrogen-based birth control at the time. I was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) for 8 days and, for the first time in my life, I felt like I lost complete control.
While the physical experience was painful, the emotional toll was detrimental. The aftermath of being released from the hospital and returning to “normal life” was filled with severe paranoia, the anxiety of dying in my sleep, and fear of fainting in public, among other things. The results are still inconclusive despite knowing about the estrogen in my birth control. This led to discussions about a potential genetic mutation. Yet, I was simply told I would be on blood thinners for the rest of my life.
Battling anxiety and paranoia is an ongoing hurdle for me, but I feel lucky to wake up every day. While I am forever grateful for the care I received, I cannot stress how important it is to trust your body and fight for it. Never let others make you feel like you’re crying wolf, because you are your own biggest advocate.
MORE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES:
- Join our online peer support community to connect with other people who have experienced a blood clot.
- More life-saving information about blood clots.
- Learn more about estrogen-based birth control and blood clot risks.
- Learn more about how blood clots in the lungs are diagnosed.
- Read more stories, or share your story with NBCA.