I started estrogen-based birth control in December 2018. I had a cramp in my calf, and two days later it was dismissed as nothing by my gynecologist. I stayed on birth control and what were actually clots in my right leg grew. I would later learn that the blood clots extended from my knee to my ankle. As time went by, fatigue set in and a couple months later, the cramp in my calf reared its ugly head again, but this time, it wouldn’t go away.
I tried everything to relieve it, including massaging it myself, heat, and elevation. Then, I had a catastrophic deep tissue massage. It was catastrophic because the massage therapist did not ask me any health history questions that may have indicated I could have a blood clot. She massaged away, and I suspect that she broke up the clots that were in my leg. I played soccer that night. For the first time in a while, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was gasping for air. I finished the game, but I had a coughing fit afterwards, and I was short of breath.
My calf cramp worsened and swelled up so much that I couldn’t see my ankle. My friend, who is a nurse practitioner in cardiology and who was tracking my symptoms, put the puzzle pieces together. She urged me to go to the hospital, instead of boarding a plane, which I was supposed to do. In the ER, doctors found blood clots in my right leg and extensive clots in my lungs. I often wonder if I would have survived had I flown that day instead of going to the hospital.
Since my experience, I have learned that leg cramps can be a sign of blood clots in the leg and, if left untreated, a blood clot can travel to the lung and cause a deadly situation. At the age of 45 years old, I decided I should not be on estrogen-based birth control, so I went off of it immediately. I made my doctor and the clinic where I got the massage know about my outcome and asked them to help raise awareness about blood clots.
What was a near-miss for me was a tragedy for someone else. Just after hearing about my experience, my sister’s colleague’s mother passed away. She was 50 years old. Since my experience, many people in my network have now come forward with similar experiences.
Now, I am very aware of birth control and blood clot risks, and I am raising awareness with my community and network. I’m also so thankful for my friend and nurse, Devyn, who saved my life. If you are taking or considering taking hormonal birth control, know your risks and talk to your doctor about your options. Knowing this information can help to save lives.