In December 2015, I was a 32-year-old newlywed and my life seemed perfect. Three months earlier, Brian and I had our dream wedding in Sonoma, CA, and were planning our first Christmas together as Mr. and Mrs. Since we went home to the Midwest to visit our families over Thanksgiving, we decided to take a trip to Myrtle Beach for the holidays.
A few days before our trip, I noticed a strange pain between my shoulder and neck. We thought it was caused from a tough workout, so Brian gave me a back massage to try to make the pain go away. He noticed that my shoulder looked larger than normal and felt hot, but the massage helped, so we wrote it off and moved on.
When we got to Myrtle Beach, I didn’t feel right. I wasn’t in pain, but I knew something was off. Not wanting to ruin our trip, I pretended everything was fine. After we returned home, I had a terrible side ache. At first it hurt to move from sitting to standing, but it quickly grew to a constant pain, making it impossible for me to get in to bed without screaming.
The next morning, I felt winded while combing my hair. Each deep breath felt like I was being stabbed in the rib cage. I couldn’t catch my breath. Brian suggested we go to an urgent care clinic. Since I pass out at the sight of blood – and I am deathly afraid of doctors, needles, and pain – I told him it was no big deal, and I probably just didn’t feel well due to poor eating during our trip.
Later that night, I woke up sobbing from pain, unable to breathe and completely terrified. I told myself I was overreacting. The next day, however, we went to urgent care. The doctor decided I either had a muscular strain or pleurisy. She sent me home with a prescription for pain medication and told me to also treat the pain with a hot pad for 20 minutes each hour.
The next day, the pain was overwhelming and I was so winded that I couldn’t say a full sentence. Standing hurt, sitting was excruciating, and laying down was out of the question. Deep down, I knew that the urgent care doctor had been wrong and that something very serious was happening. I tried to go to bed, but was in so much pain that I couldn’t breathe or speak. I was almost certain I was going to die. We rushed to the emergency room and having never been there before, I wasn’t sure what to expect and was overwhelmed with fear.
First they did an x-ray and the nurse took my blood pressure, temperature and oxygen readings, then gave me an oxygen mask. They stripped off my clothes and put me in a hospital gown. While one nurse was inserting a line in my left arm, the other was drawing blood from my right.
They did an EKG, but I was shaking so badly, they couldn’t get a clear image. I was given a dose of pain medication, but it had no effect.
Next I had a CT scan. The pain took over and I nearly collapsed while moving from the hospital bed to the CT machine. They did a second scan with contrast. Eventually, they moved me to quieter area of the ER to wait for a room to open up in trauma because I was going to be admitted.
The medical team delivered the news: I had a blood clot turned PE or pulmonary embolism in my lung. They administered injection blood thinners into my stomach. I still have nightmares about the size of the needle and the feeling that my insides were burning up as the medicine worked its way in to my system.
The next two days were full of painkillers, ultrasounds, different body scans, shots every 12 hours, blood draws every four hours and a barrage of physicians all asking the same questions: Is there a history of blood clots in your immediate family? Have you suffered an injury in the past week or so? Have you been on any long trips? Are you taking birth control pills?
As it turns out, I did not have any underlying health conditions or clotting disorders, but my birth control pills combined with a long car ride caused my blood clot. Doctors advised that I immediately stop taking contraception and reiterated several times how lucky I was to be alive.
I’m now taking a new oral anticoagulant, but should be able to come off it this October as long as I don’t have any setbacks.
This experience has changed my life. Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone, no matter how happy, young or healthy you may seem. Not a day goes by where I don’t replay that hospital stay in my head. Every day I’m scared that it could happen, or is happening again, even though we’ve eliminated the biggest risk factor. I’m now so grateful for every day and trying to always see the sunshine through the rain.
Reading your stories has been therapeutic and has helped me see that I am not alone in this fight or this very real fear. To all my fellow PE survivors, stay strong. We will get through this and things will get better. To everyone taking hormonal birth control, please know your risk, because this could just as easily happen to you. To anyone who is in any kind of pain or has a feeling that something isn’t right, please seek help immediately, life is too short not to.