I am an avid recreational bicyclist. At the age of 51, I attempted my first multi-day bicycle tour. A couple of days after the six-day tour, I noticed a sharp pain in my left calf. It didn’t feel like a muscle pull. Honestly, it felt like a blood clot, but there was no redness and no heat. I convinced myself that it was a muscle pull, though. The pain finally subsided after about a week, but then I noticed a twinge in my chest. My 20-mile bike ride that evening was pathetic. Every pedal stroke was an effort, and by the next evening, the pain was intense all the way down my right side. I sucked it up, took some over-the-counter pain medication, and went to dinner and a play with my mom.
That night, I could not get to sleep. When I laid down, the pain was unbearable. I took another pain reliever, which helped, but I still decided to go the ER. Despite telling doctors about my calf pain that preceded my chest pain, they dismissed the possibility of a blood clot in my lung (pulmonary embolism or PE), because my vitals were strong. I mentioned the D-Dimer test to check for PE, but the doctor said it was overkill. The doctor also said that the ingredients in the pain reliever I took would not lessen the pain of a PE, and so I allowed him to talk me out of the test.
I went home from the ER that evening and called my gynecologist when her office opened first thing the next morning and told her about the calf and chest pain. Thank goodness for my gynecologist. She scheduled an ultrasound of my calf, which revealed a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis or DVT). She referred me to a different ER where a CT scan revealed multiple blood clots in my lung, and I was admitted to the hospital.
Reading the patient stories on the NBCA website has been very helpful for me. In those stories, I felt like I was reading my own story again and again – “I had pain in my left calf, I thought it was a muscle pull, and then I had pain in my chest.” I would never have had the confidence to pursue a diagnosis without those other patient stories.
What I learned from this experience is that we know our bodies better than anyone else. Trust yourself. Be aware of the signs of a blood clot and insist on the appropriate diagnostic actions if you believe something is wrong.