I Ignored My Symptoms: Jim’s Story

I Ignored My Symptoms: Jim’s Story

My name is Jim Murphy. I live in North Carolina. I am 62 years old. I am a victim of a bilateral pulmonary embolism (PE). My symptoms were telling. I ignored them. You shouldn’t.

Five years ago, morbidly obese, I began a program of diet and exercise. Over a year, I dropped from 280 pounds to 190 pounds. I stopped the strict diet, but continued my daily walking, settling on four miles per day. I now weigh 230 pounds.

A little over a year ago, I began to notice that my left calf would swell and display some pain when I walked. I thought nothing of it. My only previous health issue was hospitalization for a severely splintered ankle forty years ago.

During my annual physicals, my cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides and all other blood chemistry were right where they should be. Although my blood pressure for most of my life had run in the 140/80 range, it was stable and I felt great. The calf pain lasted about three weeks and then went away. Okay, the body heals itself, I thought.

I have my teeth cleaned quarterly. In March of 2013, my hygienist refused to clean them because my blood pressure was registering in the 160-165 range. They required me to get medical clearance to continue. In June, I had my annual physical, and again my blood pressure (BP) was over 160. All blood chemistry was spot on, and my doctor said my high BP was likely due to apprehension of the office visit.

When I returned to have my teeth cleaned, my blood pressure was again high: 158. I had my medical clearance and my cleaning continued. Since I had skipped a cleaning, it required two visits. During the second visit, a week later, my BP was still at 160. I began to get a bit concerned, but did nothing.

On Thursday, July 18th, 2013 I set out for my daily walk. I made it about a quarter mile from the house and felt something was wrong. I returned home, and by mid-day a recurring pain in my left side began to increase in severity. I ignored it; the body heals itself, I thought. That night, I had chills and crawled under a quilt. I slept quite poorly due to pain when I took a breath. I also sweated so much the sheets were actually wet. The next morning the pain lingered. No worries, the body heals itself, I thought. I needed to go to our winter home to feed our semi-feral outdoor cats and set a raccoon trap, so I headed out by myself. I still had the lingering pain.

It was very difficult for me to sleep the next night, Friday. Whether I was on my side, my tummy or my back, each breath brought a jolt of pain, as if someone was sticking a knife in my side. I awakened the next morning, took pride in having captured the raccoon, and had my morning coffee. When I got up to refill the cup, the stab of pain in my side almost brought me to my knees.

My wife, fretting and worrying at our lake home, had been busy on the Internet. From her research, she had diagnosed my condition as an enlarged spleen. She called my doctor, left a message, and got a return message that I needed to seek emergency room care immediately. She called and said she was coming to our winter home, where I was (1.5 hours away from where she was located) to take me to the ER.

We arrived at the satellite care center at 1:00 P.M. By 6:00 P.M. on Saturday. I was on a heparin (IV blood thinner or anticoagulant) drip being transported to a major medical center.

I was released Monday afternoon. My wife administered Lovenox injections twice daily. When I saw my primary care doctor on Thursday, my INR had risen from  Sunday’s 0.9 to 2.9. I stopped the Lovenox injections and am continuing with the warfarin, (an oral blood thinner or anti-clotting medication) 7.5 mg.

In the hospital, they did extensive ultrasound imaging of my heart and legs. No evidence of clots was found in my heart. The veins in my legs were so deep the technician could not get a good read of them. I had no family history of blood clots. I had never flown more than a couple of hours, except one trip to France. I never thought I could be a candidate for blood clots as someone who takes regular daily walks.

The seriousness of my condition has yet to hit me. I’m taking the time to write this in the hope that readers become aware that blood clots can hit anybody. I think the stories of the young athletes on the website who run and work out daily drives that home. I want people to know that recurring pain in the side and knife-like pains during breathing ought to send you to the ER. Everyone knows symptoms of stroke and heart attack. More deaths are attributed to blood clots than HIV, breast cancer and automobile accidents combined. Learn from my experience and save someone’s life.  It may be yours.

Take Home Messages:

  • Do not ignore your symptoms
  • Do not ignore pain in your calf – even if the pain goes away. See a doctor
  • Do not ignore unexplained increases in your blood pressure
  • Do not ignore lingering pain anywhere
  • Do not ignore two nights of painful sleep and pain that makes your knees buckle
  • If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor
  • Do not argue with your wife (or husband or significant other) if s/he and your doctor advise you to get to an ER
  • If you have recurring pain in the side and it feels like a knife is causing you pain when you breathe, don’t hesitate. Go to the ER
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