I believe that our daily hustle and bustle, which society has pressured us to believe is normal, convinces us to think that obligations are more important than the health and wellness of our own bodies. Ironically, being a doctorate student unintentionally embodies that notion as curriculum eagerly piles up to what eventually feels like an unfathomable mountain to climb. Eat, study, nap, repeat. That’s exactly what being a freshly enrolled doctorate student looked and felt like for me. My self-care was tossed out the window. While I was hyper-focusing on adjusting to my new curriculum, meeting deadlines, and making grades good enough to please my perfectionism, I was subconsciously (and maybe consciously) ignoring the signs and symptoms my body was desperately screaming at me.
What started as a vague cramp in my calf on a Tuesday afternoon was the same debilitating and excruciating pain which led to my three-day stay in the hospital followed by a drastic lifestyle change. Five days after the initial onset of my pain, I freed myself from my stubbornness and sought the medical attention I should have urgently gotten sooner. During the middle of a global pandemic, I painfully limped my way into the emergency department nervous and alone. “I think I might have a blood clot,” I said to the woman at check-in, “I recently changed my birth control.”
A Doppler ultrasound soon revealed three blood clots in my left leg. I admitted that I had recently felt more fatigued while doing basic daily activities such as walking to my vehicle and walking my dog. With that information, a CT scan of my lungs was promptly ordered. While I sat patiently and painfully in the emergency room studying for midterms and awaiting my results, I was abruptly overwhelmed by needles, medications, and a shocking diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) with multiple advanced pulmonary embolisms (PE) in both of my lungs. I was swiftly relocated to an observation floor where my heart and lungs were monitored and my pain was managed.
On October 13, I was wheeled out of the hospital after what I thought would be the end of an unlucky experience. Following up with my physician, I was assured that I was a completely healthy 24-year-old and my blood clots were provoked by birth control. I decided not to settle for that alone, and I advocated to see a hematology specialist. A few months later, I was diagnosed with a rare and considerable protein-C deficiency, which will require a lifelong treatment plan to avoid future complications.
My diagnosis and the physical damage it caused have taken me away from the activities I enjoy most: Horseback riding and running. However, with time and a lot of patience, these activities will become a part of my routine in the same capacity they once were. Today, I continue to heal physically, mentally, and emotionally around my experience and the anxieties that have come with it. Now more equipped to healthfully manage my student workload, I am able to set small attainable goals, find new hobbies of interest, and give myself the love and grace that it surely deserves.
By sharing my story, I hope to give others battling blood clots and other related medical conditions a sense of community and to reassure them that they are not alone in their experiences. Remember to slow down and be patient with yourself after your diagnosis, listen to your body because it is always communicating with you, and be your own advocate, especially when it comes to your health. You are not alone even if you feel like you are. While you may not be at the same mental, emotional or physical capacity that you were prior to your diagnosis, it’s okay to feel your emotions around your diagnosis for a moment or two…or even three. Remember that you are brave, resilient, and strong.