Pulmonary Embolisms

Two years ago I was just getting used to eliminating wheat from my diet. I was prediabetic and eliminating sugar, but starting to walk more. My car was dead. I was working part time and taking the train to get to work, calling it exercise. The mini storage I worked at was 8 1/2 acres and it was inventory day so I was walking to every space to make sure the locks matched our records. 

That night I woke up with horrible leg cramps. I figured I just needed more potassium and planned for bananas and avocados from the store the next day. I rubbed out the cramps and went to bed without even waking the ex. 

The next morning I had mild chest pain. It wasn’t bad. Every so often it caught my attention and I’d rub that spot without even realizing it. I was also working as a driver for my ex, so I ran to Costco for him to pick up the cookies for resale. I delivered an order. I was going to do a second one when I felt like I should get my annoying little pains checked out. You aren’t supposed to feel your chest. 

I drove to the emergency room and walked myself in. I mentioned chest pain but I probably didn’t look like I felt it. I have a high pain threshold and have had a few natural childbirths, even with back labor. I’m a badass. 

At first the doctor didn’t look at me. He ordered tests and walked away. He’d tell me a result and order more tests, then walk away. After the cat scan he came back and sat next to the bed. He looked me in the eyes and that’s when I knew it was serious. 

I had pulmonary embolisms and they covered my entire left lung with a few clots on my right. I was sent up to the cardiac floor with someone to push my bed and a nurse to make sure I didn’t die on the way up. My birth control pills, or the hormones in them gave me blood clots. 

Getting into my bed seemed to stress everyone out because I moved too quickly. The danger of a blood clot dislodging and finding a home in my brain or heart means I could have had a heart attack or stroke and died within seconds. I wasn’t too worried because at least I wasn’t doing jumping jacks. 

The fear of the situation never really settled in me. I had spent a month hospitalized with the twins two years before and I was used to the hum of machines, the squeak of nursing clogs on linoleum, the nurses that would shift between urgency and calm . . . Smiles and detachment. 

I didn’t realize this was an anniversary (because I’m not that morbid) until Facebook reminded me (because they have no memory filter) and it looked like: 

Conversations with nurses:

Me: I’m sensitive to wheat. 

Nursing assistant: here’s a white roll. It’s not wheat. 


RN: I need to clock out for a break and I’ll be right back for your history. 

Me: you don’t have to cut into your lunch for me. I’ll stay up. 

RN: it’s just a break and we work through those. 

Me: maybe that’s why they forgot to connect me to the heparin IV in the ER. 


Me: can you move the IV? It’s pinching my hand. 

RN: that’s considered invasive. It’s not something I can just do. 

Me: come on, I haven’t started the Coumadin yet. Apparently I’m really great at clotting. 


RN: are you a smoker?

Me: I smoked 2 packs a day about 14 years ago. Actually, I bought 2 packs a day. I usually shared my cancer sticks. Worst investment ever. 



RN: do you have an advance directive?

Me: no, but I’ve thought about it. (I start to explain) 

RN: no! Wait! I can’t discuss it with you. 

Getting blood draws and vitals every couple of hours with bad hospital food is not pleasant. At the same time, I get to have a nice view and lounge with no bra or pants. No pants!!!

After being in the cardiac intensive care unit for a few days and gradually being permitted out of bed, I started walking laps around the unit. I was on blood thinners for a few months. I can never again go on hormonal birth control because the risk is too great that I’ll have blood clots again and any future pregnancy would be on blood thinners and high risk. I won’t say all birth control pills will kill you. I’m just lucky enough to have a body that doesn’t like me to live too wildly because then I wouldn’t have a story to tell. 

Birth control pills and exercise tried to kill me. Because of this experience, I get everything that’s abnormal checked out immediately. It feels like I’m a hypochondriac but when I think of my kids, it’s worth a few hours in an ER where I get to meet doctors (that are never my type) and ask:

“Are you here to save my life? I’ll be your damsel in distress.”

“I hope you don’t rush through every single one of my vital signs.”

“The nurse took my temperature but I’m sure it’s gone up since you came in.”

“Do you do this sort of thing with all of your patients, or am I just a lucky girl.”

“I know it’s the nurse’s job, but I’d be happy to let you stick me.”

SO TOTALLY KIDDING. 

Humor is important in a hospital. You go in healthy and they poke and prod you with long wait times. You go in dying or think you could be dying and that generally sucks too. 

You go often enough and you learn the lingo and know a heparin lock is coming. You prepare to be exposed and touched and pleasantly surprised when exam gloves hold warmth. You ask for heated blankets and nap when you can. You know that your nurses are your lifeline because your doctors won’t really have time to talk. 

You notice patterns in how busy it is. Monday’s are crowded with people that wait all weekend for a doctor’s note unless it’s cold or raining because people prefer staying home, and hot weather brings pregnant ladies kickstarting labor with dehydration. Honestly, I’d rather be boring and healthy. 

This week I will celebrate my life. I’ll take myself out for a really great meal. I’ll buy myself flowers and pick out lingerie. I’ll take a candle lit bubble bath and appreciate the last two years that saw near death, a broken marriage and the opportunity to fall in love with myself again. . . The opportunity to fall in love with someone new. 

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