I Nearly Died From A Pulmonary Embolism, And I'm Grateful To Be Here To Tell The Tale

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I Nearly Died From A Pulmonary Embolism, And I’m Grateful To Be Here To Tell The Tale

Kathy Soppet

I love the fall.

It is my favorite season, one I look forward to all year. I couldn’t wait for it this year especially. I would be fully recovered from my surgery and ready to make wonderful memories with my family. Apple picking, pumpkin picking, fall festivals, long walks, birthdays, and Halloween fun.

I had a rough summer, facing the turmoil of severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and a major surgery. I couldn’t wait to be healed and get a long-awaited break.

And then it happened.

I was walking my daughter to her school which is very close to our house, when I could barely breathe, and the left side of my chest hurt. My chest felt a heaviness I’ve never felt before, and my heart was beating rapidly. I felt lightheaded and scared but hid it from my daughter while I whispered goodbye.

Little did I know at the time that it could have been my last goodbye to her. My sweet precious girl.

Nearly 1/3 of people treated for pulmonary embolism will die. Wow. That statistic just hit me like a ton of bricks. I have to take a moment to recover.

I walked home with my 5-year-old son very slowly. A walk which usually takes 5 minutes took about 20. I called my husband and said something was wrong and that I needed to go to the emergency room right after he dropped off our son at school. My son who is now 6 years old. My son who still needs me to teach him so many new things such as how to live a full, safe life with severe food allergies. My precious boy who still calls me “Mama” and falls asleep by my side each night before bed.

Though I was very nervous and having trouble breathing, I really thought I had pneumonia and pleurisy again. As someone with asthma and many chronic illnesses, I get sick very easily.

I was given a bed and an IV very quickly. Soon after they gave me a full blood panel.

I was completely shocked and caught off guard when the ER doctor told me that he had good news and bad news.

My gaze fell to the floor as I tried to hold back tears.

The way that he said it scared the hell out of me. It didn’t seem like the usual “I’m about to tell you that you have pneumonia” look.

Bad news? I immediately thought of cancer and of some other horrible possibilities.

The doctor told me that my D-dimer test was high and that they would have to admit me to the hospital. I thought, what the hell is a D-dimer test? I quickly found out that a D-dimer test is a test which measures blood clot risk. I had never heard of it before, but it is a very valuable diagnostic tool, one which started the doctors on the path to saving my life.

The good news was that I would get my own room at the hospital very quickly and be able to get a CT scan to see if there were indeed blood clots somewhere. I was immediately given the blood thinner Lovenox through my IV. Blood thinners work to prevent existing clots from growing, and toward preventing new ones from forming. I was given an echocardiogram and Doppler ultrasound of my legs. Thankfully, those tests were fine.

I never had a blood clot before, but had a few of the risk factors including supplemental estrogen from birth control pills, recent surgery, and bed rest. According to the Mayo Clinic, some other risk factors may include pregnancy, cancer, heart disease, smoking, long trips, and being overweight (especially in women who smoke or have high blood pressure.)

I knew there were some risk factors from taking birth control pills, especially the Yaz pills that I was taking for my PMDD. I also knew that my recent hysterectomy/oophorectomy held such risks. I took those risks willingly, never thinking that I, a woman in my 40s who had never had a blood clot, would actually get one.

Well, welcome to my October surprise!

I was in the hospital for three days and the entire staff was warm, friendly, and very knowledgeable. I hated being there for so long away from my family and was very frightened. The nurses, assistants, nutritionists, and doctors all helped me to feel like I wasn’t alone in between my family visits. I joked with one of the staff and called her Nurse Ratched, every time she stuck a needle into my belly. My belly which is extremely sore and bruised from twice-daily injections. My belly which once held my sweet babies is now a giant pin cushion. Brief pause as I imagine Hellraiser’s face imprinted on my belly. Okay, back to my belly, which may be in pain, but will be the place through which the medicine is placed, to help me live again.

I had a CT scan with contrast which diagnosed me with multiple bilateral pulmonary emboli. I will have to be on blood thinners for at least six months and take many blood tests and scans. There are other blood thinners our there in pill form, but I reacted badly to them.

The recovery differs for each patient from a few weeks to many months or years. For me, it is taking a long time. I had just recovered from major surgery when I got my diagnosis. I was out of shape and am now extra-anxious due to my new medical condition. It has been hard to breathe, especially due to my asthma, and hard to walk far distances.

I had some anxiety before, but now it is at an all-time high. It is hard to get things done or leave the house on many days, but I must especially to exercise to aid my recovery and prevent more blood clots from forming. I am currently on daily medication until the anxiety improves. I am hoping that it will soon, and that when I am off of blood thinners in the spring, things will get as back to normal as they can.

I face a long, scary, anxiety-provoking six months, but with the help of my family, friends, and many doctors, I will get through this. I will keep taking baby steps, and pray I will not have more roadblocks on the way to full recovery. I will take it day by day. I will look at the faces of my children and my husband, and thank God I am still here. I will appreciate their beautiful faces even more now. I will try to show them how much I love them until my last breath. I will work harder to make a difference because this scare has taught me that my time here is limited.

Please learn the symptoms of pulmonary embolism and talk to friends and family about this important and dangerous condition. It can affect you no matter your sex, and risk factors increase with age. Discuss the risks of using birth control pills with your daughters and doctors, especially the ones containing drospirenone, which can dramatically increase the risk of fatal blood clots. I truly believe these pills were the cause of my unprovoked blood clots. These pills also caused a family friend to suffer a stroke.

I did not know the symptoms of pulmonary embolism weeks ago. But I did trust my instincts that something was very wrong. Going to the ER that day saved my life, and now though my activity is limited, I can enjoy my favorite season once again.

I love the fall.

Now more than ever.