Today is an anniversary of sorts. It’s not a wedding anniversary or one that brings back happy memories. No, it is one that I never saw coming, never even imagined, but thanks to God, I live to tell. So I suppose that I tell you this memory, not wistfully, but with zeal and gratitude that one year later, I write this post.
First, I know, like everyone else, that my days are numbered and that we are promised nothing beyond this moment. Nevertheless, on June 2, 2010, when two pulmonary emboli forced me to confront my mortality, I was ill-prepared.
In hindsight, it seems so silly of me but at the time, I thought that I had nothing more than bronchitis, or at worse, pneumonia. I was having difficulty breathing and when I called my doctor’s office, I learned that he was out of the office for two weeks. His nurse told me that if the symptoms worsened, I should go to the nearest emergency room. I didn’t and choose to wait for my doctor’s return. On the morning that he returned, I called his office. I requested an appointment. Upon hearing my symptoms, he refused me an office visit, and told me to go to the nearest emergency room. I thought that was overkill and insisted on an office visit. He told me that if I came into the office, he would send me directly to the emergency room. I relented and went to the nearest E.R., where initially they clearly seemed doubtful that there was anything that warranted an er. visit. They repeatedly asked me, “Who told you to come here?,” and each time I replied, “My doctor.” I did not want to be there anyway and certainly did not want to be viewed as someone who runs to the emergency room needlessly, so my doctor was taking the blame.
At first, the standard examination, x-ray and such indicated no serious problem and the doctor appeared ready to herd me out the door. I figured that I’d get a script for a ventilator and go home. Well, the first sign that something was wrong was seen in my blood work. The doctor who before had to make an effort to appear remotely interested, became overly interested. He came in to tell me that there was a problem in my blood work and they needed a CT scan. About 15-20 minutes passed between the scan and the doctor’s return to my room. Instead of standing up, he sat down and I said, “I guess it’s the lawyer in me, but if there was nothing wrong, you would have said what you had to say and left. Since you sat down, I assume that you have bad news.” He gave a little smile and mentioned that his back hurt, but said, “Yes, I have some bad news.”
In brief, my blood was “sticky” and prone to clot, more so than is normal. These clots travel through the body, and end up in the brain causing sudden death. Mine were found in my lungs before they travelled to my brain. The doctor said, “you could have died at any moment before these clots were discovered.” The dam broke and the water works sprang forth.
All that I could think about was my loves: my mother who has already lost one child and didn’t deserve to lose another; my children, each so special in their own way and whom I love with all my heart ((I cannot overlook the two best son-in-laws in the world. I could not have chosen better men for each of my daughters. They mean the world to me and our family.); my g’children, especially Daisy who is the one that, because of geography, I know best. I’ve watched her grow from an infant to the independent thinker that she was even at 4 1/2 years old; my husband, who after years of challenges that would have broken up many marriages, we are intact and have decades to grow and love–together; my sisters who even though I am not close to, I love with all my heart and wish them nothing but good health, joy and happiness; my family who as the years go by is ever more important to me as a connection to who I am and where I am from; and finally, my friends, some of whom closer than family.
After that conversation with the E.R. doctor, things happened quickly. I was given the first of many injections of Lovenox, a blood thinner. I was prepared to be transferred via ambulance, to a highly skilled facility in Austin and within 30 minutes I found myself on a surreal journey. Cars pulled over to the shoulder to allow us passage, something that I’ve done countless times in the past without giving much thought to the passenger in the ambulance.
In all candor, I was terrified, because this was the closest that I’d come to death. Granted, fibromyalgia was so debilitating that it forced me to stop practicing law, but fibromyalgia by it self doesn’t kill. There are many times that my pain is so great that I think that I am near death, but I live by the belief that, this too shall pass, and each time it does.
My memory is cloudy at this point, but I remember feeling overwhelmed and anxious because people were descending upon me from all sides. I was being poked and prodded, asked a million questions, while copious amounts of blood was being drawn from my body. What compounded my fear was the unknown. I did not know what happened, why, and whether it would happen again.
Hours later, I met my doctor for the first time. He walked, sat down and reassured me that I was fortunate. His words were, “It is not common that I’d be sitting here talking to someone with your diagnosis, because the clots are not discovered in time and they die.” Now, if his intent was to allay my fears, it didn’t. However, he did explain to me what happened and the plan for treatment. He also ordered tests to determine whether the clots originated from my legs or my heart. Both were negative. As of this date, and with one round of genetic testing behind me, no one knows what caused my pulmonary emboli.
For months after the diagnosis, I was so terrified that I would not wake the following morning, that I couldn’t breathe, which did nothing but feed my fears. When I did sleep, I had terrible nightmares. It was probably three months before I could sleep through the night and longer still until I let go of my persistent worries about a return of the emboli. At this point, my choices are (1) to stop the blood thinners and watch and wait to see if the blood clots return, or (2) to continue the blood thinners and accept the risks posed by them. They are blood thinners and as such, a minor injury, could very easily turn into a serious problem and warrant an emergency room visit.
The deciding factor for me is the unknown. I can speak only for myself, but stopping the blood thinner and ‘watching and waiting’ is not for me. It is certain to negatively affect my emotional and mental health. At least for now, weighing the options, I chose option 2. Sure it requires frequent blood tests, but then, it allows me to sleep at night, relatively sure that I won’t have a repeat of last year.
Thanks for listening.