It has been exactly one year today since I was diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and bilateral pulmonary emboli (PE). I knew I went to the emergency room sometime in the middle of April but didn’t remember the exact date. I logged into Facebook this morning and was reminded of this through Facebook memories. I cannot believe it has been a year. It feels so long ago but at the same time it also feels like it happened just yesterday. Ironically as I sit here writing this, this was almost the exact time I received the news. I remember going for a CT scan of my chest. When I came back from CT scan my nurse reconnected me to the IV fluids that were ordered but my IV site started leaking. My mom and I joked around with the nurse saying I’m probably being discharged soon so she might as well just remove the IV. It all happened so fast. About a minute or two after returning to my room the emergency room attending came in and told me, “well you do have a blood clot in your lung after all, not just one clot or one lung, but many clots in both lungs.”
I remember thinking the radiologist must have somehow mixed up the scan he was reading with my name, there was no way this could happen to me. They initiated the “PERP” team (pulmonary embolism response team). Within a short amount of time I was met by a special team consisting of cardiologists, pulmonologists, etc. And special medications such as a Heparin drip and tests such as cardiac enzymes (to rule out heart strain) that needed to be performed in a certain time frame.
When I received this news I had just turned 25 years old ten days prior. I had a little bit of a prior medical history but considered myself fairly healthy. Sometimes when we are young or work in healthcare as I do, we feel somewhat invincible. When you’re young you don’t think about this stuff, it’s only supposed to happen to older people right? Working in healthcare we are reminded of human mortality. Seeing illness, death and dying on a daily basis but never think it is something that can suddenly happen to one of us.
Although I never thought I would be diagnosed with a DVT/PE I went to the emergency room because I noticed some changes, I was concerned my symptoms were correlating with this diagnosis. It’s really important to be in tune with your body’s normal baseline that way you can recognize when there is a potentially life threatening change. When I first went to the emergency room I honestly was a litte embarrassed. I knew I was feeling off but I still felt pretty healthy. I thought I might have been overly cautious.
A little less than four weeks prior to my diagnosis I had arthroscopic hip surgery on my right hip to repair a torn labrum/debridement for femoroacetabular impingement. A few days after surgery I noticed intermittent pain in my right leg. I remember I kept looking in the mirror or asking my parents, “does the leg look red or swollen to you?” The thing was the leg was never red or swollen, as a result it was thought to be normal post-operative pain. Fast forward a few weeks later and I started to notice a new concerning symptom, shortness of breath and tachycardia when I climbed up the stairs. The morning I went to the emergency room I remember climbing the stairs, feeling short of breath and my heart racing. But when I sat down or just walked normally it went away. Having the medical knowledge that I have I thought to myself, could this be a DVT/PE? But this wasn’t the first time I felt this sort of symptom. In the past I had an ablation for tachycardia. This irregularly fast heart rate sometimes made me experience similar symptoms so I though it might just be that. Not to mention the day before going to the emergency room I met up with one of my friends from nursing school. We got lunch, went to a few breweries, and it was a warm day so we walked around. I thought to myself, I’m probably just dehydrated and it’s causing an exacerbation of my tachycardia.
As I stated earlier, I was embarrassed going to the hospital thinking I was just being overly cautious. But It was that day that I learned it’s better to be cautious than to be care-free and just brush something off as nothing. Not everyone is going to present with the textbook signs and symptom. Especially young patients, the body has a large capacity to compensate. The human body is extremely complex, know your “normal” baseline so you can identify changes you may be experiencing. It’s better to rule something out and know that it’s nothing then to ignore something that can be potentially fatal.