The Go Red campaign focuses on women’s heart health which is the number one killer of women. I suffered a stroke, a stroke that came after my pulmonary embolism was discovered. Sure a blood clot is not a cardiac event, but it still is an event. An event that only 1 out of 5 survive.
If you ask me those odds are shitty. Fuck only one out of five people who have a P.E. will survive. That statistic is one I cannot escape and it haunts me to this day. I am the ONE out of FIVE. I’ve lived seven borrowed years on this earth and I’ve done my best to make every second count. I cannot undo the events of October 2009, I can only move past them.
Five days before my 27th birthday I drove myself to the ER. My chest felt like it was being split open and I could barely breathe. I collapsed as soon as I got inside and woke up to a nurse telling me “well you are not having a heart attack and you can either help me take your clothes off or I can cut them off.” I opted to help. I was confused and gasping for air. Every breath I took ripped through my body. I’ve never been in labor but I imagine the pain I was feeling is on that level. The ER doctor told me that my oxygen level was below 50% and he was leaning towards an infection in my lungs. He was going to run some tests. As he headed toward the door he stopped and asked “are you on a birth control?”
I uttered yes and he explained about the d-dimer test and that it checked for possible blood clots. He was certain it wasn’t that, he just wanted to check to be sure. The lab came in and took my blood. It would be a bit before the results came back. As I was being taken to x-ray the Doctor stopped us and stated “put her back in her room she doesn’t need an x-ray.” I thought this meant it wasn’t serious and I was on my way home. He calmly explained “the d-dimer came back positive. We need to do a CT scan to look at your chest to check for any blood clots. The contrast dye if you are allergic to it it could kill you. But it’s your best option.”
I looked at him and said “I might die either way right?” And signed my name to the consent form. The Radiology Tech said it would take about an hour for the results to come back. I waited and listened to the clock tick the minutes away. Thirty minutes went by, I heard a phone ring and the doors voice in the hall. I only made out “shit! You have to be kidding me!” Followed by a page for extra staff to the ER. Then I heard foot steps, lots of them running towards my little room. The doctor popped in and explained “you have a pulmonary embolis.” I stared at him blankly and he explained “you have a blood clot the size of a ten cent gumball blocking the valve from your left lung to your heart. Blood and oxygen can’t get through.”
Those words were a lot to process. In that moment I did not fully comprehend the shit I was in and how bad it was. He explained I needed blood thinners and that I would be in the hospital for a while. He stepped out for a moment to put in RX orders. And that is when I lost my words. My body felt strange, it felt like I was sinking and I couldn’t get my words out. The heart monitor started beeping and everyone was frantically moving around. My blood pressure was well above 200 and I was fading. Clot busters, TPA to be exact were ordered and given, my stroke was stopped right in it’s tracks and my life was spared. I live with the knowledge that I almost died 5 days before my birthday.
I became accustomed to my new life. A life of blood thinners, scans, diet change, and never ending doctors appointments. I was angry and bitter. I wanted to put a why behind the how. I wanted to know why this happened to me and how I could prevent others from enduring my fate. To this day the answer is still hard to swallow.
Truth: my pulmonary embolism and stroke were 100% preventable. The blood clot was caused by the progesterone in the Nuvaring, my birth control. One week before this occurred I had my annual check up and I told my doctor that I was feeling unusually tired, had redness and warmth on my upper leg. She ignored my symptoms and told me “oh just go home drink some water and walk more.” Since she didn’t think anything of it, I didn’t either. Boy was I wrong. I now know I had all of the classic signs of a potential blood clot and that a simple d-dimer test could have caught the clot before it reached my lung and brain. My whole ordeal could have been prevented if only my doctor had truly listened to me that day.
I go Red for women’s health. All of us need to realize that we know our bodies better than anyone. We know when something isn’t right and we need to listen to our guts. It’s time we put our health first and push for the answers that we need. Our symptoms are and will always be different from men, because hello we are not men. It breaks my heart to know that young women are often dismissed. We shouldn’t be, blood clots, heart disease and stroke do not know age and they can occur at anytime. Love yourself! Make a doctors appointment and make sure you are being heard. If one doctor won’t listen keep on pressing until you find someone who does. You only have one life, one heart, and you deserve the very best.
Don’t be like AJ, she didn’t push for answers and almost died 5 days before her 27th birthday.