Sooooooooo I just got out of the hospital after having a pulmonary embolism (there really is no other way to start a post like this). I wish I could blame my lack of blogging on that but I was only there for three days. As this probably could have been prevented or addressed sooner, I want to share the experience in case something similar happens to you or someone you know. Plus I have a few observations about the whole thing but I feel like I need to get the serious stuff out of the way first.
For the past couple weeks, I have had a pain in my upper right calf that felt like someone was inside my muscle and clenching it and not letting go. At first, it felt like no big deal – I workout a lot and am always dealing with some sort of thing. But nothing I did (stretching, resting, icing, etc) helped it. I went to the ortho who thought it was just swelling related to my ever present knee issues and prescribed a series of cortisone shots.
Then a few days after this, I started having trouble breathing every time I exerted myself – even just going up the stairs. Again, I’m not out of shape so it was weird and the longer it was present, the more concerned I got.
When I went to the ortho that week for my weekly cortisone shot (which were not relieving the pain), I mentioned the breathing issue to him and he said it was likely allergies. Makes sense. Spring just arrived here and there are a lot of blooming trees, etc. I had gone to another doctor and asked her about the breathing thing and she also thought it was allergies. My coworkers, the trainers at the gym, my friends, etc. all thought the same thing. Literally everyone thought it was allergies.
It wasn’t allergies.
Cut to this past Sunday when I am at Crossfit. I was slower than normal doing the workout and then all of a sudden at the end of it, I couldn’t catch my breath and got really dizzy. I remember sitting down on a bench and then the next thing I knew, I had people hovering over me telling me to stay with them. I had apparently passed out and hit the floor with my face (got an awesome scab on my face to remind me of it). It was terrifying.
And then it happened again.
I laid there for a bit and thought I was feeling better because I could breathe again. My friend helped me walk only a few steps to the changing room but I proceeded to start hyperventilating. I passed out again and this time I had a seizure. I woke up to one of the guys prying my jaw open to keep my tongue from going down my throat.
Quick side note: if it wasn’t for my friend, who is a nurse and directed the others on what to do to help, I am sure I would have been a lot worse off. I am so fortunate she was there and words will never be able to express my gratitude to her.
They called the ambulance and I went to the hospital and after they conducted a CT, I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. Essentially the pain in my legs were blood clots (also known as Deep Vein Thrombosis) and they traveled up my bloodstream and got lodged in my lungs. They were blocking the blood flow from my heart to the lungs and so my heart was also very dilated from having to work so hard.
To treat it, they inserted a catheter into my groin that went all the way to my lung and it administered medication directly to the clots in my lungs. There were apparently several clots in both sides of my lungs and the catheter had to stay there for 16-24 hours.
This meant no moving, which is torture for someone like me. I could not rise above 20 degrees for risk of the catheter moving and then causing internal bleeding. Even after the catheter came out, I had to lay still for 6 hours so that the incision could heal. It took so long partially because it was my pulmonary artery and partially because I am on a crapload of blood thinners, which make it harder to clot.
Thankfully the procedure seems to have worked and my heart is now almost back to normal. Unfortunately I still have a few small clots lingering in my leg and will have to take blood thinners and wear a long stocking for the next six months in hopes they will go away on their own. Munich is not a city that really has air conditioning so I may be the only person in the city praying it just stays cool for the next six months.
I am home now and resting for the next two weeks or so. The doctor said the embolism put a lot of stress on my heart and lungs causing me to be really weary at the moment. But its all looking positive and I’m happy it went as well as it did.
Before I go, I need to thank a few people.
To my friend Nadia, the Crossfit trainers, and the other guys who helped, thank you. Thank you for sitting with me and for watching over me. For translating to the paramedics. For pulling my tongue out when I seized. For giving me your sweatshirt when I was cold. For showing so much kindness in general. I was so scared but having you there was comforting. I would have been worse off had it not been for you and your help. I am eternally in your debt.
To my family and friends near and far who have sent me well wishes, messages to see how I was doing, offers of help, Amazon gift cards to keep me entertained, and everything in between. It makes these experiences easier when you are surrounded (even virtually) by people who love and care about you. You have my utmost appreciation and love.
To the doctors, nurses, techs, and even the guys who wheeled me around at Klinikum Rechts der Isar, thank you for your amazing care. I know not a single one of you will read this but I would be remiss if I did not give you a shout-out.
And finally to my dearest love, Jerry. I don’t know what I would do without you. Thank you for rushing over to be with me and not leaving my side. Thank you for bringing me the entire house on the first night in the ICU, even though I couldn’t move or keep anything with me. Thank you for coming to sit with me even though you hadn’t eaten or done anything for yourself. You are the most selfless and loving human being on the planet and I am not sure if I will ever deserve you.
I got lucky. This stuff is no joke and it could have been worse. I didn’t ignore these issues – I knew there were problems and I sought help for them but unfortunately I was just misdiagnosed. I don’t fit the profile so I am not surprised. This often happens to older people or those who have been on really long plane rides or have a family history of these things. But now I know what to look for and will be more insistent if I feel it happen again.