...I got my life back. Today is the five year anniversary of a surgery that saved my life. Some may think it's morbid for me to celebrate this anniversary year after year however it is a day for me to reflect about my year of poor health and celebrate all that I am lucky to be alive for.
On a random January day over five years ago, I ran up the stairs of my basement where I lived and when I got to the top, I was out of breath. I didn't think much of it other than I was getting out of shape. A three sport athlete all of my life, I was always in good shape until I hit college. A month later I noticed it was getting worse and I started to cough as well. Walking to my classes on campus was difficult for me and when I'd get there I was panting for air, completely embarrassed. Then I would start hacking away coughing my lungs up. I had no idea what was going on but my mother got worried and took me to the emergency room. There they decided I had bronchitis. Okay no problem, I thought. I did my antibiotics and that was that.
Of course that was not all. I seemed to just get worse. I got to work one day (I was waitressing at a steak house) and I started to just fall over and pass out. My coworker caught me and my mom picked me up. This happened again at school when I almost fell down the stairs but was able to stop myself. Again off to the emergency room I went. This time I was dehydrated they said. They pumped me with fluid and sent me on my way.
My breathing just got worse and worse. I went to a concert with friends but couldn't dance like i used to without doubling over to catch my breath. I couldn't walk to classes any more without feeling so lost for air. It was a horrible battle I was not winning and I felt lost. Again we went to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with asthma. Never in my life had I smoked or had asthma but all of a sudden they were giving me an inhaler telling me I needed to use it. I thought it was ridiculous but was willing to try it. A week later I was due for a trip with my friends to Texas but was nervous I couldn't go due to my health issues. I went to my doctor who gave me an exam and checked my lungs the day before I left. She cleared me to go and said I was doing better.
In Texas things got so much worse. My friends and I had to go at a super slow pace otherwise I couldn't keep up. Just getting ready for bed at night and going to the bathroom was running a marathon for me. Eventually one day I woke up and just the mere motion of sitting up in bed, I lost my breath. It was so scary I thought I was going to die right there. When I got back to the airport I sat and cried wanting to be home and wanting to be healthy again.
When I got back to Connecticut, they wheeled me off the plane in a wheel chair because I couldn't walk. My mom was horrified at the sight of me. When we got into the car we again went straight to the emergency room. And again they found nothing wrong with me. I sat in the bed crying to the doctor that there was something wrong and I was not leaving until they figured it out. They finally decided to do a CAT scan just in case. That CAT scan was the turning point in my life. The doctors and the entire ER staff came running into my room, looked at my mother and aunt (who was also a nurse at that hospital) and said I was lucky to be alive. I had a massive blood clot the size of a fist lodged in my lung. I was not scared nor phased at what they said. I was relieved. They finally knew what was wrong with me and I said to everyone right then that I was just happy I didn't have asthma. But the enormity of the problem had not hit me and I was now in for the longest trial of my life.
They say that when someone gets a blood clot in their lung they have an hour before it gets to their brain and they die.
The blood clot (or clots) as we found out later on were so lodged in my lungs, had been there at least three months, and so they were not dissolving with the blood thinner medication I was on. After months of intense pain, in and out of the hospital, and trying to graduate from college, the doctors didn't know what else to do. I could either leave the clots in, have a horrible quality of life and probably not be here now or I could have surgery. Just that word, surgery, scared me. But it was the only thing I could do so they found me the best doctor around to do it.
There is only one hospital in the world that performs the kind of surgery I needed on a daily basis and it is in San Diego. UCSD Thornton Hospital was where I wanted to go and where my doctors said I had the best chance. After numerous tests and paperwork, it was decided. My dad's coworkers threw a big benefit for my family so we could afford to fly out to San Diego for 3 weeks, rent a condo, and help with expenses. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for us. My whole family was able to fly out with me as well as my aunt. I spent a week doing more tests and then it was time for the surgery.
The procedure was a ten hour open-heart like surgery technically called Pulmonary Thromboendartectomy. They cut me open, turn off the machines and take out the clot, then they turn me back on to recirculate. Then the turned me off again and looked at the other side where they found an even bigger one that was unseen until then. I was clinically dead for a total of 22 minutes. After the surgery, I was put in the ICU for a day and when I woke up I had a ton of tubes in my mouth and was scared to death. I didn't know what was going on and just wanted to go home.
I spent a week in the hospital recovering and it was a hard, painful process. I was angry, hurting so much, and grateful at the same time. Luckily I recovered so fast I was out of the hospital a week after my surgery and we even got to fly home two days later.
This was just the beginning of my new life I knew. I had a long way to go. Recovering for that kind of surgery is difficult and long. I still have pain to this day. I have permanent lung damage because of the clots which causes a constant stabbing pain in my side. At first I could barely handle it and was in the hospital most of the time. Now I'm so used to it sadly enough. My chest still aches if I do certain movements and I am on blood thinner medication for life.
You might be thinking, how did this happen? Well, I was on the birth control patch (which I will not name). This patch proved to be very dangerous for women and some women have actually died from it. On top of that I have a very minor clotting disorder that usually wouldn't give me any problems at all unless I was on some time of hormone drugs. There you have it. It is very important for women to know if they have a clotting disorder before taking birth control and believe it or not, so many people have clotting disorders. Get checked out ladies! And on top of that if you are on the birth control patch, stop taking it immediately. It is dangerous, much more so than any pill.
So that is a very brief version of my story. That year was the hardest of my life. I have never felt so much pain or despair. But at the same time I was able to graduate from college and I met the love of my love. I would do it all over again if I knew if it would be the only way I met Jared.
So today I celebrate five years ago being wheeled into the surgery room scared out of my mind, thinking I just might die right there, and never have a life again. Today I celebrate, even though I do every day of my life, how I'm grateful to be here.