I am a thrombosis survivor.
It never occurred to me to use that as a title until I came across an article:
“Thrombosis Survivor…is Hiking the Highest Peak in Every State.”
I was like, “Oh, I had a deep vein thrombosis. I didn’t know it was a ‘thing’ to be called a ‘Thrombosis Survivor.'”
As the owner of a lofty new title, I feel a certain responsibility.
Like every survivor, I have a story. And if my story doesn’t entertain you, maybe it can help someone avoid a pulmonary embolism, a deadly condition which can be a result of a DVT (deep vein thrombosis).
Newly-married Angela was 27 years old, healthy, and only had one known risk factor for DVT according to the Mayo Clinic: She had recently begun taking birth control pills.
Why am I referring to myself in the third person? I have no idea, but let’s continue.
It was New Year’s day, 1994, and Angela was cleaning the tiny bathroom of her tiny apartment. She really likes a clean sink, so she was scrubbing vigorously. As she moved on to clean the mirror, she noticed that her right arm felt heavy.
You know how your head feels when you’re hanging upside down on the monkey bars? Yeah, that’s how it felt. Oops, sorry to interrupt. Back to the story!
“That must have been some workout,” she surmised, as she lifted her arm up, and opened and closed her hand. The sensation didn’t go away. Her arm seemed a little swollen, and a little blue. “Something’s wrong with my arm,” she announced as she walked three feet to her tiny living room, where newly-married Michael was watching football.
Wait a minute! I just realized that I was spending my Saturday cleaning, while my husband was watching football! No fair!
Michael wasn’t a doctor, but his father was, so he inspected, poked and prodded. Even though they were two highly intelligent, extremely good looking people, neither Michael nor Angela could come up with a diagnosis.
This was before Google, kids!
Michael, son of a doctor, suggested she go to a doctor. Angela, daughter of Dan Croom, said it was a Saturday, so there’s no way she’s paying to go to the emergency room! Angela figured she could go to the doctor on Monday if it was still bothering her. She thought she might have strained a tendon or ligament in her shoulder. I told you, she really does like a clean sink!
Hit the pause button. I know what you’re thinking. “What is all this about an arm? I thought a deep vein thrombosis was in a leg!” I know, right? That’s why my story is so special. Keep reading!
On Sunday, Angela woke up to a still-swollen, still-bluish arm. “That must have been some ligament injury to block all the fluid like that,” she thought.
It’s BLOOD, dummy! BLOOD!
Michael lovingly massaged her shoulder and arm all day long. Nothing changed.
We know in hindsight that this was a TERRIBLE idea!
Monday arrived, and Michael drove Angela to an Orthopedic doctor. The Orthopedic inspected, poked and prodded. Then he said, “I’m going to send you to the cardiologist across the street.”
Michael drove Angela to the Cardiologist. The Cardiologist inspected, poked and prodded. Then he said, “I’m going to send you to the hospital across the street.”
“What the what? The hospital? Can I go home and pack a bag first?” she inquired. “No,” the doctor insisted, “You need to go directly to the hospital. I’m going to call ahead. They’ll be ready for you.”
The hospital had a room and a needle ready for Angela.
“Oh, you don’t understand! I hate – OUCH – needles!”
Angela was diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis of her right subclavian vein. Treatment required a 5 day hospital stay while Heparin, a blood thinner was administered via IV.
The easiest to understand description I’ve found is from the Cleveland Clinic:
Subclavian vein thrombosis… is a rare medical condition in the general population. But, it is the one of the most common vascular conditions to affect young, competitive athletes. The condition develops when a vein…in the front of the shoulder… is compressed by the collarbone… or the surrounding muscle.
As the person uses his or her arm repeatedly and the vein is compressed, the vein becomes inflamed. Over time, fibrous tissue builds up in the vein. The inside of the vein eventually becomes too narrow to allow normal blood flow. As a result, a blood clot forms.
Lesson learned: Don’t clean bathrooms!
I’d like to say that was the end of the story, but a terrifying plot twist is ahead.
Over a year later, when Angela learned she was pregnant with her first child, she scheduled a doctor’s appointment. When the doctor learned of her past blood clot, she informed Angela that she would need to take a blood thinner twice a day for the duration of the pregnancy.
“No big deal,” Angela thought, until she learned that the way you “take” a blood thinner that is safe for pregnancy is by
INJECTING YOURSELF WITH A NEEDLE!
TWICE A DAY!
FOR. THE. DURATION. OF. THE. PREGNANCY.
I cried all the way home. I cried because I hated needles. I cried because I could OBVIOUSLY only have one child!
Michael stared at Angela in disbelief when she told him. He didn’t like needles either.
In an effort to support her, he told her he would give her first injection. He unwrapped the syringe from the packaging and filled it with the liquid Heparin. Then he put it down and walked to the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” Angela inquired.
“I have to make some bacon. I’m nauseous,” came the wavering voice from the kitchen.
Angela grabbed the needle, and with a pounding heart, plunged it into her belly fat.
Three kids and 1,440 injections later, I’m proud to say that I survived.
Thrombosis is not always a death sentence. I was a lucky one.
Be aware of the signs and symptoms, and get help quickly if you think you have a blood clot.