Thanks for all of your positive comments regarding my last post on the 20 miler – you guys are great!
I have to admit, I haven’t been feelin’ like myself lately and maybe let the run and it’s not-so-great aftermath get to me more than usual. I usually try to keep it fun, light and food/running relevant on the blogster without getting too personal, but…
I’ve decided to switch it up today (with good reason, I hope…)
Besides the angst of starting a new semester and being bombarded with school, work and marathon training, something has been lying heavily on my mind.
A year ago right now, I almost died. I came thisclose. And guess what?
I had no idea for an entire month.
I spent most of September 2009 with some lingering pain in my calf that surfaced shortly after an awesome vacation to London and Dublin with my sis.
In true runner fashion, I thought it was some sort of muscle strain and pushed on. I also thought extreme shortness of breath during a few easy runs meant I was getting sick or trying to fight a bug because I was also a bit feverish.
Toward the end of the month (September 25, to be exact), my calf pain was unbearable, and it was swollen, red and hot to the touch. Definitely not normal, so to the doctor I finally went and was subsequently diagnosed with two deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my right calf and behind my knee.
Deep vein thrombosis, friends, is no joke. These are blood clots deep in the veins – they’re dangerous because they can break off and travel through the body to your heart, brain or lungs and to put it bluntly, kill you.
Shortly after my DVT diagnosis, I was hospitalized for several days because doctors found I also had a large pulmonary embolism (PE) in my left lung.
That shortness of breath I’d been feeling? Not any sort of bug at all – the blood clot or clots in my leg had indeed broken off and traveled to my lung.
Pulmonary embolisms kill one in three people who get them.
One in three.
The size of my PE could/should have sealed my fate, guys, and I have running to (partially) thank for giving me such a great lung capacity.
Ok, so why am I telling you all of this?
Since the long road to normalcy after the events of last fall, I’ve made it somewhat of a mission to help educate others about the prevalence, risk factors and warning signs of DVTs and PEs. After all, I’m living proof that they can happen to anyone.
The cause of my blood clots was a perfect storm of factors – the birth control pill, long flights, dehydration and a previously undiagnosed clotting mutation called Factor V Leiden. I can’t say this wouldn’t have happened if I stayed hydrated on the flight, moved around a bit more, or stopped taking birth control years ago, but had I known what could happen to me, I definitely would have done many things differently.
So, what can cause DVTs?
- Cigarette smoking
- Fractures in the pelvis or legs
- Giving birth within the last 6 months
- Medications such as estrogen and birth control pills
- Recent surgery (especially hip, knee, or female reproductive organ surgery)
- Blood that is more likely to clot
- Sitting for long periods when traveling (this is most likely when one or more other risk factor is also present)
(for a full list, click here)
What are the signs of DVTs?
- Redness in one leg*
- Increased warmth in one leg
- Pain in one leg (it may hurt to place all of your weight on this leg when standing)
- Tenderness in one leg
What are the signs of PEs?
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Feelings of anxiety
- Increased heart rate
Any of these symptoms should warrant a visit to your doctor or emergency room ASAP.
I know a lot of my blog friends are women, and I strongly encourage you to evaluate any history of clotting in your family and get tested for any genetic clotting mutations (like Factor V Leiden) if you are concerned and/or taking birth control.
Even though I wouldn’t wish an experience like I had on anyone, I do believe it happened for a reason. It woke me up in ways I cannot even put into words – I mean, we only have this one life. And mine could have been over in an instant.
Here are some things I’ve learned from the experience I can put into words:
- There are so many things I still want to do, people I want to help, experiences I want to have. And I refuse to waste even another minute
- The most important thing in life, hands down, is people. Work, school, material items won’t come visit you in the hospital, will they?
- It can always, always be worse, so be thankful that it’s not
- NEVER underestimate the power of positive thinking – throughout the ordeal, I tried my best to keep a positive attitude and truly believe it helped my recovery and my psyche
- I’m happy and thankful to be alive – I remember this constantly whenever I let the little things in life get to me
I take a blood thinner every day, wear compression socks like it’s my job (the affected leg can be pretty painful post-run and after long periods of sitting/standing), monitor my health like a drill sergeant, and even though there are still some bumps along the road to recovery, I’m pretty freakin’ happy to be where I am.
The experience over the past year has made training and (hopefully) running the NYC Marathon in November all the more special, and I really feel like I’m proving to myself just how strong I am.
If you’ve made it this far, I thank you (!), and if this post has benefited you in any way, then it did its job.
*Regular, light-hearted posting on this week’s running and eating shall resume tomorrow 🙂
Question: Have you had a particular experience in life that changed the way you think about anything?