You maybe didn’t know, but a few weeks ago, I had one of the scariest weeks of my life.
It all started Wednesday morning about 2:00am when I woke to some of the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. My calf felt like a Charlie horse that wouldn’t release. Only it felt worse than that. I tossed and turned the rest of the night, trying to convince myself it was just muscle pain from Tuesday’s workout.
When I got up that morning, popped a few ibuprofen, and started moving around, the pain faded. As the day went on and the pain didn’t return, I told myself it wasn’t what I had feared in the wee hours of the night, a blood clot.
5 Years ago, I got a pain in my calf accompanied by redness and a hardness in a vein you could see. It was a clot in one of the superficial veins of my leg. Apparently, not very risky in and of itself, but what was causing me, a healthy, active 27 year old at the time, to get a blood clot?
I was referred to a hematologist to check for any underlying conditions and was diagnosed with a clotting disorder called Factor V Leiden. This condition causes one of the proteins in my blood to clot more. This disorder is hereditary and actually fairly common in pasty white folk like myself.
I’ve had a few of those superficial clots over the last 5 years and they scare me less and less each time.
Fast forward back to 3 weeks ago:
This time was different. When I woke in the middle of the night for the second night in a row, I knew something was wrong. I got up and went to Coach my Thursday morning classes, trying to stay calm about what was happening in my leg.
After I closed the gym at 10:30am, I went to the ER and told them I suspected a blood clot in my leg and that I have a condition that makes me at risk. I waited 4 hours among scores of people with the flu. One minute convincing myself that it wasn’t a clot or maybe it was another superficial one, and the next minute panicking, imagining the worst case scenario.
An ultrasound confirmed that I had a deep vein thrombosis in my right calf. A DVT in your calf is very painful. It also causes swelling and redness, although I didn’t have those other symptoms. Just the pain. I guess the vein was not yet fully occluded, meaning there was still blood flowing back through the vein.
The nurse came and gave me an injection of heparin in my stomach and told me I would have to do these twice a day at home until my Coumadin reached therapeutic levels. What?! After the injection, he started to discuss side effects and risk factors and suddenly i had tunnel vision and was sweating profusely. I almost passed out while the nurse and PA stood over me looking concerned.
I felt like my whole life had been turned upside down. I was supposed to leave on a family vacation to Savannah in 3 days. Would I have to cancel the trip? Isn’t flying with a blood clot super risky? What about my lifestyle of pushing the limits of my physical capacity in the gym? Why was this happening to me? I have dedicated my life to health and fitness and my own blood is trying to kill me…
See the biggest risk of a DVT is a Pulmonary Embolism. That’s where the clot breaks off, travels to your lungs and can potentially kill you. Not something to be taken lightly. My mind was racing, playing out all these hypothetical scenarios that would result in my untimely demise…
Leaving out some details, I went to my regular doctors office the next day and they switched my medication and told me I could travel to Savannah. I just had to be careful, move around on the plane and listen to my body. I was so overjoyed I cried for probably the 15th time in 24 hours.
I’ve been doing well. No side effects from the medication and I had a follow up with my hematologist in a few weeks. I’m back in the gym with only a few modifications and just a general more cautious nature due to the increased bleeding risk of my anticoagulants.
Listen to your body. It will send you signals when something is wrong. Don’t wait. I might have to be on this medication for the rest of my life now, but the rest of my life is going to be long. My best days are still ahead.