Moving Forward With Complications
Words by Elizabeth Ferris
I am 20 years old, and spending a long weekend in the major city near my college town with my parents. We’re out at dinner with family friends, having a great time, eating lots of cheese curds, and I suddenly feel my left calf seize. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom, hoping to stretch out my calf in the process, but it just feels so. much. worse. I let my parents know, and they tell me it’ll be okay, it’s probably just a pulled muscle.
I walk around with this weird, increasingly more uncomfortable pain in my calf for five days until I finally give in, and go to the campus nurse. She tells me to give it the weekend to see if it resolves on its own; it doesn’t, and I return, only to be told I need to go to the emergency room. Once in the emergency room, the doctors and nurses run an ultrasound down my leg, and they find a blood clot in my left calf, exactly where all the pain has been sitting. They tell me this is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), and let me know I need to take blood thinners until the hematologist tells me otherwise. They also find that I have a blood clotting disorder - Factor V Leiden Heterozygous.
My parents apologize for not realizing something was really, truly wrong the week before, but I’m not too concerned about this being a problem for the rest of my life. The doctors tell me it will just be a few months on blood thinners, and then everything should be fine. So, I move forward with the schedule of blood thinners the hematologist provided until I am finally taken off both after six months. I adjust quickly to not being on blood thinners, and I more or less forget about the issue for the next couple of years.
I am 22 years old, four months out from my college graduation, living in a new Midwestern city, working full-time at an amazing job that lets me travel a lot. Between September and October, I travel at least once every other week. It’s such an amazing job for right out of college, and I feel so lucky.
Around the middle of October, I start having problems breathing while walking at a normal pace, and I am completely unable to walk up one flight of stairs without almost passing out. I assume I am just out of shape, due to lack of exercise and barely paying attention to what I’m eating. I try to go to the gym, and almost pass out on the elliptical after ten minutes. It takes me another week to go into the Urgent Care clinic. The doctor there looks concerned immediately after I come in from the parking lot because I am completely winded, and my heartbeat sounds irregular.
She sends me to the emergency room, where the doctors and nurses run an EKG, ultrasounds, and finally a CT scan. I told them upfront that I have previously had a blood clot in my calf, and that I have Factor V Leiden Heterozygous. The CT scan shows several large blood clots in both of my lungs, otherwise known as a bilateral pulmonary embolism. I call my mom (we still live in different states), and she immediately books a flight for the next day, as I am being held overnight for observation.
While under observation in the hospital, I’m told by multiple doctors that while I have Factor V Leiden, I’m on the higher end of risk for developing blood clots. (Most people don’t find out they have Factor V Leiden until they have a major surgery, usually something like a hip or knee replacement.) Due to my high risk status, I will have to be on blood thinners for the rest of my life. That’s completely different news than I was expecting; I thought it would be the same thing as previously - six months of varying blood thinners, and then nothing until needed again.
I am referred to a primary care physician and a hematologist during discharge. The hematologist tells me that having biological children will be extremely difficult, though not impossible. I will have to switch from the small once-daily pill I currently take to twice-daily shots from the time I start trying to conceive through my entire pregnancy. I can’t just decide to try to have a baby; I will have to involve my entire medical team, and keep them updated throughout the entire process.
By the age of 23, I had two high-risk medical issues that required hospitalization. I had to start thinking about if I can really have biological children, something I have always wanted and assumed I could have, but I was not (and still am not) in a place where this was on my mind in a serious manner. I have to wear compression socks every time I go on a trip, whether driving or flying. I have to take a pill once a day, just to keep my body from producing more life-threatening blood clots.
It’s been over two years now since the pulmonary embolism. My primary care physician reminds me at my annual visit each year that I will still have to be on the blood thinner indefinitely. I’m okay with where things are. It’s been an adjustment, and I’m much more aware of my health than many of my friends at this age, but it’s made me consider alternatives to my previous ideas of how my life would go. Instead of biological children, I can always adopt. Instead of taking one long flight on any trips I take, I can stop in more cities with layovers.
It’s been difficult to accept everything I’ve been told over the past few years. I still get angry sometimes that my body produces blood clots so easily. I am mostly thankful, though, that nothing more severe happened. All I can do now is keep moving forward, and take the more difficult days as they come.
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About the Author:
Elizabeth Ferris is a twenty-something from a Midwestern city, living in a different Midwestern city. She loves reading with a good cup of coffee or tea, and trying to keep her dog from laying on everything she puts on her lap.