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Better Safe Than Sorry

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In almost every article that I wrote, I’ve said that I am a fool. I certainly was when it came to Deep Vein Thrombosis.


Three and a half years ago, one day I fell off my bike, on my left leg. At about the same time, I started having shortness of breath, which seemed to grow worse by the day. I could not walk more than about thirty steps at a time, and I could only reach my apartment on the second floor by taking one stair at a time. I did not worry about it, which shows what an idiot I am.


I was doing volunteer work at the time, on Mondays, doing the grocery shopping for a housebound elderly lady. One particular Monday, I awoke to agonizing pain in my left leg, which was very, very warm to the touch. My new family doctor just happened to be at his clinic on Mondays and Thursdays. Instead of calling him to get an emergency appointment, I canceled my volunteer work for that day and stayed in bed all day, almost crying because of the pain and taking Tylenol like it was candy.


The following Monday, on my way home after the volunteer work, I happened to notice that my previous family doctor (she didn’t know I had a new one) had moved her office directly across the street from where I took the subway to go home. I decided to go in and see if she could see me. I was lucky, she could. I explained why I was there, the shortness of breath. She sent me immediately for an electrocardiogram and said I would also have to have chest x-rays. When I told her about the horrible pain in my leg a week before, she told me: forget about the x-rays, go to emergency at the hospital. I did not want to go to the one she was affiliated with—which was the reason why I had changed doctors in the first place—and told her I’d go to my own hospital the next day. She said: no, not tomorrow, immediately, which I did, again like an idiot, not going home first to get a few things, among them, my cancer meds, toiletries, toothbrush, underwear, etc. I had of course no idea they would keep me at the hospital.


After the triage, I was sent into the emergency room, where I was examined, tested, hooked up to a cardiac monitor, and kept overnight. I had asked my son to meet me at the hospital, and when the doctor who examined me asked what my problem was, I explained about the shortness of breath and he said I probably had Deep Vein Thrombosis, which my son then claimed came about because of my fall from the bike. My son was in the emergency waiting room later and went home after being told that I would be kept overnight. However, he just did not think to let me know he was leaving and to ask if I needed anything from home. He had a key to my apartment and knew he had to go and get my cat but that was it.


After a sleepless night in the very busy (and noisy) emergency room, I was definitely diagnosed as having blood clots in the lungs due to the DVT, and sent up to a room where I spent twelve days and was immediately started on blood thinners. I had many more tests and x-rays and scans, and was told that I had been within a few hours of death from the clots when I came in.


Since I had had cancer three years before and was taking Tamoxifen, my oncologist came to see me and thought the thrombosis might have been caused by that. Since I could not remember if the shortness of breath started before or after my fall from the bicycle, I could not say what caused it. I was lucky in the sense that my oncologist is also a hematologist and said she would look after me. After leaving the hospital, I still had to go daily for blood tests in the morning and phone the hospital pharmacist later on so that she could tell me which dosage of Coumadin to take. All this ended after a few days, when I had to attend the hematology clinic and my oncologist cum hematologist began to look after me. After each blood test, depending on the results, my Coumadin dosage would be adjusted, until a year and a half later, when I was finally stabilized and could stop taking it.

The moral of this story? Do not ignore shortness of breath!

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