I don’t typically write public service announcements for you, dear readers, but I feel this one is a must because it happened to me.
Throughout most of my adult life, I’ve tried various birth control pills and the birth control patch. I’ve never been someone who is comfortable taking medication (not even an Advil unless I REALLY have to) so I would go off and on b.c pills at various times. In September of 2010 I went back on the pill after being off of it for about 6 years. Over those 6 years, the world of birth control options changed and so I decided to choose Seasonique birth control pills since I really liked the idea of only 4 periods a year (woohoo!) I felt fantastic, all symptoms of PMS I had ever suffered from disappeared and I had no side effects from the pill. Fabulous!
In early March of 2011, I started getting severe sciatic pain through my right leg and butt cheek. Since I’ve suffered off and on with sciatica ever since giving birth to my son, I thought nothing of it and went about my life. A few days later, on a Wednesday night, I had really sharp pains in my lower back. Since I had been cleaning the basement and moving heavy totes around, I figured I lifted something the wrong way and pulled something. The pain was pretty bad, even for me and I have a very high tolerance to pain, so I took an Advil and went to bed. The next morning the pain was worse, it radiated from my kidney area in my mid to lower back in all directions. I was also having a very difficult time taking a normal breath because of the pain. I decided to give in to the pain and called my primary care physician and drove myself to his office. I could barely walk at this point because the pain was so intense, but I made it to my doctor’s office and was seen by his nurse practitioner.
Now, I must tell you, because it’s important, that I very rarely go to the doctor’s, but this doctor was our family physician for over 8 years at this point. He knew my entire medical history (such as a history of urinary, bladder and kidney infections & family medical history), medications I was taking (ie birth control was the only one), etc. The nurse practitioner asked me where the pain was, I told him and when he went to lightly touch the area I couldn’t stand the pain and cringed. He had me walk across the exam room floor, bend side to side and over to touch my toes–none of which I could do because of the pain. I was still only able to take quick shallow breaths at this point, not normal and certainly not deep breaths. That was the extent of his exam and he decided that I pulled a ligament in my ribs, gave me a prescription for Motrin and another for Flexerall (a fairly high dose muscle relaxer). I reminded him that I don’t take medication so I won’t need the Flexerall script, but he insisted I take it just in case. I took the scripts, slowly made my way to my car and, back in FULL spasms, drove myself to the pharmacy for the Motrin and then drove myself home.
Back at home I had my children and my elderly grandmother waiting for me. I walked in and told everyone that I cannot move and just need to lay down so please don’t destroy the house. I took one 800 mg Motrin every 6 hours for the remainder of that day and night…it didn’t help!
The next day was Friday and I woke that morning in such excruciating pain that I was crying. Now, I have given birth, naturally, without ANY pain meds, more than once and it did not hurt nearly as bad as the pain I was experiencing at that moment!!! I broke down and had my son call my ex. I told him that I needed him to take the kids early (he usually takes them on Friday for the weekend anyway) and to fill my prescription for the Flexerall. For the next 36 or so hours, my time was spent like this: eat something, take a Motrin and a Flexerall, sleep for 7 hours, wake up, eat something, take a Motrin and a Flexerall, sleep for 7 hours, repeat…. UNTIL….
Sunday morning, 3:30 a.m. I woke up out of a drug induced sleep GASPING for breath! I immediately called my ex (he’s lives the closest) and all I could say was “911!” He immediately came over and tried to get me out of bed, but ANY movement at this point felt like someone was performing surgery on me without any anesthesia whatsoever! I couldn’t sit myself up, I couldn’t roll myself out of the bed, I couldn’t stand having him lift me..it all hurt TOO MUCH! I was finally able to make it out of bed and down the stairs (screaming the entire time), in to my ex’s car and to the nearest emergency room. It was now roughly 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning in early March and the E.R was empty. My ex had to wheel me into the E.R in a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk and was still having extreme trouble breathing.
The triage nurse checked me in, took my vitals (my blood oxygen was 70%…not good, just FYI), I was severely dehydrated and my skin was not pink at all. So what do they do? They leave me to sit in the waiting area for the next 4 1/2 hours! Finally, after my ex got up and made a scene that caused security to get involved (at that point I didn’t even care), they took me to an exam room. The nurse looked over the chart and said ” OK, do you have any allergies?” to which my ex listed my allergies for her since I could barely talk at this point from being short of breath. “OK great, we’re going to give you something for the pain” and when she reappeared 5 minutes later she gave me 2 Percocet, 2 Valium and a shot of Toradol (which is like liquid Motrin and goes right to the blood stream)!! Now, I must explain to all of you that, I am a tiny woman! I am 5’5″ and about 110 lbs soaking wet! And I NEVER take medication so to have all of that in me ON TOP of the Flexerall I had already been taking for the last 2 days… to say I was flying high is huge understatement!
15 minutes later, nurse lady comes back, “How are you feeling? We have to make sure you aren’t in any pain before we send you on your way.” Send me on my way? Seriously? They must have thought I was just in there drug seeking (which is SOOOO NOT what was going on!). She said I needed to get up and move around before I leave and I said I needed to use the ladies room. “Oh good, we should get a urine, just for the sake of it, while you’re in there.” OK fine lady, whatever you want. I do my business, give her what she wants, go back to my curtain area and wait for her to return. She returns with discharge papers. “OK I know I’m higher than the Chrysler building right now, but aren’t you going to check the urine before you discharge me?” I ask. “Oh no hun, we’ll just send you the results in the mail if we find anything.” WTF??!! Are you serious?! “Well, sweetie, there’s blood in my urine so I’m not going anywhere!” I told her. Now she thinks about it and looks at my chart again…”Maybe we should take you to CT to rule out kidney stones. I see here you have a history of kidney infections” Um, yeah, ya think you should do something other than drug me up and send me home?! Hmm… great! Yes, let’s do that!
The CT of my lower abdomen/chest area showed “spots” in the areas of my lungs which were visible from that angle. Nurse comes in to my room: ” We’re going to start you on an IV of antibiotics because you have pneumonia. Have you been sick at all recently?” Nope already told the triage nurse and you that I have not been sick at all, not so much as a sniffle. “OK well we’re going to send you back to CT and get a few chest images and start this IV of antibiotics for now” Sounds good. Back to CT I go and then back to the curtained area I was calling home for the day. Nurse comes back and unplugs the antibiotics from my IV…” You don’t have pneumonia, you have blood clots in your lungs so we are sending you by ambulance over to Brigham’s because they are better equipped to handle your case.” GET ME THE FUCK OUTTA HERE BEFORE YOU KILL ME was all I could think at that point. Something like 10 hours had passed since I arrived in that E.R and it took them all of that time to figure out what was wrong with me and they were going to send me home a few hours ago, all drugged up??!! WTF?!
The ambulance went flying down 93 and Storrow Drive to Brigham & Women’s hospital, whisked me in and before I knew it I had about 75 doctors and nurses working on me. OK so it wasn’t 75, but there were A LOT! At this point I was pretty much blue, on oxygen, hooked up to an EKG machine, IV fluids. If I wasn’t still high from all of the pain meds pumped through me at the last E.R I would have been scared.
Within an hour I was admitted to the cardiac unit for bi-lateral pulmonary emboli which means I had blood clots (yes that’s clots with an “s”) in both lungs. I spent the next 5 days on constant oxygen, constant cardiac monitoring and not being able to walk the 4 steps from the bed to the bathroom without it feeling like I just ran the Boston marathon at full speed! Doctors and nurses kept telling me how lucky I was and when I finally had time (and lack of pain medication in my blood stream) to really wrap my head around what just happened to me, I was scared and pissed at the same time!
My primary care’s office sent me home, the first E.R almost sent me home (and would have if I didn’t advocate for myself) and at any point I could have had a stroke, a heart attack, or died!! At home, alone upstairs in my room with my kids and my elderly grandmother downstairs.
During my 5 night stay in my deluxe accommodations in the cardiac unit, every genetic test available was run on me to see if there was a genetic reason that someone like myself would suddenly develop blood clots. After all, I’m under 35, I am not overweight, I don’t smoke, I’m extremely active and I’m in good health (well up until that point I was) so, there was no logical reason why I would develop a blood clot. After all of the genetic tests came back negative, the doctors started looking at any other factors that may contribute: Birth Control! Apparently the elevated levels of estrogen put women at risk for blood clots. I knew this was a side effect of hormonal birth control methods (pills, patch, shots, etc), but again, I don’t have any of the contributing risk factors so…why me?
Over a year later and the doctors still can’t answer that. They can’t tell me why someone in my health, with no other risk factors, developed severe blood clots from birth control.
The past 17 months have been filled with medication called Warfarin (an anti-coagulant drug that helps prevent clots), carefully watching my diet (because foods rich in Vitamin K help your body to clot so I have to regulate such foods), cardiologist visits, weekly blood draws and finding a different method of birth control. When I walked out of the hospital 17 months ago, I was still pretty short of breath and I looked like junkie from all of the needles (IV’s in two places in one arm, constant blood draws in the other arm, and bruises and needle marks in my stomach from the heparin shots). For the first three weeks that I was home I had to sleep on the pull out couch in my living room because I couldn’t make it up the stairs to my bedroom, it was too exhausting. I was restricted to moderated bed rest (this was because I’m a clean freak and always go, go, go), was supposed to avoid stress upon discharge (Um, how does a single, working mom avoid stress) and I had a visiting nurse come to my house on a daily basis for the first week. I was taken off of Seasonique since the doctors believe that is what caused my blood clots so my hormones were raging out of control due to the sudden drop in estrogen and I had to research other, non hormonal methods of birth control. None of this has been a picnic and I can’t wait for the day that I can sit in 75 degree weather and not get goosebumps (taking anticoagulants has a side effects of chills) and stop feelings so friggen exhausted (another side effect of anticoagulants), but it could have been so much worse! I’m thankful every day that I survived this ordeal. Even my doctors at Brigham’s (who are now my primary care doctors) said they didn’t think I was going to make it out of the hospital alive when I came in to that E.R last March.
So, readers, why am I telling you this story? I feel that I have to inform the entire female population who are of child-bearing age that even if you don’t think you’re at risk… Honey, you are!