Real Stories from People Who Have Experienced Blood Clots – Marianne Smart
In March 2016, I was 28 years old and pregnant with my second child. At 9 weeks along, I was having severe morning sickness and vomiting more than six times a day. Otherwise, everything seemed normal. One morning, however, I noticed a dull pain on my right side along my ribcage. I thought it must be from having slept funny or maybe a pulled muscle from the morning sickness. As the day went on, the pain worsened and my breathing became short and fast.
After a phone call with the OB/GYN, my husband rushed me to the emergency department (ED). When we arrived at the ED, my vitals were taken and we told the staff that my OB/GYN expressed deep concern about blood clots. Given this information and the symptoms I was experiencing, the staff immediately ran a series of tests, including a D-dimer, a test used to detect blood clots. Aside from dehydration and pain in my ribs, the test results were normal. I was sent home with a diagnosis of pleurisy (inflammation, or swelling, of the tissues that line the lung and chest cavity) and medicine for the pain in my ribs.
The next day was Easter. I remember giving my son his basket of goodies and spending the day in bed. My chest was tight, my breathing was shallow, and the pain in my side was getting worse despite being on painkillers. I tried to tough it out and sleep. Later that night, I called for my husband and mom and told them that I needed to stand up. The pain was unbearable, and I couldn’t breathe. They helped me get out of bed. Keeping my hands on the mattress for support, I swayed back and forth trying to find relief. My husband asked me if I was getting back into bed. I nodded that I would, but I slowly slipped down to the floor instead.
Everything after that is fuzzy. I remember being loaded into the ambulance and a man hovering over me with a needle. I recall that the lights in the ED room were so bright. Later, my husband told me that my heart rate had gone through the roof and my oxygen level had taken a nosedive. After a debate between the ED staff and the OB/GYN, I finally received a test, called a CT scan, that provides more detailed images than a normal X-ray. The results showed multiple pulmonary emboli (blood clots in the lungs) and right-sided pulmonary infarction, which occurs when an artery to the lung becomes blocked and part of the lung is damaged. My lungs were so full of blood clots that my right lung was severely damaged. I remained in the hospital for 10 days.
For the remainder of my pregnancy, I felt a lot of pain and weakness and received many injections of anticoagulant medicine, which is used to treat blood clots and prevent future ones. I could finally feel my body start to heal after I gave birth to my second son. Today, my right lung has scar tissue and the anxiety (fear or worry) of this experience comes and goes, but I’m now living a normal life. After many tests, including those for clotting disorders, my doctors could not find any additional risk factors for my blood clots. I’ve never smoked, taken birth control pills, taken extensive trips, or been overweight. My major risk factor was pregnancy. Years later, I still think about what happened, and daily, I work on looking back with gratitude instead of anxiety. Because of modern medicine and many good people, my son and I lived through it all.
About 2 months after my son was born, I felt pain in my left calf. I figured it was nothing, but being armed with information, I pushed myself to go to the ED anyway to check for more blood clots. It turned out nothing was wrong. I felt a little silly but was greatly relieved to have that knowledge.
For women who are pregnant or have recently delivered, here are some tips based on my personal experience:
- Know that pregnancy is a risk factor for blood clots. Learn the signs and symptoms and contact your doctor right away if you experience any symptoms of a blood clot.
- When in the hospital, allow your loved ones to champion for you. If you are seriously ill or taking certain medicines, they may be able to help you communicate with medical staff.
- Once you have your strength back, be sure to stand up for yourself and ask any questions you may have, no matter how small. It is better to be on the safe side when it comes to blood clots.
- Keep a sense of humor. As traumatic as an experience like this can be, it’s important to never lose your sense of humor. To get past the anxiety, keep busy, remind yourself that you survived, and find things about the experience that made you laugh. For example, I remember the nurse who gave me my pain killers. I dubbed him my new best friend . . . very loudly. Looking back, that was embarrassing but really funny!
CDC thanks Marianne for sharing her personal story.