Basically, I am healthy. I work out, watch my diet and take no prescription medicines.
But last summer, I injured my right knee. An October mishap really tore the cartilage, and so, on Nov. 27, I had arthroscopic surgery. I left the hospital on my own two legs. For a week, I was walking, improving daily.
Then, on Dec. 4, after a very enjoyable day full of lunch and Scrabble with friends, and many phone calls with family, I experienced a sharp pain in my right chest, just below the rib cage. Very quickly, I could not breathe! After a frantic few moments, my husband called an ambulance. The first wonderful man who entered my kitchen declared that I had a pulmonary embolism. The familiar faces of the community’s volunteer first responders showed sparks of recognition, and shadows of concern.
After my vitals were established, I was strapped to the gurney and put in the ambulance. My birth date became my new identifying feature; it would be repeated many, many times.
Off we went on a wild ride through the dark streets, sirens wailing and lights flashing, me fighting for breath and Mr. Paramedic efficiently going about his many tasks. (He put in an IV line; took blood samples, blood pressure and an EKG; and gave me oxygen and a sedative.) The cars that pulled to the side of the road in our wake acknowledged our urgency.
The crew had called ahead; St. Joe’s was ready. A CT scan confirmed blood clots in both lungs. A heparin drip was started and I was moved to a bed on the stroke floor. This bed was to be my base for the required five days of the heparin drip. I could not walk for fear of another clot, and out of respect for my knee surgery.
The next morning, a priest in a Buffalo Bills sweatshirt emerged from the 6 a.m. murkiness to offer me Holy Communion. A few hours later, Nicole, one of the many excellent nurses who would care for me, began to explain my new dietary restrictions. A person taking a blood thinner, such as warfarin, must maintain a diet low in vitamin K, the element that helps blood to clot. Broccoli, spinach and other leafy green vegetables are now limited to small daily amounts. Cranberry juice is forbidden.
Although the hospital food was delicious, a true low-fat, low-salt regimen does not include cookies.
The hospital was a world of sounds; I could hear nurses and aides chatting, note the passage of visitors and the arrival of food trays. Was Santa Claus really in the room next door? The man’s voice was rich and deep and he sang Christmas carols along with the radio. Every day on the sevens, as the nurses changed shifts, each patient’s case and care was explained to the incoming nurse.
A Doppler test showed no blood clots in my legs. After three confining days in bed, sitting in a chair, and walking, escorted, to the bathroom was exhausting yet exhilarating. My first walk down the hall, drip tower in tow, was shaky and liberating.
I am home now, on warfarin. The next six months will be punctuated by blood draws and doctor visits. I am sleeping a lot, but did find the strength to attend my two favorite holiday parties.
I am exceedingly grateful to be home, to be healing and to know that immediate and life-saving assistance is only a phone call away.
Have a Happy New Year. I’m looking forward to doing just that.