I’m not good at sharing personal stuff, particularly health stuff. Maybe an occasional references to my fabulous family, maybe the experience of a skinned knee or pulled muscle, but overall I cover the general foibles and joys that occur through running and travel.
Here goes the exception. Some reader who is clueless as to why their running pace has slowed may benefit. And, before I go further, let me assure you this was not COVID-related.
For weeks, maybe even months, my running pace had been slowing. I chalked it up to aging, then blaming the pollen. Finally the day came when I couldn’t run a quarter mile without stopping to walk.
I gave up on the excuses and called my doctor. I was in his office that afternoon. Before I left, I was scheduled the following day for bloodwork and imaging of my lungs.
Within hours of tests, my doctor called with results. He opened with something to the effect of ‘this is what we call not good’ followed by three words: extensive pulmonary emboli.
My first impulse was to curse, but I didn’t. I believe it was silence on my end, followed shortly by his second bombshell. “You have to go to the hospital.”
Now, we are really in foreign territory. My only hospital experience was childbirth forty-some years ago. My mouth opened and I found myself asking “do I take my toothbrush” while the wiser voice in my brain was silently whispering “Shut up! Your toothbrush is inconsequential.”
Shortly thereafter, I walked through the emergency room door. An i.v. dripping a blood thinner in my arm would be my companion for the next 48 hours.
There were further procedures to ensure, thankfully, that I didn’t have additional clots in my legs and I had averted heart damage,.
Then came the questions, the first being: Why is a very fit woman who runs 30 miles a week here with this condition?
I understood the question to be rhetorical as it was followed by numerous other questions about travel, family background, history of blood clots in other family members. Yes, I had traveled fairly extensively over the last several months, two trips to Hawaii and one to Kenya, but all several months earlier.
The other puzzler was a lack of any of the expected symptoms that can accompany pulmonary emboli. The only time I felt the shortness of breath was during a run. No pain in my chest, or elsewhere in my body, no swelling in the legs, no dizziness, none of that. I was asked several times during my stay ‘What is your pain level?’ I didn’t have pain, just a slight soreness in my side which likely was the result of accidentally laying on the remote.
Technicians had been taking blood every three hours the first day, then every six hours the second. My second night, I woke to see several vials lined up in a row. They explained there was an order for an additional number of tests.
The next day they released me, sending me off with a prescription and instructions to see my personal physician as well as to expect a call for scheduling with the hematologist.
The result of one of the tests from the blood in the 3 a.m. vials revealed that I have something called Factor V Leiden, a gene variant linked to hereditary thrombophilia, a predisposition to development of harmful blood clots.
My visit to the hematologist confirmed this. She expects I will need to be taking blood thinner for at least a year and perhaps for the rest of my life. Her cautions:
- Don’t hit your head
- Don’t fall – but you can run (You don’t fall when you run do you?)
- Avoid any type of cuts or anything that would cause bleeding
- Avoid alcohol (not a prohibition, but an ‘I wouldn’t….’ in response to my question)
My personal physician who knows my track record for occasionally leaning to the extreme was a bit more explicit:
- No adventure runs (examples – forget crossing raging creeks and climbing rocky trails for awhile)
- No travel until we see how this goes
- No high mileage – Walk – run only when you feel your body is ready
I am following all of that advice, but there is still a sense of the surreal about it. How could I have been so unaware of the seriousness of my condition? At the hospital, it was expressed to me several times how very fortunate I was, that my condition was potentially life-threatening (or as one physician bluntly put it – sudden death).
I was also told by several doctors during my stay, expressed in different ways: your fitness saved your life, running saved you.
So, those early morning trips to the gym, runs and hikes were a solid investment in my long-term health. I’m aware I nearly blew that investment by making excuses and not seeing my doctor sooner. I am so much more aware of how important it is not just to know our bodies – and most of us in the running community do – but to know when to put self-diagnosis and excuses aside and get medical advice.
Finally, I’m thankful for the superb care and the fast action of my doctor and the excellent treatment I received in a hospital setting. I’m not saying I want to do that again, but it’s great to know these wonderful health professionals are there.
As a result of their care, I am out here on the streets walking and enjoying the abundance of summer. I’m hoping your summer is going smoother than mine. Tell me about it.
Stay healthy! And thank me for dispensing with the hospital gown photo.