What does this mean? Two things: 1) It's a miracle I'm alive 2) I am no longer a candidate for my surgery. Here's what happened.
Monday, July 30 - 2 weeks 'til surgery
Monday evening, as I was hanging out around the house with my family, I felt a cramp coming on in my right calf muscle. I didn't think much of it at all because I get charlie horses from time to time and that's exactly what it felt like. Once the cramp was over, my leg continued to be very sore - same thing that always happens to me after a bad charlie horse. As Dusty and I were lying in bed later that night, I remembered back to my conversations that took place with all the doctors earlier that day during my pre-op surgery appointments, and had just read through and signed all of my paperwork outlining the risks of the surgery. The top two: blood clots in the legs, and death. My mind ran away with me a little bit and out of curiosity I Google'd "What does a blood clot feel like?". I was reading down through the symptoms - pain, swelling, redness. Everything I read said that if you had a blood clot, you'd know it - the redness and swelling, skin being hot to the touch, etc. I had none of these (other than pain), so I went back to my theory of "really bad charlie horse" and ignored my initial intuition. I shrugged it off and went to sleep thinking nothing of it.
Tuesday, July 31 - 1 week, 6 days 'til surgery
I woke up Tuesday morning and my calf was still sore...but it was worse than the day before. I started wondering if maybe I'd pulled the muscle somehow, and over the course of the day I wracked my brain as to how on earth I could have pulled it. Did my new diet have something to do with it? I was eating a very limited, low calorie diet in preparation for my surgery, and wondered if maybe I was losing muscle along with fat and that was causing the muscle soreness. BUT, I was also drinking protein shakes like crazy, so that didn't make much sense to me since protein helps restore muscle, not take it away. My leg continued to hurt, and pain was radiating up to the back of my knee by mid-afternoon. I once again Google'd, only this time it was "how to heal a pulled calf muscle". The instructions told me to follow the RICE philosophy - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. I did this continuously for the next few hours. I sent Dusty to the store for an ACE bandage and tightly wrapped my calf. The compression seemed to help the pain a little. The ice dulled the pain while I was resting, but walking was quickly becoming nearly impossible. I even woke up in the middle of the night, uncomfortable with the cramping feeling. No matter how I laid I couldn't get comfortable and it was a very long night.
Wednesday, August 1 - 1 week, 5 days 'til surgery
When I woke up Wednesday morning and put my right foot on the floor, I quickly pulled back as pain shot from my big toe up through my calf and into the back of my knee. This went on every single time I put any pressure on my leg throughout the day. I figured it was affecting my big toe because of my foot surgery earlier this year - I still have some issues with the nerves in that part of my foot and into my big toe. I could barely hobble around the house, and was in tears the entire time I was showering. By evening time, I had to breath through the pain. I would hobble across the room and my heart would start beating as my breathing sped up. The pain was that bad. It throbbed and ached all the time, now - even during rest. I just kept telling Dusty that I didn't understand what was going on, because I couldn't even figure out what I did to pull the muscle. I was baffled.
Thursday, August 2 - 1 week, 4 days 'til surgery
Dusty had a doctor's appointment early Thursday morning to discuss options for his back issues, so we dropped Mackenzie at her Maw-maw's and went on our way.
After Dusty's appointment, we swung by and picked her back up. We planned on going home and having breakfast (protein shake and a banana for me, pancakes for D and M). I decided to make a quick phone call to my mom to update her on Dusty's appointment. Towards the end of our conversation, she asked about how my leg was feeling. I explained to her how it was just getting worse, and I was starting to become worried, but didn't want to go to the doctor - I was only a week and a half from surgery and I wasn't going to let a pulled calf muscle keep me from having it (I was a little paranoid..). My mom had been nagging me (cause she loves me so much) for two days about getting checked out. She continued on her rant, telling me I was acting ridiculous and I should at least go get it checked out so they could give me a muscle relaxer until it healed. I grumbled, agreed, and told Dusty to take a detour to Urgent Care so I could get it over with. As I was waiting, I started getting anxious because I couldn't even rest my foot on the floor - not to the side, not just my toes, nothing. The pain was excruciating.
I'm called into a room and asked a bunch of routine questions as my vital signs are checked. The doctor comes in and starts to evaluating the situations, asking questions along the way. Here's how the conversation played out.
- "How did you injure yourself?" "Funny thing is, I have no idea. It just came on one evening like a bad charley horse."
- "Are you having any numbness?" "My big toe has been tingly a few times, but I had foot surgery in February so it's kinda quirky like that sometimes so I don't think it's related."
- "Weakness?" "Yup, can't even walk across the room."
- "Dizziness?" "I did get pretty dizzy when I got out of the shower this morning. I think it was probably because I took a long, hot shower and hadn't eaten anything yet."
- "What does the pain feel like?" "It's excruciating, I have to breathe through it, and it's been shooting from my big toe to the back of my knee and back again. Most of the pain is concentrated in my calf. Like the worst charlie horse you ever felt in your life - times ten."
- Any chest pain or pressure? "Nope."
We went on like this as she felt up and down my legs, moved my feet up and down and asked if it hurt in certain places when she pushed lightly (It did!). She asked me if I'd noticed any swelling in my leg. I told her no, not really. She told me she thought it looked a little swollen. It wasn't until that moment that I actually compared my legs side my side. My foot, ankle and leg was swollen up to the knee. Not alarmingly swollen, and nothing I even noticed until that moment, but swollen none the less. And then her face got very serious...and she dropped the bombshell.
She explained that some of the symptoms I was complaining about has lead her to believe I may have a blood clot. She wanted to me to have an ultrasound on my leg right away just to be sure. If it wasn't a blood clot, I could go on my merry way. If it was, I would most likely need to go to the ER to get checked out. The words "blood clot" hit me like a ton of bricks. It nearly knocked the breath right out of me. All at once, everything I'd been through in the past few days made perfect sense. But I didn't want it to make sense. I wanted it to be a false alarm so I could go home and have my surgery in the next two weeks. I shot my husband a look and when we locked eyes, I knew he was thinking the same thing. I asked the doctor what it meant for my upcoming surgery if I did have a blood clot, although I was pretty sure I already knew the answer. She explained that if that's what it was, there was no way I could safely have surgery for at least the next six months. Fear began to creep in, coupled with my attempts to rationalize that it would be way too much of a coincidence if it was a blood clot. We left with a referral to the imaging center about twenty minutes away. They had squeezed me right in after the doctor called and let them know what she suspected.
Dusty and I drop Mackenzie back off at her Maw-maw's. If we didn't get good news, I didn't want her to be frightened if it required an ER visit. She cried all the way to her Maw-maw's because she was scared, and had heard the doctor at Urgent Care tell me that if it was a blood clot, it was a serious situation and could be life threatening.
We arrive at the imaging center to check in. The waiting room is PACKED. I'm standing at the registration desk on one foot - it is just too painful to stand. The man behind the desk asks me if I'd like a wheelchair, and a little embarrassed, I say yes. Dusty wheels me back to the waiting room, and within about five minutes I'm called back for my ultrasound. I start to worry as I'm wheeled past everyone in the waiting room - everyone who was there long before I ever hobbled through the door.
The ultrasound was nothing special, but it was painful, which I didn't expect. I laid on my back with my leg to the side as the tech positioned her hand underneath my leg and pushed up as she pushed down hard on the Doppler, first in my groin, then my thigh, back of my knee, calf, and ankle. My whole body tensed as I winced in pain. I wondered in the back of my mind if it hurt because of the pressure or because something was wrong. She moved to my good leg and did the same. It didn't hurt. After about 15 minutes, we were done and I was wheeled back into the waiting room and told I would hear results within 20 minutes.
Seven minutes later, the man from registration walks over to me. I noticed he made no eye contact with me as he handed me a cordless phone. I shot a look of confusion and fear to Dusty and answered. It was the Urgent Care doctor. "Brianna, we've confirmed that there is a large, deep clot in your right leg...." My mouth literally drops as I look over at Dusty and shake my head, "Yes, it is". His head drops as he leans forward and takes my hand. "I'm sending an ambulance to pick you up so we can get you into the emergency room as soon as possible and get some blood thinners started. I wish you the best of luck." I mumble thank you through the tears that are now welling up in my eyes as the shock and panic begins to build. It has just hit me - my surgery, what I consider my saving grace and the beginning of my new life, is now gone. The tears begin to flow, hard. People begin staring. I'm not usually a crier unless I'm very angry, but this was different. I just couldn't hold it back. I call my mom with shaky hands and tell her what's going on through my tears. The guy from registration comes back out and they wheel me to a back room for some privacy. I apologize to him for crying. He says it's okay he understands. He knew what the news was before he handed me the phone and he's sorry to hear that it wasn't good news. Within a few minutes I'm being loaded on a gurney and into the ambulance, Dusty following in our car. I've never been in an ambulance, and it feels very confined and I'm scared. Is it really that bad, that I need an ambulance ride? Am I going to be okay? Is this what it feels like to experience something life threatening? I don't feel like I'm in danger, I just have an ache in my calf. Is tragedy right around the corner and I don't even see it coming? Am I going to DIE??
I arrive at a hospital and within minutes I've been hooked up with an IV the size of Texas, heart monitors, and all the other bells and whistles. The nurse takes eight tubes of blood to submit for testing. I'd had a good cry and by this time come to the conclusion that whether I accept it or not my surgery isn't happening. I'm still nervous, but I decide that I need to put on a brave face and have a sense of humor - I can see the stress building on Dusty's face even thought I know he's trying to hide it. Both of my parents and Dusty's grandma arrive at the hospital.
The doctor comes in and tells me he's ordering a pregnancy test before sending me off for a CT of my chest and lungs. I just went to the bathroom twenty minutes before. He needs to make sure there isn't a clot in my lungs, but ensures me it's just a precaution and he expects to send me home. They hook me up to some fluids to help me go to the bathroom. Within twenty minutes I'm practically running to the bathroom.
2:30 PMThey finally confirm I'm not pregnant. My stomach is growling as I haven't eaten all day, and I'm beginning to get a light headache. My mouth is dry and I'm dying of thirst, but they tell me I have to wait for now.
They finally bring me back to for my CT. The nurse injects dye into my IV. I feel a rush of warmth from my ears to my toes, and I feel like I'm wetting myself. The tech assures me I'm not, and I am instructed to hold my breath until I'm told I can breathe again. I'm counting in my head, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight....I feel like I'm going to bust, I just can't hold my breath any longer. We do this several times, then I'm wheeled back into my room.
We wait...and wait..and wait. A nurse comes in and gives me a shot of a blood thinner called Lovenox into my stomach.
The pharmacist comes in with a box labeled Lovenox at Home and explains to me that she'll be sending me home with some shots that I will need to self-administer into my abdomen every 12 hours until my oral medication is completely into my system, usually about 5-7 days. She explains to me how to administer the shots, how they work and answers all my questions. As she's explaining things, I glance across the room to see tears slowly falling down my mom's cheeks.
Still no word on my CT. I come to the conclusion that if there were clots in my lungs I would know by now because they've told me that's pretty serious. I'm so hungry and I have a migraine. I'm also very tired and I want to close my eyes but I'm afraid that if I drift off I won't wake up so I force myself to stay awake. Dusty goes out to the nurse's station and tells them I need food and water as I haven't eaten anything all day. They send back a tray of spaghetti, green beans and peaches and I try to eat. I can't get more than about five bites down.
The doctor comes in and we all breathe a sigh of relief when we see him. He sits down on the stool next to the bed and tells me there's been a change of plans. I have clots in both lungs, and will need to be admitted. A wave of fear and dread washes over me and the tears start coming once again. He says they want to do an echo of my heart to make sure clots haven't moved to my heart, and the nurses will be back in to take me to my room in awhile.
I'm finally wheeled up to a room. The nurse comes in and takes my vitals and takes more blood.
I finally convince Dusty to go home and get some rest. My leg is sore but otherwise I feel fine, and he hasn't eaten anything all day and looks exhausted. He says he feels guilty leaving but I ensure him I'm okay so he agrees. A few minutes after he left my phone rang. It was him, calling from the parking lot to make 100% sure that I'm okay with him going home. I tell him of course, please don't feel guilty, and I'll see him in the morning.
Friday, August 3, 2012 - 1 week, 3 days 'til surgery
I've been lying in bed for hours praying, pouring my heart and soul out to the Lord. I just keep pleading, "Please God, don't take me away from my family...not yet...Mackenzie's been through so much in her life...please don't leave her without her Mommy...Dusty has The tears fall off and on as I pray. I've never felt so scared and desperate in all my life, or prayed so hard. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to pretend that I'm in my own bed, hand in hand with Dusty, the same way we lay every night as we fall asleep. I finally relax enough to drift off.
A nurse comes in to give me my Lovenox shot and take more blood. Each time they take blood they stick me in a different part of my hand. With the blood thinners I'm already seeing bruises appearing. It seems like every one of the medical personnel I see tells me how incredibly lucky I am to be alive. I finally get the nerve up to ask the question that's been haunting me since my arrival at the hospital.
"So, if we hadn't caught this when we did, what would that have meant for me?"
"Honey, your condition is serious - the clot in your leg is extremely large by any standard."
"Well, how big is 'BIG', exactly?" I ask curiously.
"Let me put it to you this way," she answers. "A normal dosage for Lovenox is 40 mg. We're giving you 120 mg twice a day. It's a miracle you're alive. Chances are you wouldn't have made it 'til tomorrow if we hadn't found this, and if by some miracle you made it to your surgery day, there's no way you would have survived the surgery" She says quietly.
I can't fall back asleep now. I turn on the TV to watch the news, but I'm too tired to keep my eyes open to watch, but too overwhelmed to sleep.
Dusty arrives back at the hospital. He hugs me for a really long time and tells me he didn't sleep a wink, but just kept closing his eyes and trying to pretend I was sleeping next to him. I smile at him, amazed at my soul mate and our love for one another.
Dusty and I have both just drifted off when they come to get me for echo.
The echo is just like an ultrasound of your chest. The tech pushes hard on my neck, chest and under my left breast into my ribs. It's uncomfortable, but the fear of what the results are is the worse part. About 1/2 an hour later we're done and then I'm wheeled back up to my room to wait for results.
I've been told a few times that I should be able to go home today, but I haven't even seen the doctor or heard any results from my echo.
The nurse comes in with another Lovenox shot. This time she lets me administer it to myself because it's expected that I'll be discharged soon. It's not too bad, I don't even feel the needle go in, just a little stinging from the medicine afterwards.
The doctor comes in and tells me good news - NO clots in my heart. I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Then he tells me the clots in my lungs are putting a strain on my heart, and because I still feel short of breath when I walk they want to keep me another day. I'm half relieved and half bummed. I want to be home in my own bed, in my own surroundings...but I'm also scared to go home. Kenzie comes to visit and we hug for really long time. Tears stream down her face as she looks at me through her big blue eyes. I can tell she's scared. She doesn't want to leave but I give her my cupcake from dinner and she cheers up a little.
I convince Dusty to head home for the night.
My cell phone rings and it's Mackenzie. She's crying, hard. So hard she can't catch her breath and I can barely understand her. I can hear the desperation in her voice as she pleads with me that she NEEDS to see me, she can't wait 'til morning, and she's scared because she can't live without me and she needs me in her life. It takes me more than 25 minutes to calm her down enough to get off the phone with her. I lay in bed and cry. I feel so sad for her, so sad that I have caused her pain. She's too young to completely understand what's going on, but old enough to be terrified - the possibility of losing her mother has now become a very real thing. I toss and turn until around 1 AM. I finally drift off and sleep soundly until it's time for my Lovenox shot at 5 AM.
Saturday, August 4, 2012 - 1 week, 2 days 'til Surgery
The day has gone by without much excitement. Mackenzie comes by for another visit and it feels so good to hug her again. I scoot over and she lays in bed next to me while we watch America's Funniest Home Videos. It feels good to laugh with her again. About an hour or so later it's time for her to go. She cries, and it breaks my heart as I assure her that everything is going to be okay. My mom offers to take her to a movie to get her mind off things.
The doctor comes in and asks how I'm feeling. I'm doing much better now, not having any shortness of breath and feel more energetic. He approves me to go home, and Dusty and I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
It feels like it's been years since I've been told I can go home, and I'm still hooked up to my heart monitor as well as my IV. Finally, the nurse comes in and unhooks everything so I can get dressed. A few minutes later he re-appears with discharge papers and reads me a list of everything I can't do, which includes shaving my legs. I'm wheeled out and as hokey as it sounds, the sky looks bluer and the grass is a brilliant shade of green. I thank God for giving me healing and letting me live. I am so thankful to be alive.
I'm finally home and a wave of exhaustion flows over me. I sink into my bed, the cool, crisp sheets comforting me. My bed has never felt so comfortable, and I'm asleep in seconds.
I wake up to find Dusty is up and around in the living room. I get up and hang out watching TV with him for about an hour before going back to bed for the night.
Sunday, August 5, 2012 - 1 week, 1 day 'til surgery
Against everyone's better judgement, I get up early and shower so Dusty and I can go to church. I feel more alive than I have in years. My leg is still sore and a little weak, but I'm determined that if I'm able to walk, I will be in church to praise God for all of the blessings in my life. The entire congregation is shocked to see me. I had no idea everyone cared so much, and it means a lot to me to know their thoughts and prayers have been with me. I have no doubt that they have helped pull me through all of this. Pastor Steve's sermon is about how God is the only one who is able to give and take life away, and it all lies in his hands. It really hits home, and I spend the majority of the sermon it total awe that I was given the gift of being able to live. Thank you, God!
Church is over and we head home. As we drive, I look out the window and my mind is overwhelmed with gratefulness to be able to enjoy such a beautiful day. Tears slowly fall as I explain to Dusty how I feel that I am a changed person. I'm lucky just to be alive, and I've taken it for granted. I'd forgotten to look for the beauty in everyday life - the blue sky, a thunderstorm, hot summer days, crisp autumn leaves, cold winter snows and fresh flowers in springtime. A hug from my beautiful daughter, a kiss from my husband...even the times when things aren't so great and Kenzie talks back or Dusty and I disagree - I'm BLESSED to be alive to experience that. I won't take it for granted anymore.