I’m a 27-year-old mom of two amazing kids and currently completing my Masters degree in Healthcare Administration, while working as a teacher’s assistant at the university. Life as a young mom has its challenges, so adding school and work just complicates things, and adds more stressors. Nothing that can’t be handled if you’re organized, I believe. My escape from all my stress, was to work out almost daily. I have done kickboxing, strength training, and even yoga. But my favorite and what worked the most with my schedule was running. I would run 2 miles a couple of times a week at night after I put the kids to bed. Working out really helped me cope, and helped relieve any negative energy I was feeling at the end of a usually long day. I found that working out at night helped me sleep better and wake up fresh and ready to handle what life brings my way. Which normally is a lot! I also try to eat healthy, but I could probably improve on that; I do love me some CHOCOLATE!!!! I don’t even smoke, not even occasionally, or take any type of drug or medication, and do not have any issues with my weight. They also ruled out any type of genetic disorder that could cause that type of issue. So, what I’m about to tell you is how I went from the healthy and very active person, to being admitted to the ICU.
It all started when I began to feel tired and out of breath while doing simple tasks that don’t exhaust your body to the point where you feel like you just ran a marathon. In mid-November about a month before the end of the semester where everything started to get out of hand and extremely wild, I started feeling tired more often than my norms. I would go up and down the stairs and feel out of breath, which is something that was out of the ordinary for my body to feel. And day by day it started to get worse, I would get out of breath and feel my heart racing even if I’m just doing dishes or folding laundry. To me at first, I thought I was getting the flu, so I kept waiting for other symptoms like a runny nose or sore throat. But the only symptom I had was the heart palpitations. So, I ignored it for a couple of days hoping that if I rested, I will start feeling better. But one night I got some pain in the back of my right shoulder and towards my back. At first, I thought I must have pulled a muscle or something. So, I took some pain medication and thought to myself; if the pain doesn’t go away I’ll go and check it out. But it did, so I ignored.
After two days I started feeling overworked and my heart was racing around the clock. My husband encouraged me to go and check it out, because being as healthy as I was and working out, I shouldn’t get tired just from going upstairs or just doing the dishes. So, the next day I went with my husband to Urgent Care, as soon as I told them how I felt, and they noticed me panting from just walking from the car to the front desk, they took me in right away. The nurse took my blood pressure and when she noticed the heart rate and after I described to her how I was feeling for the past week, she right away hooked me up to do an EKG reading. My heart rate at that time was 130, which is very high considering my normal rate that is 60 at resting state. The physician calmly told me that they suspected a couple of things including blood clots (especially after I told them I was on birth control) but he couldn’t do all the necessary tests he would want to conduct at the urgent care. Therefore, he was transferring me to the ER. In the ER the doctors did all the blood work they wanted to do, they also ordered a CT scan.
While I was there I couldn’t believe that at my age, and having my good health, I would have blood clots, so I kept thinking maybe I could have hypothyroidism that would also cause the heart palpitation I had. Once the CT results came out, it confirmed that I had severe Pulmonary Embolism, I had multiple clots in both my lungs; some clots where big and blocking my main arteries. It was so severe that they straightaway took me to ICU because I was at risk of the clots moving and causing major complications. The doctor told me that I was very lucky to have had symptoms for a week without getting a stroke or experiencing respiratory depression. I guess most of the time people with such severe clotting (as I had), are only seen by doctors when signing their death certification. He also said, because I was healthy and worked out, my heart was able to sustain overworking as If I was running 24/7. My heart rate during my stay at the hospital would reach 160 if I would just get up and go to the bathroom.
One night during my stay at the ICU when the lab came to draw some blood, which they did every 4 hours. I blacked out and suddenly slowly opened my eyes to this fogged up view of so many doctors all over me; they were putting and adjusting all these pads and wires that were hooked up to me. I heard them say, “She’s back”! It felt like as if I was dreaming and trapped, unable to talk or move! It was so weird, and I kept saying to myself, “This is a nightmare and I’ll wake up soon” But I was not dreaming! And I could see the crash cart in the room and the automated external defibrillator (AED) ready as if they were about to shock me! I kind of knew what had happened, even before they told me, due to my healthcare background. I’ve never experienced something as scary as that in my life. It was like as if I was talking in my head, but my lips weren’t responding, moving my hands but they were too heavy to move, or feeling extremely hot and wanting to pull everything off me. And for a second there, I thought I was dead! I guess I was coming back from almost being dead. It’s still very hard to believe.
Once I was able to slowly move my body and talk, they told me that my heart stopped for about 7 seconds, and they had to do some chest compressions to get my heart pumping again. I remember my chest hurting shortly after – and then I just started crying not knowing how to process something like that. The nurse who did the chest compressions on me was simply an outstanding person who was so compassionate and really caring. She made sure I processed it as much as I could that night, and stayed with me as long as I needed her, and another “angel” that I will keep anonymous. Even though I wasn’t alone, I still had the fear of closing my eyes, and wasn’t able to fall asleep at first, until I just crashed from exhaustion. The next morning different specialists passed by to reassure me that it was Vasovagal Syncope, where my blood pressure dropped then my heart rate started going down until it stopped. They reassured me and did an ECO exam to check my heart. It was okay. My heart stopped simply due to my body freaking out from all the stress it and I was going through. Eventually, the doctors concluded that indeed the clots were due to the Birth Control and that it was most likely the only reason for getting the clots.
I’ve been on birth control for years and knew the risks of using them. But, as we all do, I never thought in a million years that I would be one of the people who would bring those risks to life. All birth control that plays with the hormone levels has a risk of causing blood clots, but the chances are small. So, we don’t hear about it that often, and often think that it’s so minor, it must not happen at all. Now, after what happened to me, I would have never started using birth control if I knew that those minor risks could lead to such a life threatening and life altering incidence. And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been using them, how old and healthy you are, or what kind of birth control you’re using; they all have the same risks! And it happens more often than we think. Evidently one of the nurses at the hospital told me that her daughter had the same thing happen at the age of 21, from the use of birth control also.
This is a message to all women. We as women tend to take care of everyone else first and put everyone ahead of ourselves. But that needs to change! I ignored symptoms because I had responsibilities and family to take care of, and easily brushed off my symptoms. I also think we should be aware of what we use and take, and not just think of the risks as something that wouldn’t happen to us. I now believe that taking all types birth control has turned into something so easily accessed and used as if they are completely safe. Every single girl I know is using some sort of birth control. It’s like an automatic reflex when you’re in a relationship. We should be more careful of what we use, and try our best to control things more naturally, instead of relying on medications and pills to solve and prevent pregnancy, illnesses and aches and pains for us. I’m not talking about the types of medications that you need to be on for medical reasons, like the blood thinners I’m on now. I’m talking about the medications that we can live without, but choose to take without really researching the risks. Especially, the types of medications that alter the natural state of our bodies.
I think that if you really need to use birth control, you should at least consider trying a more natural way for the long run, instead of relying on them for life. For example, getting to know your body and when you most likely to ovulate. I’ve done some research and there are some things that could help you understand your menstrual cycle including the days that you’re most likely to get pregnant on. For instance, there is a bracelet that you can wear when you’re sleeping during the night that monitors your temperature to help detect your ovulation period. That’s only one way but there are many others. It’s definitely something to consider and think about. I now say to myself, “Was using birth control worth it? Worth going through what I did, and the months of recovery I have ahead?” I don’t think it was! I’m just thankful it didn’t cost me my life, but it could have.
Here is to Women! And to the strength and resilience we must have to overcome anything. May the New Year to come bring us health, happiness and stronger faith.