As I sat at the end of the table listening to people explaining what they feared losing the most, I found myself looking at my brand new medic alert bracelet and feeling completely out of place. Having a near-death experience just two short weeks before had completely altered my perspective, and I could no longer imagine myself lamenting the potential loss of anything other than my life. And with that literal ace in my hand, I pushed myself away from the table, quietly excused myself and walked out of the room, anxious to do something else. Anything else.
The subject of the morning's discussion group was "What Have You Got to Lose," and I patiently listened as people spoke of their fear of losing jobs, pensions, their feeling of competency and all I could hear was my own inner voice shouting that I was most afraid of losing my life before I had the chance to experience a relationship as meaningful as the one I have with my dog. And that really scared me, so I had to go.
It had hit me like a lightning bolt one afternoon, the sensation of a harpoon in my back. Convinced (and really hopeful) that it was merely a gas bubble that needed to be jostled free, I twisted and stretched in ways that surprised me in an effort to break it loose, but it only got worse. When the chills swept over me and I felt feverish, I knew something was terribly wrong, and the next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance.
As I struggled to recount my medical history for the emergency room doctor who couldn't figure out what was happening to me, I suddenly remembered that I had a blood clot in my right retinal vein back in 2001. As soon as I revealed this tidbit, I was whisked off to radiology for a CT Scan, and shortly thereafter, the mystery pain was identified. I had a pulmonary embolism. The doctor said these things are often diagnosed in autopsy, with the first symptom being sudden death, and he and I were both rather impressed that I had survived. I have a genetic defect called Factor Five Leiden that makes me a super clotter. After my retinal vein occlusion, I was prescribed the blood thinner Warfarin, and a couple of years down the road, my doctor said he didn't think I needed to take it anymore. Delighted by the prospect of not having regular blood tests and dealing with the dietary restrictions that went along with taking that blood thinner, I did not question him.
I should have.
The good news is that I have the most amazing and beautiful friends anyone could ask for, and for that I am truly fortunate. Seeing my friends magically appear in my hospital room when they live 150 miles away was a powerful moment that I'll always treasure.
This experience taught me a lot of things, not the least of which is to assume a more active role in my healthcare. It's important that I understand my condition and educate myself on how to manage it and hopefully avoid another incident like this one. I'm not sure which frightened me more -- the embolism itself, or the helpful nurse who asked me if I had a will and an advance health care directive. Regardless, I feel I've been given a tremendous gift, and I don't want to waste it. As soon as I can take a deep breath again, I intend to shout that from a rooftop.