Wild and crazy update! I have the BEST excuse for the lack of blogs lately. Usually I post about a week or so after the fact, because I like including photos from my travels, and (gasp!) I don’t often edit them in real time. I have a ton of stories I want to share, but right now those are on the back burner. Finding reliable wifi on this road trip has been a bit of a challenge, but I’ve also had a few um, unexpected curve balls. Seriously, I challenge you to beat this one. Are you ready?
When I was exploring the Columbia Gorge on Tuesday, I felt a slight ache in my calf, but didn’t think much of it. I hiked about 6 miles before calling it a day, and passed out in the back of my Jeep around 9pm. On Wednesday I headed to Lost Lake, where I snapped this insane shot of lenticular clouds over Mount Hood. I walked about a mile or so around the shore, and while my calf was still sore, I figured it was just a random muscle/joint issue from pushing it the previous day. However, later that night I began to realize this might be something far more serious. I was tucked in to my sleeping bag, and my lower leg was throbbing so intensely I couldn’t fall asleep. Not only was the meatiest part of my calf completely swollen, but it was hot to the touch. My leg had a fever. WTF? I started Googling. This is never a good idea if you’re concerned about your health, but in this case, it might have actually saved my life. “Calf tear symptoms” was my first query. After about three more searches, I finally found some random internet thread where someone mentioned blood clot symptoms can be similar to calf tear symptoms. There was NO WAY I had a blood clot. Or was there?
On Thursday I woke up in excruciating pain, and I headed to the closest ER. I explained what I was doing (epic road trip, lots of driving, lots of hiking) and then listed off my symptoms. Based on what I was telling him, the ER doctor recommended an scan, rather than a blood test for a clot. It was more expensive, but more thorough. Fine. I’d rather just KNOW. He left and a ultrasound tech came in to do the scan, but she didn’t tell me anything. Apparently they’re not supposed to if there’s a problem, but she did a very good job keeping a poker face. About an hour later the doctor came back and gave me the news I was dreading: I had a blood clot in my lower leg. He explained that it was likely a provoked clot from the amount of time I was spending in the car and possible dehydration, and that blood thinners would help with this. I’d be discharged as soon as they called in my prescription. “But come back if you have any pains in your chest, a headache or difficulty breathing,” he before I left. “That could mean that the clot has moved to your lungs or brain, and that’s very serious.”
I booked myself a hotel, picked up my prescription and fell asleep around 8. The following morning I walked a few hundred feet down the street to get breakfast, and I went back to my hotel room to rest. The pressure and pain in my leg was worse, but I figured that was from the movement, so I crawled into bed and propped my foot up under a mountain of pillows. A few hours later I felt dizzy and weak and I had a dull ache in my chest. It felt like a fat cat was sitting on top of me, and a few times I felt pain when I inhaled. And then my anxiety kicked in. When that happens, my throat gets tight, I shake, and I find it difficult to take steady breaths. But then I reminded myself that before I started having a meltdown, something wasn’t right. So I drove back to the hospital.
I walked up to the check-in area, and recognized one of the receptionists from the previous day. “Hi, my name is Elisabeth Brentano and I was here yesterday. I was diagnosed with a blood clot in my lower leg, and the doctor told me to come back if things got worse, and I’m having trouble breathing and I think something is wrong…” And then I lost my shit. I couldn’t hold back my sobs, and I was immediately ushered back to a waiting room by a rock star nurse who held my hand and did everything in her power to calm me down. I haven’t spent that much time in hospitals or doctor’s offices, but she wins the award for nurse of a lifetime, because she got me to stop crying ad she actually calmed me down. Within 20 minutes I saw my doctor again, and he recommended that I get a chest scan. I felt like a hypochondriac, but an hour after that, I felt like I had made the best decision of my life.
The doctor told me I had two small clots in my lungs, which likely broke off from the one deep in my lower leg. Given the fact that I wasn’t a local and my family was nowhere near Hood River, Oregon, he also recommended that I stay overnight. If things got worse, I would be airlifted to the hospital in Portland. As I waited for my family to figure out transportation logistics to get up to me, I had a few moments where I wondered what would happen if I died. What would have killed me was totally preventable. How would my parents cope? Had I accomplished enough in my 32 years? When you’re alone and scared, your mind tends to wander to some very dark places. The IV in my arm made it hard for me to move or sleep, and every time I felt a twinge in my chest, I braced myself for the worst. It wasn’t a very good night for me.
Fortunately, things did not get worse. I still felt a bit off, but I could breathe and my vitals were normal when the nurses checked in the morning. My amazing stepsister drove down from Seattle and spent several hours with me, and shortly after that my mom arrived and I was released. She flew from up to Oregon, and we're driving my car back down to California as I type this. I probably won’t be posting again for a while because I want to focus on my health, but before I sign off I want to pass on a few words of wisdom:
As a young, fit individual, I tend to think I'm bulletproof. I'm not. This could have killed me, and to know that it was easily preventable makes me wonder how educated the public really is about clots and how they can form. Here are some notes:
First of all, drink lots of water. Let's be honest -- none of us do, but dehydration is a serious thing, and if you don't take in enough fluids, your blood thickens.
Second, get out of your seat every 60-90 minutes to walk and stretch and get your blood flowing. If you don't, your blood can collect and pool in certain spots in your body and that's the perfect recipe for a clot. I never did this before and now I'm paying the price.
Third, if you're a woman over 30 and you're on birth control, be especially aware of this. As you approach 35, women on the pill are at an increased risk of developing blood clots. I'm technically in my mid thirties now and I had no idea. The doctors don't know just how big of a factor this was for me, but it definitely was one.
If you road trip frequently and fly often like me, it could save your life. Please pass it on.