Murfreesboro, Tenn., July 7, 2016– This week marks three months since Representative Bryan Terry suffered a life threatening pulmonary embolism.
As it has not been a secret, I suffered from a pulmonary embolism(PE) on April 7. Well, actually, according to my CT scan, I suffered from at least 4 PE’s. Truth be told, I’m fortunate that it was four smaller PE’s as opposed to one large one. But with any setback, one has to look at the opportunity it presents. For me, I wanted to discuss my experience as a public service announcement in the hopes that someone can learn from me, and possibly save a life.
For those without a medical background, a PE is a blockage of one of your pulmonary arteries that is caused most commonly by a clot that has dislodged from somewhere else in your body, usually from a deep vein thrombosis(DVT). Air embolisms, fat emboli from bones, and amniotic fluid embolisms are other causes of PE’s. Factors such as immobility, cancer, surgery, and venous stasis increase one’s risk of a DVT.
To my knowledge, I don’t really have any of the risk factors, though I was on four flights during March. I didn’t have any of the usual symptoms of a DVT, either, such as pain, swelling, or warmth of a leg. In retrospect, my other symptoms began on Tuesday, April 5. It began as some very vague left abdominal pain. This feeling waxed and waned for a couple of days. The mild gnawing sensation lead me to believe I probably was dealing with an ulcer.
On Wednesday, the gnawing continued while I was on the House floor. I took some Pepto and Pepcid and went about the day. After lunch, the discomfort returned which is similar to an ulcer or gallbladder attack. I wasn’t short of breath, but knew I needed to see someone. At the Capitol, there is a Doctor of the Day. As my luck would have it, the doctor was a gynecologist. Yes, I saw him anyway, and you can insert your own joke here.
My vital signs, while elevated for me, were within the normal range, but I was advised to either go to the ER or follow up with my personal physician. Since the discomfort wasn’t bad, I decided to finish out the day of work at the Capitol and get checked out the next day.
That night, after dinner, the gnawing became worse. In fact, it began to creep up into my chest. At this point, I wrongfully assumed that the pain was an ulcer with acid reflux into my esophagus. I had two bills to present the next morning, so my plan was to take some medicine for the symptoms that night. Then, I planned to present by bills the next day and follow up with my physician.
I took some medicine and fell asleep. Around 4 AM, I woke to some significant crushing chest pain. I was mildly short of breath and had trouble completing a full sentence. I stumbled out of bed and into my nightstand. I went to my knees and leaned onto the bed as if to pray. Over the next few minutes, the pain and other symptoms improved, but I knew this wasn’t an ulcer. Positional chest pain and shortness of breath is more associated with pericarditis than a heart attack, but I knew I needed to get to the ER as soon as possible.
I called the emergency room and spoke with an ER physician to tell them my symptoms. Upon arrival to the ER, I was hooked up to various monitors and various tests were performed. When a test for clotting came back four times normal, I knew I was throwing clots to my lungs. A CT scan confirmed at least four blood clots in my lungs. At this point, I was on oxygen and blood thinners and placed in the hospital. Over the next few days, they worked on controlling the pain and improving my breathing. I was discharged in a few days, and have made a complete recovery.
I’m told that 40% of people who go to sleep with symptoms of a PE die in their sleep. I was very fortunate in that regard. Conservative columnist Erick Erickson, tennis star Serena Williams, and movie star Jimmy Stewart have suffered from having a PE. It is my hope that others will read this, and perhaps catch early signs of a PE before it leads to death. If it can happen to me, then it can potentially happen to anyone.