This is definitely not a post that I ever expected to write. Many of you know (but some do not) that I was in the hospital last week for two emergency surgeries for a blood clot in my subclavian vein. Here’s the story.
On Tuesday June 16th I woke up in Phoenix, Arizona on a layover just long enough for a dip in the pool and 8 hours of sleep. My left elbow hurt, my arm felt numb, and it tingled all the way down to my pinkie and ring fingers. I thought I had slept funny. I had two more days of flights before I got home, so I took it easy, tried not to lift anything too heavy with my left hand. It hadn’t changed so on Thursday I went to the doctor.
“You’ve pinched your ulner nerve,” he said. “That’s the funny bone.”
No wonder I felt that weird tingling all up and down my arm. With a couple visits to an acupuncturist in Chinatown the tingling was under control and I went back to work. I traded Milan and a weekend at Lake Garda for a quick and easy San Francisco trip (and tried not to cry on the inside). There wasn’t a lot of change over the next couple days: my arm felt full, heavy and weak. Still a little numb and swollen but the tingling was gone.
My upcoming week held some exciting things: a trip to Istanbul (on my bucket list for this summer) and sailing class on the Delaware River. I dropped my trip in favor of a shorter flight and cried on the outside this time.
When I woke up on Wednesday something was wrong. I got ready for barre class and took Daphne outside for a little fetch. My left arm felt like it was a balloon filling up with fluid, draining down into my hand. It had swelled a bit more over night and while my hands hadn’t been exactly the same color in a week, now it was clearly purple. I had a panic attack and ran back to the doctor’s office.
“You need to go to the ER and get an ultrasound, I think you have a blood clot.” Oh good, pretty much a nightmare.
I headed to Springfield Hospital and checked into the ER where they confirmed I did have a blood clot. They couldn’t do the procedure I needed, so they transferred me (after 6 hours of waiting — not a big deal, but they told me it would be “just five minutes” like four different times) to Crozer Chester Hospital, a level 1 trauma center. They also couldn’t manage to get an ambulance so Adam drove me over to the second hospital.
I had been told I wasn’t allowed to eat/drink after midnight, and when I woke on Thursday someone ordered me breakfast. I tried to keep a steady stream of anti-anxiety medication in my system but no one was really watching, so I randomly lost my shit due to lack of food and proper medication. My anxiety attack ultimately lasted for two and a half days.
The doctors came in and said I probably needed two procedures: they could do the first, but not the second and I should have both done by the same scalpel. So they transferred me to Pennsylvania Hospital in Old City, affiliated with UPenn (one of the best hospital systems in Philadelphia and the oldest hospital in the nation). I was clearly not going to sailing class on Thursday night.
26 hours after checking into the ER I finally had a doctor who
A. knew what was wrong with me
B. knew how to fix it and
C. actually could.
We were making progress.
Thursday afternoon I had my blood clot cleaned out (Dr. T showed me photos of my vein – it went from disappearing from the film entirely to showing a complete channel again). They put a heparin drip in my arm with a catheter the size of a coffee straw and I had a splint on that looked like a bazooka. The saucy Jen from after my hip surgery was mildly unhappy Jen instead this time around, and I got through the night.
Friday Dr. T pulled me back into the OR and I had a neat and tidy rib resection. He took out part of my first rib (insert witty Adam and Eve joke here) to make more room for my veins and nerves. This space was tight, and coupled with my birth control medication and career choice as a flight attendant I was a perfect storm waiting for a blood clot to touch down. Add in all the extra lifting I did with my left hand coming off my back injury, my subclavian vein had no chance. Now I was Very Unhappy Jen.
At this point, I had been denied food and water the better part of Wednesday (waiting in the ER), Thursday (waiting for my surgery at 4pm) and Friday (waiting for my second surgery at 3pm). So of course I was Very Unhappy Jen.
I questioned whether Dr. T had actually sliced off my rib like he said, because it felt like he had taken me out back and used my shoulder for target practice. I can completely imagine this is what getting shot feels like. A concentrated, clean through and out your back pain that makes you want to lie very still forever. Then they stapled me up and threw some glue on top. Apparently my chest is also a first grader’s construction project.
Saturday my splint (which got downgraded on Friday) was completely removed, the coffee straw came out of my arm and I got kicked out of the ICU where the very nice, super attentive nurses had been monitoring my every move, and my every heartbeat. By 9:30 pm I was cleared to go home.
Sadly the doctor releasing me didn’t think about the fact that it would take 2 hours to get all of the paperwork together from his end and from my attending nurse. So at 11:45 pm Adam goes out to get the car, I’m wheeled down into the lobby, and his car is locked in the parking garage. What kind of parking garage attached to a hospital CLOSES on the weekend and doesn’t allow people to exit?
Thirty minutes later the manager has released his car from parking garage jail and we go home around 1:00 am. Not the best move logistically, but I got my morphine-d self up the stairs and into bed.
So here we are, two weeks after I initially thought I had slept funny. I have not had a stroke, I have not lost my arm. And I am so incredibly grateful that neither of those happened AND that I was able to get excellent doctors on my case and fix me up so quickly. I am on some nice take home pain killers and off work for another 4-6 weeks. The just-been-shot feeling is very slowly fading as long as I take my meds on time. I’m already more mobile that I was expecting, though I do feel a bit like a Disney Princess — ready to faint at a moment’s notice.
And I’ve gotten some lovely flowers from Adam’s group at work and our friends from New Canaan.
I’ve had quirky health problems like this in the past (I had vocal chord surgery in high school then my hip surgery 2.5 years ago) but never something that was truly a crisis. It’s a relief that the crisis is over and I can laze about for the next couple weeks getting some rest and recuperation. But boy was it scary.
A lot of people have asked what to look for with a blood clot, since it’s something that my coworkers are definitely scared of (especially getting one as young as I am). And honestly I don’t know. I paid attention to my body, to weird feelings, to swelling and changes in color, and when my heart and mind went into panic mode I hauled ass to the doctor’s office.
I’ll be home the next few weeks, so if you want to hang out please let me know. I can’t drive until I get off percocet. And I am the type of person who really appreciates the old fashioned gestures: chicken noodle soup, a get well card, flowers. Quality hang out time is also appreciated, and it almost doesn’t hurt to laugh.