For today’s dose of Positivity Sunday, I thought I’d share my health struggles that I have been dealing with the past year, Why is that a positive thing, you may ask? Because I’m thankful to still be living, I’m thankful for wonderful medical experts, and I’m thankful for the support that has encompassed me since February. I’m thankful for a God of healing – one who made the blind see and the lame walk and the leper well – and one who I firmly believe can heal me.
When the semester began in January, I started to notice aspects about me changing, and I began making up excuses for these changes. I look awfully pale, I’d think, as I stared into the mirror in the morning. No need to worry, though, I had been inside most of the winter. I’m really tired and out of breath, I’d think, as I walked up the stairs to my class every morning. No need to worry, though. I just need to run and workout more. My hair is starting to fall out, I’d notice, as I washed my hair. No need to worry, though, I just need to eat more nutritiously. It really, really hurts to breathe, I’d think, as I tried to take a deep breath. No need to worry, though, it’s probably just asthma.
These were all just excuses. I wasn’t just a little pale – I was eggshell white. I wasn’t just out of breath because I needed to workout more – I had to stop to sit down after climbing only two steps. My hair wasn’t just falling out – it was limp and unhealthy and shedding every time I ran a brush through it. It didn’t just hurt to breathe – I felt as if a knife was piercing my ribcage every single time I took a short breath. But I just kept on pushing through. I can overcome whatever this is, I told myself. I can conquer 18 hours of school, being president of the theatre society, taking on a lead role in a play, maintaining my friendships, and my health. It’s all good. And so I went trudging on.
I was at rehearsal for The Importance of Being Earnest one Friday afternoon in February. Fridays were always our long rehearsals. I was giving one of my monologues when I took a breath and felt like glass broke inside of my chest. I can’t explain it. But I knew I had to sit down. I tried to find the breath again, but it hurt so badly. I have broken my arm. I have dealt with a painful auto-immune disease since I was 15. Nothing had ever hurt as badly as this did.
My director sent me home, and I ran to my bed crying. I told my mom what was wrong, and we thought I might either be dealing with pleurisy or a cracked rib. I laid down on my couch for three days, unable to move without the pain radiating through my body, and drove myself to my college clinic on Monday. After waiting 3 hours, I went in for X-Rays of my chest. When the results came back, the doctor was really confused. He said, “We don’t see anything wrong with your chest or lungs, but we do see distended air loops in your colon. You need a fast-pass to the emergency room.” And off to the ER I went, not knowing what was about to happen.
At the hospital, they did a CT scan. They didn’t see anything in my colon (at the time), but they did see two dark shadows – one in each lung. I was prepared to hear the worst – that I had lung cancer or something (which would have been bizarre, having never smoked a cigarette in my life), but I came to find out that I had a blood clot in each lung – I was dealing with pulmonary embolisms. They held me in the ICU for six days of total bed-rest, aside from an ultra-sound of my legs to see if that’s where the clots originated, and a colonoscopy. There was no sign of clotting in my legs, but my Ulcerative Colitis had also come back, causing severe anemia. My hemoglobin count was around 4. In a normal, healthy woman, it is between 12 and 14. I was really, really sick with blood clots and my auto-immune disease. The ICU and the bed-rest kept the clots from dislodging to my brain, which could potentially cause a stroke or kill me. So, the stakes were pretty serious.
In total, I spent ten days in the hospital. Six of those, I was on bed-rest. They had me on blood-thinners – pills and shots, prednisone – a steroid to reduce the inflammation in my colon, and several other medicines. I was worried about all of the school I was missing. Technically, I should have failed the semester, as students in Professional Block aren’t allowed to miss more than three of the same class. I missed three math classes. But my teachers were wonderful and let me stay (and I finished the hardest semester of my college career with a 4.0!)
There were some really hard hospital days. I am always so confused by doctors who tell me to rest, and yet wake me up every hour on the hour for vitals and breathing treatments. Quite the conundrum. I felt extremely incompetent and helpless. Having to call your nurse to brush your teeth or help you use the bed-pan makes you so thankful for the days you can do those small things on your own.
There were also some wonderful days, too. I’ll never forget the day my group of closest friends came and started pressing all the buttons on the equipment. They brought me a bag full of things like face wipes and breath spray so I didn’t feel quite as much like an invalid. The night I was taken to the ICU, my nurse – who also happened to be an unbelievably attractive male – stayed in the room with me and watched Pretty Little Liars and let me use his phone charger. I really enjoyed having cable, too. The shower I took the day I was taken off bed-rest (after six days of no showers) was probably the best shower I have ever taken.
Life since my release has been an uphill battle, but a good one. I’ve had to administer shots to my own stomach, I go to the doctor every week to see if my blood thinner dosage needs to change, my diet is completely out of whack because I can’t eat green things due to Vitamin K, which counteracts the blood thinners, and I can’t eat a ton of other healthy foods because they upset my Ulcerative Colitis. My diet has looked like a lot of fish, chicken and potatoes. I gained all the weight I lost pre-hospital and then some due to the steroid, and losing it is proving to be difficult. I run and do 30 Day Shred, and I haven’t seen a whole lot of difference.
But – life is good. I am recovering well, even if it isn’t as fast as the doctors expected. My supervisor at school told me I was one of the best student-teachers she had ever seen. I had plenty of theatre to take my mind off things this summer. I can breathe without wanting to die again. I have gotten back into running this summer, and can run up to 5 miles before I have to start running intervals instead. I’m getting there.
(My brother visited me when I was there. I think this was Day 5 of no showers and you can totally tell I lost a lot of hair around my hair-line.)
(this was today. A much, much healthier version of me!)
And I know a lot of people are going to wonder what caused it, so I’ll just say it. My birth-control caused it. The warnings you hear in super-rapid-speech at the end of commercials? They are real.
Through it all, I am thankful.