About five years ago I started feeling a heavy pain in my chest. It's a type of pain that's difficult to put into words. At first, it felt like an ache, the type of pain you might get when you've just worked your muscles really hard. Then that slight pain turned into a shooting, stabbing pain on my right side that spread from deep in my lungs, up to my shoulder whenever I took deep breaths.
It wasn't normal. I went to a doctor to figure out what was wrong with me. He didn’t seem concerned. The pain didn't go away. It was actually getting worse. I went to another doctor, and then another. Within about a week and half, I saw five doctors who didn’t know what was wrong with me. Who didn’t show concern for what was going on, and only really seemed to throw prescriptions at me and get me out the door. (Does anyone else see this problem with our health care systems? We’re so quick to put medication in our bodies to cover up our problems, even if we don’t really know what the problem is.)
At this point, I felt like I was on my own personal episode of House. And even though it had only been a week and half, it felt like nobody was going to be able to help me. The pain got to be so excruciating that I couldn’t even sleep. Not only did I feel that sharp, shooting pain when I took a deep breath. I felt it when I was laying down ten-fold. Feeling helpless, all I could do was cry.
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I went to the emergency room. And I waited, and waited, and waited. And cried, and cried, and cried. Every now and then, looking up at the nurses, who could only give me looks of sympathy and nothing else.
And after all that - the bouncing around from doctor to doctor and the hours of waiting at the hospital, the ER doctor did a simple blood test. It literally took minutes and they knew immediately that I had blood clots in my lungs – also known as a pulmonary embolism. I was immediately given a shot of fragmin, which is basically a fast-acting blood thinner that tries to break down the clots, and was sent home with a follow-up appointment the next morning.
What that blood test didn't detect, was exactly how bad those blood clots were. Early the next morning, I had an appointment for a lung scan. Essentially, what they do, is inject you with some sort of radioactive serum, which I guess sort of 'lights up' your blood flow. (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried) Then as you lay down, this giant machine scans your body, looking for any blockages or clots. But remember how I mentioned laying down caused me even more pain? As tears streamed down my face, I tried to be tough. I was asked if I wanted to stop, take a break. But then I'd have to just do it all over again. At this point, I was in pain for over a week. I wanted it to be done. I wanted to know what was wrong with me so I could move on with my life.
After the test, we waited for the results. At the time, I was with my mother and aunt. We were pulled into a small office, my scans visible on the surrounding monitors, and a very concerned looking radiologist. He told me I had two blood clots in my right lung, and another in my left lung. I clearly didn't gauge how serious this was at the time. He saw my unaffected reaction and looked me straight in the face, "You aren't going anywhere, and you’re not walking, you're staying right here until we get you a wheelchair. This is very serious. You could die."
Um, excuse me? What was that? My face went blank. I mean, how do you react to that type of news? My actual response was the furthest thing from how I would have ever thought I would react.
I made my way back to the waiting room to wait for somebody with a wheelchair to pick me up. I sat, motionless, unable to form actual coherent sentences. My mom turned to me and asked if I was okay. All I could muster out was, "I can't talk right now." And even though, I was in that state of shock, my mind felt clear. I kept thinking to myself, "I’m 19 years old and I'm about to die. Okay. I'm okay with that."
It was the strangest experience I had ever encountered in my entire life. If somebody asked me how I would react to that same situation prior to it actually happening, I would've thought I'd have burst into tears, screaming, "Why me?!" But instead, I was calm. A sort of peaceful acceptance washed over me as I reassured myself that it would be okay.
A few hours later, I was given another shot to thin my blood, monitored for a few more hours, and then sent home after the doctors told us I was actually at a higher risk a week before when the clots first developed. (You know, that week when those series of doctors didn't think to do a simple blood test.)
I was then prescribed with a series of shots, which over the course of a week, I injected into my stomach myself. That alone taught me that we're all stronger than we think. I definitely would have never thought that I would be capable of giving myself a needle, but sometimes you just do what you have to do.
After this entire experience, I was left feeling grateful. There are hundreds, thousands, even millions of people who have gone through experiences that were more traumatic, life-altering, and certainly had a closer brush with death than what I did. There are countless people who deal with struggles every single day. Struggles that aren't easy. Struggles that try to break down our spirits... our very core. And I am constantly amazed by people and their stories. Our ability to power through and remain positive, even if it hurts more than anything else in the world. We are all incredibly resilient. And even if at times, we feel alone and helpless, we just might shock ourselves by how strong we are when push comes to shove.
To date, I'm perfectly healthy. I'll be on medication for the rest of my life, being monitored through blood tests every 4-6 weeks, with annual appointments with a specialist. But, really, I felt like I got off easy.
Being told that there was a possibility that I might die snapped me back into reality. It had a funny way of putting things back into perspective for me. I don't think I had experienced that sort of clarity before. It's true that when something bad happens, you can let it do one of three things; you can let it define you, you can let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.
I chose the latter.
Because life is fragile. It can be taken away from you in mere moments. So cherish it. I truly believe that happiness is what you make it. Hell, life is what you make it. Which is why it's so important to let go of the negative. Soak in what matters most. Tell the people around you how much you love them. Seize the day. Don't ever settle for anything else than what you deserve. And you deserve the world.