Category Archives: Warning Signs

Pulmonary Embolism

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Two weeks before the end of my pregnancy I had a funny feeling radiating up my spine. I thought perhaps this is what a contraction feels like. I wasn’t sure. This was my first pregnancy and I hadn’t experienced anything that remotely felt like it could be a contraction up until the moment I had this feeling. Later, during labor I found out what contractions felt like and knew the feeling I had two weeks prior – wasn’t a contraction. Even later than that, three weeks post pregnancy, post-tumor removal surgery – I was in the hospital and experienced this pain again. This time it was even worse. So bad, that I thought I was having a heart attack.

To describe the pain to someone with a science background – it was like what you think an action potential would feel like if you could actually feel an action potential. I know that is a weird way to describe it but every time I recall the feeling, my mind goes back to my neuroscience class in college and the endless hours studying action potentials and looking at leeches and their nervous systems.

To describe the pain to everyone else that isn’t into science – it was like a radiating pain, pulsing and building upon itself – getting stronger and stronger moving up the spine. It was sharp. It took my breath away. Each pulse sent me forward from my chair.

What exactly is a pulmonary embolism (PE)?

A pulmonary embolism is a blockage of the main artery of the lung or one of its branches by a substance that has travelled from elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream (embolism). PE most commonly results from deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the deep veins of the legs or pelvis) that breaks off and migrates to the lung, a process termed venous thromboembolism (VTE). This was my case. The obstruction of the blood flow through the lungs and the resultant pressure on the right ventricle of the heart lead to the symptoms and signs of PE. The risk of PE is increased in situations with cancer, like mine. To read more on PE’s see wikipedia.org.

The most important thing with a pulmonary embolism in my opinion is to get IMMEDIATE assistance. We had big issues with this in the hospital. BIG! In a Terms of Endearment type moment my mom was screaming in the hallway to have someone take us seriously and get me help while my husband was also trying to get assistance, just more calmly. This all led to a big family argument and in retrospect the argument was silly. I needed help but we were worried about causing a scene because we didn’t think we would be treated properly if we did. How awful is that? Why do patients have to feel like they are walking on egg shells with some nurses? Why do you feel that if you demand attention you will be neglected? I had a lousy nurse that night. Lousy. What a bad night to have the one lousy nurse we encountered in my 10 days in the hospital.

To see what my issue was that night the doctor ordered a CT scan. My CT scan was a nightmare. First of all I was on a lot of pain meds and felt very disoriented. I was wheeled down to the bottom floor by a nurse and left in a dark room. Yes, dark room for more than a half hour alone with nobody checking in on me. Off in the distance I heard a bunch of nurses laughing about who was getting “booty” from whom. WHAT? I was so scared to be alone and nobody could hear me. I started to cry uncontrollably because I was afraid I was going to have another episode and I would be laying dead and nobody would know. After that day I never again went to another scan without my husband in tow. Finally a nurse walked through and I said, “Can somebody please help me or tell me what is happening and where I am?”. I think I really scared her because she was so shocked that someone just left me like that. Anyway! The CT scan…they put me on the table and hooked me up to the contrast. I instantly started feeling the pain I felt upstairs. I was so scared. They stopped the contrast, let me sit a moment, then continued. The CT scan confirmed that I had a PE and I immediately had to start Lovenox shots – a blood thinner.

The Lovenox shots. Oh the Lovenox shots. If you are skinny these are quite possibly one of the most painful things you will experience with cancer. The first one brought instant tears to my eyes. I was prescribed two shots a day in the hospital for 3 days. Every time the nurse would come in I would start to cry and I am a pretty tough cookie. I would lay awake all night thinking about that darn shot. I was so happy when I was able to go home and start Coumadin, a pill. Later after thinking I was possibly allergic to Coumadin my doctor put me back on Lovenox shots and I learned that when you give them to yourself you can go very slow and it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad. If you are skinny, save yourself some agony and ask your nurse to administer the shot slowly.

Something Was Wrong

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something is wrong cancer is taking over

Something was very wrong with me post pregnancy.

My extended family was in town for the birth of our daughter, Grace.  Strangely, I could not handle any interaction – large or small. I was so on edge. I literally wanted to scream. I was in so much pain. My mother-in-law was pushing the fact that perhaps I had post-pardum depression. I knew for a fact that was not my issue. I was not depressed. I felt sick. Very sick.

Something was wrong.

I spent the night vomiting, and losing control of my bowels. I was desperately trying to nurse Grace and not wake anyone up while this was all happening. I felt like my body was going to burst into flames I was so hot.  The next morning after absolutely exploding and making a scene about needing sleep the day prior, I stayed in bed and tried to sleep. I had a very high temperature. After some research I discovered sometimes post pregnancy you can get an infection which presents itself as a fever and it could be fatal. This combined with the fact that my stomach was HUGE and hard like I was still five months pregnant three weeks post pregnancy I decided it was time to go to the emergency room.

Something was wrong.

I was checked in right away and had an ultrasound and CT scan that showed I had a large mass in my abdomen measuring approximately 22cm. They were not sure what it was. They gave me some pain meds, contacted the on-call OBGYN surgeon who suggested to send me home. On two different occasions of trying to leave I dropped to the ground. I should have NEVER been sent home. The emergency room established an appointment with the on-call OBGYN the following day and sent me off on my way.

Dammit, something was wrong!

The next morning I got up and went to see the doctor the emergency room recommended. Oh my goodness! By the time I got there I could not even walk. I was in crippling pain only to encounter the most insensitive, poorest excuse I have EVER met for a human and a doctor. She treated my husband and I like absolute fools. How does someone like that get into medicine?  Needless to say, she left the room and we told the nurse there was no way we were putting my life in her surgical hands. The nurse totally understood. So much so, that for the next few weeks prior to my visit she called to check up on me because she knew how awful the woman she was working for was and she felt bad.

Something was wrong.

I got home and told my family that I would not be seeing that woman and I would hopefully be seeing my Dr. W., the doctor who delivered Grace to get a recommendation. My family freaked out that I was delaying help. My instincts told me this wasn’t the path for me and I am so glad I followed my instincts. Later that day I called Dr. W. to see if I could go in and talk to her. She was willing to see me. I went in so desperate telling her that something was very, very wrong and I needed help. She was very concerned and recommended I go see Dr. M. right away.  She also confirmed the fact that I should have NEVER been released from the hospital. Something was obviously wrong, she said!

The next morning we got up and headed to the hospital to meet Dr. M. Ryan drove 5 miles per hour the whole way there because I couldn’t handle any bumps in the road. The pain was excruciating. I felt so bad for the guy, I would scream every time he hit a bump. The first office we went to told us Dr. M. no longer worked there and sent us to the bottom floor of the hospital. This was a very long journey. By the time we got to the other office we were late and I was in panic that I would not be seen. We got to the check in desk only to find out Dr. M. was at a different location across town. I started to ball!! I begged the receptionist to call over to the other office and plead for us to still be seen. So began another long, 5 mile per hour journey across town. Good god!! Can I catch a break?! Am I destined to rot? Why is this so freaking hard?

Oh dear god, something is so wrong…why can’t someone just realize – something is wrong!!!

We finally arrived and sat for three agonizing hours for the doctor only to have a nurse call from the door and watch Ryan try to push my wheel chair while I was balling in pain and juggle Gracie’s car seat. Was she really not going to step out and help? Is this going to be another awful experience? She then demanded I get up to be weighed and did not assist me until I started crying harder because I couldn’t get up. (side note: I later came to LOVE this nurse.)

And then came peace…

I was then wheeled down the hall and around the corner to two sympathetic, loving faces, Dr. M. and his NP, Jackie. They were so kind to us. Dr. M. walked us through all the possible things this mass could be and said he wanted me to immediately go to the hospital and that Grace needed to go home for one evening until post surgery. He instantly had everything in place. This is the man I would over and over again trust my life to.  I knew I was a long way from being out of the woods, but it was so amazing to finally have someone recognize there was truly something wrong with me and take care of me finally.

I arrived at the hospital feeling like all would be well after my surgery the next day and that I probably just had a twisted ovary. Then we were told by the front desk to go to the 8th floor. When I got up there the sign said Oncology.

Gulp. Did he know something we didn’t? Nah. (to be continued)