It was the Friday exactly three weeks after my ACL and meniscus knee surgery. My recovery seemed to be going as expected. My knee was moving well. The knee pain was gone. I could walk around with crutches. The swelling in my leg was a bit more than usual though but I was assured that some people just swell more and since it wasn’t creating pain that all was well.
That morning, though, I woke up with a sore calf. I knew massage would relieve the mild pain so I found myself actually excited to go to physical therapy (a.k.a. pain and torture.) But first, onto Andrew’s his pre-school graduation to watch him go onto a stage for the first time in three years (yahoo, anxiety be gone!) and then to celebrate with mini-mozzarella sticks and ice cream at Friendly’s.
It was going to be a great day – and it was, until mid-bite of my umpteenth mozzarella stick, when I noticed that Mac had a huge, and I mean huge, red, hot swollen lymph node in his neck. The last time this happened it lead to a high fever and a seizure so I naturally began to worry.
Celebration be done. Such bad, bad timing. I was so disappointed to have to take my focus off of Andrew and back to Mac’s health issues which has been the focus of our lives since oh, September. I begrudgingly (and nervously) called the Pediatrician. We decided that I needed to bring Mac in immediately to make sure that a major infection wasn’t brewing. So, the boys quickly took the last bites of their volcano sundaes and we headed out so I could hit the doctor.
Unfortunately, this new event in the schedule meant that I had to skip physical therapy, which by now, I was desperate to go to. Fortunately though, Mac just had a virus and that entire weekend he never spiked one of his infamous high fevers and never had a seizure. Phew. Crisis averted.
One crisis averted that is.
The cramp in my leg refused to go away that weekend. I did all the calf stretches that I knew. I massaged my calf until the cows came home. I rested with my foot up. I made sure to walk heal to toe and not vice versa which I knew caused leg cramps. But nothing helped and in fact, the pain worsened and worsened. I woke up Monday morning and could barely walk because I couldn’t put any pressure on my left leg. It was dreadful. “Darn leg cramp,” I thought.
As I hobbled into physical therapy a few hours later, my PT, Tyler, greeted me and nonchalantly asked, “So, how was your weekend, how are you feeling?”
“Mostly good. I am sorry I had to cancel last minute Friday. I actually really wanted to come as I have this calf cramp that just won’t go away. And this morning it was difficult to walk. It feels like a tight muscle but I stretched and stretched and it won’t release.”
“Oh,” he said. “Let’s get you up on the table and check it out.”
I oh so ungracefully threw myself up onto the table, ready for him to you know, just fix the pain.
“Let me know if anything hurts when I press on it, okay?”
It was like a game of duck, duck, goose but this time it was, “Nope, Nope, Nope, OH MY GOSH OUCH!” I had one very, very tender spot the size of a thumbnail. Everything else around it was sore, but not like this. Anytime he gently touched it, my leg jumped in pain.
“I am going to have another PT examine you just for a confirmation that it isn’t wise to do physical therapy today.” Well, needless to say she agreed that physical therapy was off and they both agreed to what I was then told:
“We think you might have a blood clot. You probably don’t but we should check it out just to be on the safe side because you don’t mess with blood clots. If you miss one, it can be really bad.”
I walked (who am I kidding, hobbled) out of the PT office and headed to get an ultrasound on my leg (yeah for having access to an entire medical team in one building!) Truth be told, I wasn’t worried at this point. In fact, I was actually laughing at the irony of the situation. You see, I always bring concerns to doctors (I guess I have a weak tolerance for pain) and never once have I been right to be concerned. So why would I have any reason to be concerned this day when I didn’t even start out concerned? I mean really, the one time I should be concerned and on alert, and I am so not.
Well, that feeling of laughing at the situation lasted a whopping hour and came to an abrupt halt when I overheard the ultrasound tech say to my knee surgeon, “yada yada yada…blood clot in her calf…yada yada yada.”
“Wait, did I hear that correctly?” I thought. The tech turned to me and said, “Okay, it is safe to go home.” Now mind you, he hadn’t even directly told me I had a clot so I didn’t truly have a clue what was transpiring.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Didn’t you just say that I have a blood clot? And if so, why are you using the word ‘safe’ to go home? Am I at risk for something bad happening?”
“Yes, you do have a clot. The doctor said it was safe to drive home but that if you start to have a hard time breathing, to go to the ER immediately and tell them you have a blood clot. But you should be fine. The doctor will be calling you very shortly to discuss next steps.” Yeah, so NOT reassuring that everything was going to be fine. Don’t worry, but be on alert, and the doctor is going to call you stat.
“Okay,” I said, completely shocked, overwhelmed, slightly numb and the obvious one, scared. I knew the concerns that came with blood clots. A few years prior, ER doctors ruled out a blood clot in my lungs, but only after they told me that a CT was crucial since uncaught blood blots can be lethal!
I took maybe six steps out of the ultrasound office before my phone rang. The doctor will call you very shortly turned out to be, two minutes. Again, so not reassured all was well!
“Hi, Sheila this is Dr. blankety blank. You have a blood clot in your calf and we need you to go to Urgent Care immediately to be examined. We need to make sure that you have no other blood clots, especially not in your lungs as that can be very dangerous.”
The fact that I was now being sent directly to Urgent Care upped my fears a notch. As did sitting in the Urgent Care waiting room and bumping into the ultrasound tech who said,
“Oh, you can’t be waiting out here. You need to be brought in immediately.” He then informed the desk staff that I was an urgent, urgent matter. So much for the “don’t worry” and “it’s safe” speech, eh? That said, I get it. I know he isn’t allowed to give me a medical diagnosis so I don’t fault him for holding back the potential severity of the situation.
Did I mention that I was going through all of this alone? Yeah, that sucked. I had visions of being admitted to the hospital for days under observation. Shoot, I had visions of this darn blood clot moving to my lungs and wreaking havoc if you know what I mean. And then shoot, the doctor I saw said the following to me,
“You are very, very lucky we caught this in time. Blood clots can be incredibly dangerous.”
She didn’t say the d word (death) or the l word (lethal) but I knew she was implying it. I could see it in her eyes. I could hear it in her voice. I could feel it in my heart.
Which finally brings me full circle to the title of this post.
My physical therapist saved my life that day.
(And end of story. Too worked up to write any more. The whole effectively having my life saved is just a wee bit overwhelming. To say the least. Back in a few….and I’m back, tears wiped away.)
* * *
My first move after I left the doctor’s office, blood thinner prescription in hand, was to go find my physical therapist and thank him. I walked into his office and tried to crack a joke to lighten my mood (and to keep me from having an emotional meltdown in his office.)
“Winner, winner chicken dinner!” I said. “You were right. I have a blood clot.”
We exchanged the knowing look I had just shared with the doctor, but at a deeper level for we both knew that it was his attention to detail and desire to be on the safe side hours before had indeed, saved my life. I tried to thank him but the words I wanted to say couldn’t come out. I mumbled something like,
“Thank you. You know you saved, well you know,” and then stopped. It was just too much to say out loud. I wiped the tears away and reverted to third person to make it easier on me. “Tell your wife you saved a life today and that she should be proud. See you soon.”
* * *
I hesitated titling this post “My physical therapist saved my life” for fear that it sounded too dramatic. But it’s not. It’s the absolute, gosh darn truth. And over the next two weeks, I was reminded of this incredibly frightening yet amazingly wonderful truth every time I met with yet another professional regarding my diagnosis. They all said the exact same thing to me in the exact same manner. Delivered in equal parts intensely concerned and intensely relieved, I heard over and over again,
“You are really lucky. Your physical therapist saved your life.”
Yep, I am really lucky. You know what else I am? Overwhelmingly grateful to be alive.