I’m dozing in bed on a Saturday morning. Like so many previous Saturday mornings, I woke up early – before 7 – and chose to listen to the radio, check email and twitter on my iPad and wait to get drowsy. The first time I remember staying in bed all day (or at least all morning) without being asleep are the days after my mom died.
My calf is aching. This time it’s the right calf. It started a few days ago and I really hoped I had injured it. I just started taking to cruising down Metro escalators like a pro, like I did before four knee surgeries, many, many infections, and six months of fear of falling because the blood thinners I was on meant that a fall could mean bleeding out or bleeding in. I don’t know which would be worse.
In the days after my fourth surgery, I had a similar feeling in my left calf. It was painful enough that I thought it inhibited my mobility more than the 10inch incision bisecting the flesh over my knee. I got an ultrasound in the middle of the night (they joys of being in the hospital for a long stay – you go when the equipment is available, even if it’s 3am) to confirm what everyone suspected: blood clots in my thigh. A young intern and his teaching doctor from internal medicine had a long talk with me about the possible cause and the risks, as well as the six-month course of medicine in front of me, including shots I woud be taught to give myself. By the time I left the hospital, internal medicine team and the nurses had me pretty convinced I could very well die if I didn’t take the meds.
Honestly, I vacillated between terrified and ambivalent. I just can’t be terrified all the time (although I gave it a good try), and, at one point, the sunset of orange, blues, and purples across my belly, along with the tenderness and the hard little nodules of tissue the injections left behind made me wonder if a pulmonary embolism would really be worse. Still, I kept track of my blood pressure, went to the clinic weekly, paid attention to my breathing, stayed vigilant about chest pains and tried to trace my mental fuzziness to pain killers and not stroke.
During this six (or seven, or so) months, I was told so many times how many ways I could die. This infection? The one I cancelled a doctor’s appointment over because I felt too sick to go and thought it was viral and didn’t want to get anyone else sick? The one that elevated my temperature over 103? If I hadn’t gone to the hospital the next day for IV antibiotics, I could have died. In fact, untreated, it kills more than half the people who get it. Sepsis? My original diagnosis? People die from that all the time. And then the great clot threat.
The night before my first (or was it second?) surgery, I was in the hospital and had convinced myself (in what I thought was a rather matter-of-fact way) that I was going to die from the anesthesia. I felt truly awful for my friends and couldn’t imagine the unspeakable grief of my dad and brother, as my mom had died only months before. I shared this with my friend, Erika, who was kind enough not to tell me I was being utterly ridiculous (which, of course, I was), and who reminded me that there’s no sense in acting as if I know the unknowable and acting as if it’s truth. Worry is most decidedly being in another moment and, therefore, not in this one. She invited me to come back to where I was.
On June 18th, I got another ultrasound. The technician who performed it (who had worse bedside manner than a box of rocks – at one point I could hear the blood wishing through my veins and it sounded like the typical “that’s that baby’s heartbeat!” moment and I asked if he could tell if it was a boy or a girl and he made no response) told me that he didn’t see any clots. After that, I went to Whole Foods and got a boatload of spinach (leafy greens were limited while I was on blood thinners; they’re coagulants) and some bubble bath to celebrate. My friend, Vanessa, met me outside of Whole Foods and I was jubilent. We recounted all I’d been through and blinked and laughed at the notion that it was finally all over. This stupid, long, death tango was finally over. For a while, anyway. Until the Next Thing, which, god willin’ and the creek don’t rise, is many years off.
I’m lying in bed, almost dozing, acutely aware of this calf pain that is, again, hindering my mobility, weeks after I finally ditched the (motherfucking) cane that was my constant companion. It occurs to me that, given the way I’ve heard pulmonary embolisms work, and all the people I have heard of who just die in their sleep at any old age, every time I doze off could be the last time.
I told a neighbor – the one who has promised to get me ready for a 5k in november, as soon as I am fully mobile, which my physical therapist says will be in a week – if it was another clot, I was going to throw myself in front of a bus. He grabbed me, suddenly and tightly, hugging me and kissing my cheek, telling me no. I won’t. I will get through it and I will run with him.
Next week, I’ll see about getting another ultrasound, this time of my right side. And I’ll try not to worry myself to death.