August 1, 2014: The doctor said, “You have a blood clot in each lung.”
At first, I had no idea the gravity of those words. I just knew I was in excruciating pain and could hardly breathe.
It began with a stab of pain in my right leg that startled me awake during a Colorado vacation many nights before. I figured leg pain must mean a running injury, so I iced, heated, stretched and nursed my right calf for 3 days. The pain stopped after a long Sunday morning walk. Incredible! Gone as quickly as it came.
But hours later a new discomfort near my lower left rib cage announced itself. Discomfort became a dull ache on Monday. A dull ache gave way to piercing pain on Tuesday. I knew something must be wrong.
A trip to Urgent Care revealed fluid in the lower left lobe of my lungs. Translation: pneumonia. Armed with a diagnosis and powerful antibiotics, I felt relief. By Friday, it was so much worse. Now the pain was unrelenting. It was a struggle to take every breath.
Round two at Urgent Care. But X-rays showed the same diagnosis. Steroids were added to my arsenal of medicine and I was ready to leave. That’s when he knocked on the door and stepped inside for a few short minutes. A doctor whose children go to the school where I work. He knew I was there and took a few moments to check on me.
“Denise, I am so sorry you don’t feel better. You should feel better.”
“I know. This is crazy. I was running and hiking in Colorado last week and now I can hardly breathe to speak one sentence.”
“Wait! You traveled last week? Did you fly?”
“No, we drove.”
“Would you stay and let me do a CT scan and rule out blood clots? It’s not very likely since you drove, but let’s just make sure.”
A 75 word conversation that probably saved my life – in more ways than one….
It’s a year today since I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism in each lung. I spent almost five days in the hospital and months in recovery. During that time, God has helped me hit the reset button in my life several times, both physically and spiritually. I doubt the journey is complete, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far on these two converging paths of healing:
BREATHING – A PE takes your breath away, and eventually your life by blocking the blood flow of one or more arteries in the lungs. Sometimes very quickly. In my case, ever so slowly. My lungs fought off the blood clots for days without giving up.
Disappointment and anger can have a similar effect on our souls when we allow them to block the flow of hope and forgiveness. I’ve had to acknowledge how much I allowed a deep disappointment to rob me of spiritual breath. No more do I want to allow my spiritual air to be stolen by life’s circumstances.
PEACE – I was so scared. I had no idea how soon the danger would subside. Misery and pain stooped by my bedside that first night in the hospital. I heard words like, “check for lung cancer,” all while throwing up from so much pain medication.
In the 2 a.m. darkness I prayed, “God, please give me peace. I am scared. I don’t know what is going to happen.” But, peace did not surround me like I imagined and I fell asleep in a haze of disappointment because I think I expected to feel something like a spiritual warm fuzzy.
I have prayed for many people, that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding would come and be real and present. So, imagine my surprise that I did not feel that peace the way I had expected it. I think in those moments, I experienced a fraction of the disappointment that good friends have felt when they cried out to God for peace in the midst of tremendous pain and loss. I was humbled by how much courage it takes to say that prayer and cling to it.
The next morning when my eyes opened, the first thing I saw was the sunrise through a smudgy, plexiglass hospital window. It was the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen! A strong, sentinel like peace surrounded me. It wasn’t a peace that took away fear or pain. It was a peace that assured me that God had been present and tirelessly at work – and would not leave me even if danger persisted.
SCAR TISSUE – The clots are gone now. It took about 6 months for them to dissolve. But, there are residual issues. I had to go on a steroid inhaler in February because in the words of my doctor, I was “breathing well for an 84 year old!” I also have this discomfort in my lower left rib cage area every once in a while. My last CT revealed that the blood clot on the left side damaged the lung and scar tissue remains in its place. I think that means a small part of my lung died. Regardless if the discomfort I feel is actually from the scar tissue, it reminds me how fragile and precious life is. It also reminds me that it took a part of me physically dying to recognize that I was spiritually losing ground by allowing old pains to live on in my present reality.
In all of it, God has repeated a clear question over and over. “Do you trust me with your life, your health, your hopes, your dreams, your mishaps, your bad choices, your pride, your gluttony, your fear, your talents, your family, your EVERYTHING????!!!!!
Each day has been an exercise in saying “Yes, God I trust you. You know I do. Or at least I am learning what that really means and seriously want to live it. And you know that you will probably have to remind me again tomorrow.”