A Pulmonary Embolism? Part I
There are words or medical terms I’ve only heard in passing. I’ve never given them much thought. Before December 19th of last year, one of those terms was “pulmonary embolism.”
My husband — a fairly healthy (before) 50 year-old with a PhD in biology who works as an environmental manager for a corporation — had a needed surgery on December 7th and was recovering well to all appearances. He was walking regularly, eating and drinking well — just feeling a little tired, which is normal after major surgery.
On December 17th, we went to our local gardens to see the Christmas lights. This trip entailed about an hour of slow walking. He says that’s his last memory until sometime after December 27th, and it’s hazy.
“I remember lighted trees and walking. No details,” he says, shaking his head every time he talks about it. “I lost over two weeks of my life.”
By the afternoon of December 18th, he was in terrible pain.
“It’s a 9 out of 10,” he said on the way to the emergency room. “I’m so cold. Please hurry.” He moaned aloud all the way I to the ER waiting room. I’d never seen him like that. He’s a big, tall guy who keeps a stiff upper lip generally.
He’d woken up that morning with severe flank and abdominal pain. Looking back, there were a couple other signs that something was wrong. His eye sight went funny, with lines and squiggles, a few nights before the pain came. It stopped after ten minutes, so we shrugged and moved on, chalking it up to slight dehydration, possibly.
We shouldn’t have, but it’s unlikely a doctor would have known the eyesight issue was symptomatic of anything major either. He went in to see him Thursday the 25th, and he was pleased with how well my husband was recovering.
Then there was the left shoulder pain.
“It’s gas,” I told him, urging him to take Gas-X.
It made sense. After all, abdominal surgeries are known to cause gas pains in the shoulder area.
But I was wrong. Sight changes, shoulder pain, abdominal pain, and flank pain are all signs of pulmonary embolism, stemming from deep vein thrombosis, which usually starts in the lower legs and happens to some people after abdominal surgeries, even if they have had anticoagulant drugs, leg compression in the hospital , and walked as prescribed.
If we’d only known, we might have caught it in time to keep him from weeks of suffering and a lengthy recovery. It’s hard to say, though.
We found ourselves in an emergency room patient cubby. The diagnosis was a fever, and the X-ray showed a shadow in the lungs. Pneumonia, the doctor said.
By the next afternoon at lunch time, medical professionals were starting to lean another way with their diagnosis.