Saturday, March 3, 2012

Keep Your Blood Flowing

A little reality check here, my own personal PSA. I was in the hospital this week with blood clots in my leg—and my lungs. I’m recovering at home. I could have died. I’m not out of the woods yet.

Once I experienced blood clots for myself, I saw references everywhere. Looking through current events and deeper into history, I found a string of people who’ve suffered from clots—and not survived. Some are famous, and some are ordinary people. Some health issues defy all distinctions of society.

From a young video-gamer who died after getting clots from sitting for 12 hours playing his games, to a young women in England who suspected she had blood clots in her leg, went to a walk-in clinic, was told she had muscle issues and was sent home—to die a few days later.  

NBC correspondent David Bloom died from blood clots after spending days inside a tank while covering the war in Iraq. The rapper Heavy D died after a long international flight.  Actress and model Mia Amber Davis died of clots after knee surgery.  We lost country singer Tammy Wynette, and former presidents Richard Nixon and Theodore Roosevelt to blood clots--Teddy was only 60.  

Biltmore builder and philanthropist George W. Vanderbilt was recovering from an appendectomy when he developed fatal blood clots. Just moments before his collapse, he was reading a newspaper and chatting with his wife. He asked her to get him a glass of water and another newspaper. She found him collapsed and he died soon after.

Former vice president Dick Cheney and tennis star Serena Williams survived their clots.  Just last month "America's Got Talent" MC (and Mariah Carey's husband) Nick Cannon suffered blood clots to his lungs after being in the hospital. 

Throughout all history, bed-rest has been considered the logical prescription for sickness--and it is.  But not for too long.  And not without moving our legs about.  Who knows how many people throughout history have died from ignorance of this one stipulation?  It reminds me of the horrible practice of blood-letting that was thought to cleanse the body of disease, when in fact, it only made the patient weaker.

Each story of blood clots breaks my heart—and honestly, scares me. There but for the grace of God, go I. Go we. Blood clots can happen to any of us. The good news is that we live in the twenty-first century, where we have access to medical care and information.

There are things you can do to lower your chance of blood clots--or DVTs (deep vein thrombosis):

• Blood clots usually start in the lower legs due to inactivity. Long plane rides, car rides, sitting for long hours in one position—anything that impedes blood circularion—can be the cause. When seated for a long time, take breaks and move around every hour. Walk. Flex your ankles. Move your toes, march in place (even while seated). Keep the blood flowing.

• Don’t get dehydrated. Drink plenty of water. And remember, alcohol and caffeine dehydrate.

• Blood clots sometimes occur after surgery or hospital stays when other health issues have made you inactive. If you can't get up and walk, move your legs and feet, or if that's not possible, your doctor can put compression sleeves on your legs that are attached to a machine that periodically massages them to keep the circulation going.

• Pregnant women need to be aware--especially if you've had a C-section.

• Obesity adds to the risk

• Your risk can be higher if you take birth control pills or hormone replacement

• Smokers are at higher risk

It’s also vital you know the symptoms. With DVTs you may have some or all of these warning signs:

• A touch-sensitive red skin rash

• Pain in the calf, inside of leg, or behind the knee. This can feel like a muscle cramp or a knotty feeling to the veins.

• Red streaks on the leg

• Your skin feels hot to the touch in the affected areas

• Swelling when you stand. This is the most common symptom. When you sit, put your leg up, and straighten it, the pain and swelling may lessen. But as soon as you stand or sit with your knee bent, the leg can swell up to varying degrees, from slightly, to twice its size, even looking like a sausage about to burst. It also might get very red.

What to do if you think you have a blood clot in your leg(s):

• Get to a doctor or to an ER. Depending on the severity, you may be admitted to the hospital and told not to move much or even stand. The danger is that a blood clot can dislodge and travel up the main leg artery to the heart and lungs. This is a pulmonary embolism and can be fatal.

What are the symptoms of a blood clot in your lungs?

• Shortness of breath

• Chest pain

• Rapid heart rate

• Unexplained cough

I’d had a blood clot in my leg for three days and was stupidly waiting for a weekday to go to the doctor—I’m one to avoid the ER if I can. But Sunday morning (again being stupid) I was heading to church, and at the end of my driveway got intense chest pains. My husband drove me to the ER where I had blood clots in my leg, and all three lobes of my right lung! After a few days in the hospital, I’m taking blood thinner now (which doesn't actually thin the blood, but keeps new clots from forming and existing clots from getting bigger.)  I'm at home now, waiting for my blood to "thin" to therapeutic levels.  There are many good websites full of information.  Here's Mayo Clinic's site: BLOOD CLOTS - DVT  and WebMD: DVT

Sorry to go on and on, but with so many of us leading sedentary lives, I want you to be aware.  How long are you sitting every day?  As a writer I’m at my computer for hours at a time, and do not exercise like I should--though that's going to change after this wake-up call.  Add to that our our mobile lives—whether in cars, trains, buses, or planes.  We can cross the world in a few hours' time.  A good thing--with intrinsic dangers. But knowledge is power. And good health involves being proactive and active. Don’t let your personal history end in heartbreak.//Nancy


  1. I hope that you are better soon, Nancy. And thank you for the information about DVT's. It's certainly educated me.

  2. Thank you Nancy for the information, I sit at a desk all day and will now get up every hour to take a short walk. Praying for your complete recovery sweet lady.

  3. Nancy, I'm so glad you caught this early and will pray for a quick and complete recovery. My mother-in-law had a pulmonary embolism 2 years ago at the age of 89. We were told "it's as bad as it can get". She stayed in ICU for a week. No one expected her to survive. Her worst symptom was shortness of breath. Thankfully, she celebrated her 91st birthday in December! She had a filter (I think it's called an IVF??)put in to stop any blood clots from moving up from her legs. Take good care of yourself ... we need your books! Susan

  4. Bless you for sharing this! I've actually been known to set an alarm to remind me to get up and move when burning midnight oil for a deadline ... because of back and neck issues ... but this lets me know that it isn't just pain management ... it's necessary for survival! Thanking God that you are on the mend, Nancy ... and thanking you for the reminder for us all.

  5. Nancy, only you could take your medical emergency and use it to help others, warn us of the dangers, AND tie it to a fascinating history lesson! This was a great post and a good reminder. I'm SO glad you made the decision to go to the ER that morning! Praying for a quick recovery and that you never again have to suffer with blood clots!

  6. Yipes, Nancy, that's too close to the grim reaper for comfort!
    Okay, next time you have a check-up, ask if you should be taking a daily aspirin - or at least take one on take-off for those long flights. Stay healthy, friends!

  7. Good information, Nancy. I'm sorry for the reason behind it though, and thankful you are on the mend.