Right now I am happy to be alive. Truly. I am still having moments in which my happiness is that simple.
Just after the first of the year, I started experiencing chest discomfort and shortness of breath, so I saw my doctor for an exam and some lab work. He listened to all of my symptoms, then ordered a CT scan of my chest that same day.
“You need to get to the ER immediately, “my doctor said over the phone, after receiving the results. “Your CT scan showed bilateral pulmonary emboli. You need to go now.”
Fortunately, my parents were at my home when I tried, through sobs, to explain to them what my doctor had said. My mom stayed with my children while my dad and husband drove me to the hospital.
As we left our driveway, I feared I might not come home again. I thought I might die on the way to the hospital. I was already struggling to breathe, and my fear and anxiety exacerbated my condition.
I had blood clots in my lungs. I might not live to be 38. And all because I took stupid damn birth control pills for three months.
I didn’t really understand blood clots, especially clots that were hanging out in my lungs. My fear was I had a time bomb in my body and that all it would take to kill me was one little piece breaking off and traveling somewhere else. But the reality was that I had already been through the critical period when they traveled through my heart and ended up in my lungs.
I survived. Some people don’t.
When you’re a mom of two young kids, you have to practically drop dead in order to get a little rest and relaxation. And once I understood that I wasn’t in immediate danger (and the Xanax kicked in), I did what any sensible mom would do: I took full advantage of my hospital stay.
I read articles in Cosmo about finding the perfect bra and the perfect man (neither exists, by the way), and I played on Facebook until my eyes were blurry and I needed to rest again.
My family and friends visited and brought me coffee and made me laugh. Those who couldn’t visit, called and texted their concern and well wishes.
When I didn’t have company, I watched TV, took naps, and enjoyed the quiet. People say that hospital stays can be noisy and a little less than private, but they offer much more privacy than life with two small children.
When I told my nurse that I was in the restroom, she apologized and said she would return later. Imagine that! When my kids hear me go into the bathroom, it’s as though I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. They beat on the door, shake the handle, and shove items through the cracks. After a while, they win the challenge by jumping or falling off of something and crying hysterically until I come out.
I got a break from that part of my life while I was in the hospital. And then I missed the madness. I missed my kids terribly, and I wanted to go home. I needed to hear their voices, clean up their messes, and solve their problems.
I was so grateful to come home and be with my family. In those first few days, my husband couldn’t do enough for me, and my kids’ behavior was impeccable. I tried to get back to my old self and adjust to my new meds. I met with initial disappointments in regard to both.
At a recent follow-up, I complained to my doctor that I was having a hard time with acid reflux, a common side effect of my blood thinner. “I can’t sleep well,” I told him. “My chest hurts, and I feel like my heart is beating erratically. I just want my old life back.”
He looked at me seriously and said, “You just need to be glad that you still have a life.”
And that’s where I am right now.
Prince George, VA
Melissa Face lives in Prince George with her husband and two children. She is an English Instructor at the Appomattox Regional Governor's School in Petersburg, VA, and she writes creative nonfiction when she is not grading student work.