DVT After Surgery For Melanoma: Just Trying To Breathe

DVT After Surgery For Melanoma: Just Trying To Breathe

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As if the Melanoma scare wasn’t bad enough, I had to take even more time off from the kitchen when I had blood clots in my lungs. I spent better part of Martin Luther King, Jr Holiday weekend in the hospital, with multiple blood clots in both lungs; some of them fairly large. These were caused by a DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis: a blood clot that forms in one or more of the deep veins, usually in the legs.) In my case, there were clots found in my surgery leg.

It all started when I was able to start bending my knee again. That is when the symptoms of the DVT started. Only I did not know that I was having symptoms of blood clots.

Let me share my story with you:

After surgery, the doctor told me to keep my leg propped for swelling and not to bend it. The skin was tender and needed time to heal. I did what the doctor told me to do. All I did was straight-leg it from point A to B, and then sit down with my leg propped. When I stood up too long it did swell, so obviously I did what he said to do. The skin was very tight and I physically could not bend my leg for about 4 weeks.

At this time, I had a follow-up appointment with my primary care physician to fill her in on all of the lovely things that had just happened to me. The very next day, I started having what I thought were bronchitis type symptoms. I developed a dry cough. I purchased some cough syrup from the drug store and I able to control the cough. I didn’t think much of the cough. I had been in and out of doctor’s offices for the past month, even the day before it started, so I figured I must have picked up a few germs.

I took the recommended dosages of the cough syrup for the coughing. It seemed to go away after about 5 days, the small bottle of cough syrup was gone and I stopped taking it, thinking that I didn’t need it anymore.

Little by little I started to get more flexibility and my skin began to stretch enough to where I started to walk normal again. Each day there was noticeable improvement, especially after I started scar massages that the plastic surgeon recommended.

By five weeks post surgery, my mobility had increased to nearly normal. Wanting to get back into my normal routine, the house needed cleaning and it was past due. David and I always do chores during the week to avoid doing them on weekends. I normally clean house on Thursday nights. I worked all week and I was really tired. I didn’t feel like cleaning house, but I was determined to do it; the house was filthy (in my eyes anyway). The cough I had developed had not gone away like I thought, instead it seemed to be getting worse, but I blamed the symptoms I had on fighting off germs.

The more I cleaned house, the more tired and out of breath I became. My heart was racing in my chest. I had never had surgery this extensive before and since I had been laying around for a month I thought I was just out of shape and run down. A combination of too much couch potatoing and germs.

I was worn out after cleaning the master bathroom, but kept pushing on through the house. David helps a lot of the time, but this time he helped me a lot more than he normally would. He knows how I am and he wanted to lighten the load for me. By the time I finished mopping the kitchen floor I was almost dizzy and light headed with exhaustion and I was out of breath. I did what I had set out to accomplish. I put away the vacuum, showered and got straight into bed. I felt horrible. I fell asleep shortly after and slept through the night.

I got up Friday and went to work. I was having difficulty breathing, but again thought it was bronchitis. I had the whole weekend to sit back and take it easy and that is just what I did. I felt ok, although my heart seemed to race a little more than usual, but I ignored it.

The following week, I pushed through my workdays and even came home and made a few meals worth blogging about. On Wednesday night, I sat down in the chair, and I started to cough pretty bad. In fact, my shoulder felt like I had pulled a muscle so I went and got the heating pad for it. As the cough got persistent for a few minutes, I felt as though I had also pulled a muscle in my rib. My chest was tight and I couldn’t get comfortable in the chair. I told David what I was feeling and at one point asked him “I’m not having a heart attack am I?” He was concerned and asked if I thought I need to go to the ER. If I had pain running down my left arm, I would have thought I was having a heart attack. I did not go to the ER and just kept thinking I had pulled a muscle or possible cracked a rib from coughing.

I was in some pain that night and fought the bed all night in discomfort. I could hardly get comfortable no matter what position I laid in. I managed to sleep a little that night, but it wasn’t easy. When I awoke in the morning to get ready for work, the pain and discomfort I had lying down faded and I went on about my day. My pulse continued to race some when I walked for a little ways, but again I figured I was just really out of shape from the surgery. When I got home on Thursday evening, I felt ok until I sat down to watch tv and relax. As soon as I sat down, my shoulder and rib on my left side were again in a lot of discomfort. I got the heating pad, but it just didn’t seem to help. By the time I laid down in bed the same feeling from the night before came back. I tossed and turned. I got up and went to lay on the couch, where I continued to toss and turn trying to get comfortable. I promised myself I was going to make an appointment with a doctor the next day. Something was not right.

I was having symptoms my oncologist warned me about. I knew I needed to go see him. I told David I was feeling things I had never felt before and I was starting to get scared. He was too. I Googled my symptoms, everything led me to lung cancer. When you are diagnosed with cancer that is all you can think about. Your mind will always return there and cloud your judgment about any symptoms you’re having. It’s like if you get the slightest twinge in your side it becomes amplified by 1000. No matter how much you try not to let your mind go there it does. I guess that is something that will never change.

January 15th, six weeks the day since I had surgery for my Melanoma. I scheduled an appointment to see my oncologist. The pain in my chest wasn’t getting any better. I was having difficulty breathing and my heart was beating so fast I could just about feel my pulse in my ears. I left work around 12:30 Friday afternoon, picked up David from work and we headed to my appointment at the oncologist.

They were waiting for me when I got to the Melanoma Center. My oncologist seemed very concerned to learn that I was having symptoms he had told me to watch out for. My blood pressure was through the roof at 150/98 and my pulse rate was high. As soon as I told my oncologist about my symptoms, without any hesitation he said I may possible have a pulmonary embolism. Perhaps I had a DVT that could have caused clots in my lungs. Although David and I were scared, that would be better than the alternative.

The doctor listened to my heart and lungs and then told me he wanted me to have a CT scan done of my lungs. I more than likely had a blood clot causing my symptoms. He asked us to wait while he made some calls to get me in to have a CT done without having to go to the ER. A few minutes later, the nurse came in gave me the order for the CT they scheduled for later that afternoon. The only holdup was I needed insurance approval, but that should go through before my appointment.

David and I arrived for my appointment over an hour early. We didn’t have anywhere else to go and we decided to sit and wait as long as we needed to. There were some minor glitches with the insurance approval, but it was straightened out very quickly. Once they had the green light, the radiology department prepared the necessary paperwork and called me back to have the scan, an hour before my scheduled appointment time.

The technician was very nice and did a wonderful job of explaining how the CT scan worked, what she was doing, what I needed to do, how I would feel and what the machine was doing. Within a matter of minutes and a quick blood check for kidney function the CT scan was done and there were images being examined of my lungs by a doctor.

Just Trying To Breathe | TheMountainKitchen.com
All those spots are clots!

I was instructed to wait in the waiting area until the results came through. Within 5 minutes the tech came out and told me I tested positive! Poor David, we were so scared about cancer he immediately wanted to know, “Positive? Positive for what?” The technician explained to him I tested positive for a pulmonary embolism that was more than likely caused by a DVT. I was instructed to go directly to the ER. Although this was life threatening situation, I did not need ambulatory services and David was able to drive me to the hospital himself.

When I arrived at the ER, I went to the front desk to check in. They were expecting me and quickly asked a few verifying questions and put a hospital bracelet on me. I then was asked to come back into the ER and the my treatment began.

Just Trying To Breathe | TheMountainKitchen.com
Never too ill to joke around.

I was in triage for about 4 hours. They started giving me blood thinners through an IV and I was admitted into the hospital and taken to the Intermediate Care Unit (IMC) of the hospital, which is a step-down unit of the ICU. I had a male nurse that was probably one of the best nurses of all time! No one compared to him the rest of my stay in the hospital. He never once forgot anything I asked him to do and he checked on me throughout the night.

E.T. Finger
E.T. Finger

Trying to sleep in the hospital in next to impossible. I even had a couple of vampires come get blood from me in the middle of the night. After other interruptions, I managed to drift off to sleep for a little while. When I awoke I was already feeling improvement. My left lung that had been so sore seemed to be functioning a lot better. My awesome night nurse was gone and his replacement had stepped in. I spent the day in the IMC unit and received some surprise visits from close family and a couple of wonderful friends, who brought me a goodie bag and the cutest little giraffe!

Just Trying To Breathe | TheMountainKitchen.com

Later in the day, I was taken down for an ultrasound of my legs to see if anymore clots (DVT) could be found. Low and behold, there were still residual clots found in my “surgery” leg. Proof that leg was the culprit to all of the misery I was going through. When I left the ultrasound department I was taken to a new “regular” hospital unit. My situation was being down-graded. They still didn’t get to me for the echocardiogram and I spent another night in the hospital under observation with the hope of having the test done on Sunday.

Just Trying To Breathe | TheMountainKitchen.com
Of course with every major event in my life comes snow!

Saturday night, I managed to get a lot more sleep. I was only interrupted once at 4:00 a.m. for an early morning vampire to draw blood and check my vitals. Not long after David arrived at the hospital later that morning, my doctor came in and gave me the rundown. He eased a lot of the questions especially about the clots found in my legs the day before. There was still blood passing around the clot, and the medicine I was taking stabilizes them. There should be little fear of it breaking off and going to my lung. Of the two found, only one was in a main artery. The other was in a secondary vein in my calf and it too had blood flow. He gave me the option of waiting for the echocardiogram and following up later for the chance to go home. If it was going to be late in the day ruining my chances of going home, I was willing to put it off until later.

Sometimes patience is a virtue, about an hour after he left another doctor came in and said that I was next for echocardiogram, which was music to my ears. Not only was that my ticket out of the hospital, but I could also rest easy knowing that everything with my ticker was ok and I was purring correctly.

Just Trying To Breathe | TheMountainKitchen.com
Finally the Echocardiogram Machine makes its presence.

 

Just Trying To Breathe | TheMountainKitchen.com

Within two hours I received the good news. My echocardiogram checked out normal and I was going home! After waiting what seemed like forever for the hospital pharmacy to fill my prescribed blood thinning medication. I hopped on the first wheelchair I could get on and David drove me home to the mountain, where I was greeted by His Royal Highness, who seemed glad to see me for about 5 minutes (typical).

Blood clots (DVT) can form in your legs if you do not move for long periods. When your legs remain still for many hours, your muscles don’t contract, which normally helps your legs and muscles to circulate blood.

All that sitting around I was doing was not helping my situation. My arteries were not completely blocked, so I didn’t have that much pain or swelling in my leg. When I started to get more flexibility in my leg the clots in my leg began to break loose and that is when the symptoms with my lungs began. In most cases, the clots are usually small and not deadly, but they all can damage the lung. Some of mine were large and they perhaps they were starting to stop the blood flow to my lung, which can be deadly.

This was my first ever hospital stay and that weekend I saw the inside of my lungs, my leg arteries and even the inside of my heart. I was extremely lucky. The clots in my legs could have taken a different route and gone to my heart. If that had happened, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post, because I wouldn’t be around to write it. I am on a blood thinner medication for three months to help my body break down and clear out the clots.

So why am I telling you all of this? Believe it or not, the same thing could happen to you! It doesn’t take a surgery to put you at risk for blood clots (DVT). You can get blood clots from sitting on a plane during long flights, or even riding in an automobile for too long.

Warning signs of a DVT:

  • Swelling, usually in one leg
  • Leg pain or tenderness
  • Reddish or bluish skin discoloration
  • Leg warm to touch

Warning signs of a Pulmonary Embolism:

  • suddenly short of breath
  • rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • chest pain that is worse when you cough or take a deep breath (almost like a pulled muscle)
  • A cough that brings up blood

More general symptoms of a pulmonary embolism:

  • anxious or on edge
  • sweating (although I didn’t sweat, I woke up thirsty a lot)
  • light headed or faint
  • feeling extremely tired and weak

If you have symptoms like these, seek medical attention immediately, especially if they are sudden and severe.

I hope by sharing my story, I have made you aware of the warning signs for DVT and Pulmonary Embolisms. Creating awareness could help save your life or someone you love. ♥

DMS

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The Mountain Kitchen

Hi, my name is Debbie, Author and Photographer at The Mountain Kitchen, a blog that shares delicious homemade recipes using clean food ingredients, and stories about mountain life.
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