Wake up Calls and Warfarin

Nothing can remind you how precious life is more than a trip to a crowded emergency room in the middle of the night – a wake up call that I was forced to face when driving my pain ridden husband to hospital a couple of months ago. It was a wake up call that made me sick to my stomach and left me hyperventilating with fear.

This drama had me wondering, why does our life and that of those we love only flash before our eyes when the worse case scenario is unfolding before us? Why do we all fail to appreciate what we have, including our health, until we fear it is something we might lose?

As a child you have no concept of your own mortality. A disastrous situation is your goldfish being trapped between the pages of a book (R.I.P. Dempsey and Makepeace), getting a reindeer inspired itchy jumper for Christmas and coming to terms with the fact that Bambi dies and ET goes home.

As a teenager you feel invincible. You take stupid risks and make certifiable choices.  You drive drunk without a license, hitchhike through foreign countries and try illegal substances that make your brain short fuse and your teeth chatter. The end of the world is discovering your boyfriend doesn’t actually possess a brain or failing your driving test for the 4th time.

Then as you get older you suddenly start to become scared at the very idea of losing life. Things that didn’t bother you before now scare you senseless. After years of fearless flying, a bout of turbulence in the air has you gripping your arm rest with white knuckles and fervently praying for a safe landing. Witnessing a natural disaster on the other side of the world leaves you feeling weepy and traumatised for weeks.

Are these changes because we now value or appreciate life more than the young do, or are they because we now have more to lose and more people to leave behind?

Once children come on the scene, life can suddenly seem even more precious, fragile and vulnerable than ever before. You start to worry about situations that are well beyond even the most capable parent’s control. You wonder will the polar ice gaps suddenly melt and wash your child away? Will a freak tornado hit their school and bury them under a pile of rubble? And worst of all, will your child be snatched away and never seen again. This kind of hypothetical panicking, often done as you lay awake in the dark, can sometimes get completely out of hand and lead to sleepless nights and a state of paranoia when taking kids out in public places. Yet once you start it can be near on impossible to get those irrational thoughts back under control.

I don’t know how things will change as the years progress. Maybe you learn to appreciate things more or maybe you never do. Maybe no one really values their own life until they realise it is too late to live it.

I know that as I sat in the curtained cubicle surrounded by monitors and disappearing doctors, I wanted to cry. Not just because my husband was laying their in front of me, but because within every cubicle in that room lay a person being forced to face the terrifying fact that life just isn’t forever.

As horrible as this reality may be, it can also be just the wake up call needed to bring you round from the day to day stupor of life, and make you really start to appreciate the living.

For anyone interested, my husband went into hospital because he had a blood clot in his lung, as a result of a knee op a couple of weeks before. Had he not known the symptoms of a clot then my wake up call would have been even greater. Luckily for us he did, and after a stint in hospital he was released into my loving and terribly sympathetic care and put on Warfarin for 6 months. So far, despite his daily dose of rat poison he has shown no signs of growing a tail and only twitches his nose when a piece of chocolate comes within a 10 feet radius.

With the hope that this might one day save the life of someone in a similar situation, here is a little information about this medical condition, including the symptoms to look out for:

What is a blood clot?

A pulmonary embolus is a blockage of an artery in the lungs by fat, air, blood clot or tumor cells.

What causes it to happen?

Pulmonary emboli are most often caused by blood clots in the veins, especially veins in the legs or in the pelvis (hips). More rarely, air bubbles, fat droplets, amniotic fluid, or clumps of parasites or tumor cells may obstruct the pulmonary vessels.

The most common cause of a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the veins of the legs, called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Many clear up on their own, though some may cause severe illness or even death.

Risk factors for a pulmonary embolus include:

  • Prolonged bed rest or inactivity (including long trips in planes, cars, or trains)
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Surgery (especially pelvic surgery)
  • Childbirth
  • Massive trauma
  • Burns
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Heart surgery
  • Fractures of the hips or femur

Persons with certain clotting disorders may also have a higher risk.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism may be vague, or they may resemble symptoms associated with other diseases. Symptoms can include:

  • Cough
    • Begins suddenly
    • May produce bloody sputum (significant amounts of visible blood  or lightly blood streaked sputum)
  • Sudden onset of shortness of breath at rest or with exertion
  • Splinting of ribs with breathing (bending over or holding the chest)
  • Chest pain
    • Under the breastbone or on one side
    • Especially sharp or stabbing; also may be burning, aching or dull, heavy sensation
    • May be worsened by breathing deeply, coughing, eating, bending, or stooping
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)

An important symptom is if you are experiencing shortness of breath when you are laying down.

Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:

What tests are done to detect the location and extent of emboloism?

When to Contact a Medical Professional?


All this is taken from the http://medlineplus.gov/ website, where further information is available.

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