It is hard to explain how it all started because, to be honest, I can’t really remember. It was just after Christmas and I was busy with the holidays and my three children – Soraiya, who is five; Ariella, four; and Darius, one – too busy to take a moment to pay much attention to how I was feeling.
I had spent some time on the coast with the kids, and was headed back to Brisbane a few days before the New Year. A vague ‘off’ feeling had crept up on me, but by the time I got home it had progressed into defined symptoms: leg pain, breathlessness, chest pain, dizziness. These symptoms began to get worse, yet every time I started focusing on them something would distract me. Kids screaming, washing machine going off, the phone ringing.
On New Year’s Eve the breathlessness got worse still. I should have gone to the hospital, but I thought to myself, ‘I am so tired and the kids are finally in bed, I just want to rest.’ I woke up several times that night feeling like I was struggling to breathe, and I made a decision that if it didn’t go away by the morning I would see a doctor.
The next day when my husband got home from work I drove to the local hospital. The triage nurse asked me about my symptoms and a few other questions, and I was pushed to the front of the line. I knew then something must be wrong.
I had several tests done and the doctor explained that there were concerns regarding the fact I'd recently been on long-haul flights and had started taking the contraceptive pill, so they kept me for further testing.
By this stage it was nearing 7:30pm; I'd been there for almost six hours. The doctor told me he wanted me to stay until they could do a nuclear medicine scan of my lungs, which could take several more hours. All I could think about was the kids. Have they eaten? Are they OK? My husband has to work tomorrow, and he needs sleep... The list goes on.
The thoughts won. I told the doctor that I didn’t want to stay and I would return tomorrow for the scan. He firmly advised against it, but he couldn’t keep me there by force. And so they gave me a blood-thinning injection and told me to return in the morning.
The next day I dropped the kids off to day-care and day camp, and started heading back to the hospital. I was trying to convince myself not to go in: 'I am feeling better,' I thought. 'It’s all in my head.' 'It’s probably anxiety.' I drove into the hospital, and when I pulled into the emergency department all the parking spaces were taken. I took it as a sign. 'I'll just go home. I have a million things to do today anyway.'
And I drove away...
But as I was pulling out of the hospital car park, I had this sick feeling deep in my stomach. Something was telling me to turn around and go back. In that one second I made a decision that could have potentially saved my life. I pulled over on the side of the road, parked the car and walked back to the hospital.
A few hours later after my scan, the doctor came and sat down next to me in the emergency department and said, “I am sorry to say but it appears that you have blood clots in your lungs.” Four of them. Without treatment they could cause permanent lung damage, or be fatal. I was in shock. She continued to say "how lucky" I was this was caught, and commended me for coming in when I did.
I burst into tears. Again, in that moment, a million thoughts were going through my head. But this time they weren't about the dishes, dinner, the washing. None of that mattered. The only thing I was thinking was what would my kids have done if I didn’t wake up this morning. What my husband, their father, would have done.
People always talk about having a “moment of realisation“. That was my moment. I realised how precious life is and how silly I was to even think for a second that I am invincible, that my health was less important than the dishes, dinner, the washing.
I cried a lot at first, and felt sorry for myself. But once all that was out of my system I started thinking treatment.
Recovery will take quite some time. I am on blood-thinning medication for the next six months but it could potentially be longer depending on how I respond. But none of that matters, because I am here and breathing.
As mothers we are always putting everyone else first, but the fact is that you are no good to anyone if you are not here or too sick to function. We need to start being selfish and looking after ourselves more, and that means listening to our bodies.
I am glad I did, because it potentially saved my life.