“Lindsey, it may not be what you think,” my mom asserted, her voice breaking through my cacophony of wheezing. “Mom!” I tried to shout, but the sound of my interjection was muffled by my breathlessness. As my mom sped down the highway toward the ER, I couldn’t stop myself from saying the words I knew to be true. “It’s a pulmonary embolism!”
“It could be an asthma attack or even a panic attack,” she calmly replied. But then I glanced over at her. I could see that she was anything but calm. Tears trickled down her cheekbones as she wiped them away, attempting to conceal them from my sight. We both knew I was right. We just knew.
It’s difficult to describe the tumultuous turn of events that led to a pulmonary embolism. It’s not that I don’t remember exactly what happened in the preceding months. Rather, I remember it all too well. I remember my doctor’s negligence after he operated on my arm in November. I remember spending most of December in exam rooms, watching him bandage me up and send me home as the complications progressed. I remember waking up in blood-soaked bedding after my sutures split apart. I remember receiving the decisive email on Christmas Eve, the one telling me to “pause” my blood thinner shots until we could stop the internal bleeding. I remember every harrowing day in this series of unfortunate events, but it’s the unfortunate event I remember the very best.
On the night before the unfortunate event, I started wheezing. “It’s probably the fireplace,” my parents suggested. Because we all assumed I was having an asthmatic response to smoke, I utilized my rescue inhaler and soon fell asleep. But when I woke up the next morning, I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t find the words to describe what I was feeling. Something just didn’t feel “right.” I carefully moped down the stairs, gripping the railing for dear life as I cried out for my mom. When she met me at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to explain that something felt “off.” At that point, I think we both assumed my blood count was the issue. Though my arm was covered by thick bandages, we could see that I was once again bleeding from the neglected surgical site. We both knew I was likely on the brink of another hospitalization. Yet at 7 am that morning, we didn’t realize we were just a few hours away from finding out that we were right.
My mom suggested I stay home from school that day. Because it was a Monday, my dad would be home for most of the day. He would runs errands from 7-9:30 am, but then he would spend the rest of the day at our house. My mom, on the other hand, would go to work and begin calling my doctors. After she connected with them, we would make yet another trip back to Dallas. I initially agreed to this plan, but then I began to feel uneasy. I was worried about staying at home by myself, even if I was only alone for a couple of hours. I knew something wasn’t right. I just knew.
I went to school that morning with my younger sister and my mom, our school secretary. When we walked into the building, we all parted ways as if it was a normal day. (If only we had known what would soon transpire…) My sister went to her first period class. My mom headed to her office. I slowly trudged to my favorite teacher’s classroom, the room that housed my recliner. I then spent all of first period resting, hoping I was just a few hours away from traveling back to Dallas, my home-away-from-home.
As first period came to an end, I gathered the morning announcements and moseyed over to the intercom. Even though I didn’t feel well, I still planned to fulfill my duty of reading the morning announcements. Just like every other morning, I picked up the phone and began my typical spiel over the intercom. “Good morning S&S,” I said with as much pep as possible, trying to hide my lack of energy. “Congratulations to the Ag Mechanics team of Colt….”
Silence. Sudden Silence.
I abruptly gasped for air, suffocating in the middle of my sentence. It was like my lungs had been catastrophically punctured. Pressure and pain accompanied each attempt to breathe. My voice shook as I attempted to quickly get through the announcements, gasping for air between each syllable. As soon as I hung up the phone for the moment of silence, my teacher nervously asked, “Lindsey, what’s happening?”
“I think I have blood clots in my lungs. This is what it felt like the first time.” (Yes, I’d been down this road before.)
“Then let me finish the announcements,” she offered.
“No!” I attempted to shout. “My mom and sister are in the building. If I don’t come back on the intercom, they’ll think I’m dead.” At my teacher’s urging, I immediately ended the moment of silence and finished the announcements. “Have a great day,” I said to our student body. I quickly hung up the phone and left the room, knowing the rest of my day would be filled with great agony.
I’ll never forget the panicked look on my mom’s face when I entered her office. I was gasping for air, and she knew exactly why. Without saying a word, she quickly darted into her boss’s office and shut the door behind her. I still don’t know what she said to him, but I’m assuming it was along the lines of “my kid might be dying, so I have to go now.” Just seconds later, she re-opened the door and marched back to her desk. Without even tidying up or closing the tabs on her computer, she grabbed her purse and left the office with me in tow.
As I look back on that fateful day, it’s so easy to remember the pieces of the story that left the greatest scars, the pieces I can easily see in my suture lines. But after eight years of reflecting upon this day, it’s the unseen pieces that move me the most. I was recently asked to describe the most profound truth I’ve learned as a result of my suffering. My answer is inextricably bound to the overlooked grace, provision, and love that are woven throughout this story:
- On that fateful January day, I was able to sense that something was wrong. I knew I needed to be with my mom. Praise be to God.
- When I began suffocating, it was around 9 am. If I would have stayed at home that day, I likely would have been by myself during the unfortunate event.
- When we left the school, my mom called my hematologist’s office for guidance. I wanted my mom to take me to Children’s in Dallas, but my mom thought we needed to go to the local ER first. My hematologist was able to guide us without any delay because she was sitting right beside the nurse who answered the phone. That had never happened before and hasn’t happened since.
- Because the unfortunate event happened on a Monday, my dad wasn’t at work. He was with us in the ER when the doctors confirmed my suspicion of a pulmonary embolism. As a single tear fell from my eye, he was the one who calmly said, “It’s going to be okay.” I was grateful for his faith.
- My hematologist sent the biggest Children’s helicopter to pick me up. The local ER doctor told me that my hematologist authoritatively declared, “My people are on their way to get Lindsey. If she’s going to be in the air, she’s going to be surrounded by my people.” She wasn’t exaggerating. I was surrounded by paramedics in that helicopter.
- A few days later, my hematologist was the one who stood by my ICU bed as I wept. After enduring months of negligence from a different doctor, her faithful presence was like a light in the darkness, reminding me of God’s unceasing love in the midst of suffering.
Eight years have now passed, yet that fateful day has shaped every day since. It has certainly influenced the medical side of my life and how we manage my syndrome. But beyond the medicine, that fateful day has taught me how to taste and see that the Lord is good, even when my circumstances are not. I continue to celebrate January 14th — Blood Thinner Appreciation Day — to commemorate that in the midst of suffering, I certainly saw reflections of the Lord’s goodness. It was in the embrace of the doctors who cared for me. It was in the love of my mom, who quite literally never left my side (except to get us Starbucks drinks) during my month-long stay at Children’s. It was in the gift of cake or donuts every time my dad came to see me. It was in the presence of my younger sister, who often climbed into my hospital bed to watch television with me. It was in each visit by my friends. It was in my very first date, which took place in my hospital room with the man I married just a few years later. It was in the forgiveness I extended to the negligent doctor when he came to my hospital room to apologize. It was in the grace that sustained me, the love that surrounded me, and the hope of the Gospel that comforted me. Oh yes, I have certainly tasted and seen that the Lord is good. And that profound truth is what I celebrate on January 14th, Blood Thinner Appreciation Day.