Originally featured in The Beat - Summer 2016 Edition
As an avid cyclist, pediatrician, and healthcare executive, I have always had an interest in health and pride myself on being as healthy as possible. Some might even call me an “exercise fanatic”. So you can imagine my surprise when I went for a bike ride, that I had previously done several hundred times, and I struggled to complete it. Odd…but I shrugged it off as being undertrained or overworked and went home.
The next day, I could not ride on level ground or walk up a single flight of stairs without being winded. I finally gave in and went to the emergency room. Upon arrival, they checked my d-dimer, and seeing that it was elevated, sent me straight to the ICU where I was diagnosed with a large pulmonary embolism. I was in the hospital for 10 days due to complications, but was eventually discharged on fondaparinux and warfarin. At the time of my discharge, I had regained some of my cardio-pulmonary endurance and my INRs were stable. My doctor told me I could do everything but kick-boxing, sky diving, and skiing. This all sounded pretty great to me at the time.
I slowly started to get back into an exercise routine. I started to use the stationary bike for 45 minutes. Then 60 minutes. Then 90 minutes on my regular bike. Finally, after two months of dedication to a training routine, I was able to push myself to ride for 3 hours (up hill!) and I managed not to fall!
But my recovery was more than just getting back to my pre-PE bike riding. I began to think about all the other ways this PE had affected my life: How much would I bleed if I cut myself? Could a scratch now be dangerous? How much kale was too much? I also realized that when people asked me how I felt, they never really heard the answer. It was too complex to explain. Did people just want to know about my physical recovery – or did they also want to hear about my emotional recovery and dealing with my new anxiety?
I still don’t know all the answers when it comes to recovering from a PE, but I do know this: now when I talk to a patient about how they are feeling following a life threatening event, I will ask the simple and straightforward question “How are you feeling?” But then, I will ask the next question, “How are you REALLY feeling?”