It’s been two weeks and four days since I last laced up my Brooks and went out for a run. (I know, I know, so dramatic, but nowadays, that’s a long time for me!) The reason I stopped running, why I won’t be running for the foreseeable future, and — spoiler alert! — why I won’t be training for a spring marathon this year is easy enough to explain: I have a blood clot in my leg. I’ve been retelling the story of what physically happened over and over again these past two weeks. But putting exactly how I feel, mentally and emotionally, into words has proven much more difficult.
It all started the Wednesday night after I returned home from my amazing trip to Denver and Moab, UT. I was watching Survivor with the usual crew (Sam, Caroline, and Stacey). Curled up on the couch, I felt a sudden, sharp pain run through my lower left leg. It wasn’t a charley horse — I know them well, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night with them — this was different. It was really sore, but by the morning, it disappeared.
The next day, when I was walking out of the bathroom at work, my leg just gave out. I stumbled and it started to throb in the very same spot as the night before. Were my adorable Steve Madden booties to blame? (Of course not.) Was this running related? (Yes, probably.) Back at my desk, I did some quick research on shin splints and stress fractures since I’ve never had either of them before and figured they’d be the most likely culprits. But this pain wasn’t on the bone or in a specific muscle. It seemed to be on the inside and back of my lower leg, right below the calf. When it really started to ache again later that night, I whipped out the foam roller, hoping to work out whatever “knot” was in there. It did make my leg feel better in a “hurts so good” kind of way, but as I later found out, massage is actually a terrible thing to do when you have a blood clot.
By Friday morning, I woke up with throbbing pain in the same area and it killed to touch my leg. It was time to stop ignoring it. I texted my older sister Sarah, who is a physical therapist, described the pain, and asked her what muscles it could be giving me such grief. When she heard the symptoms, she was the one who first mentioned the words “blood clot” — “considering you just ran a half marathon and were on a plane,” she said.
After Googling blood clots (Note: Don’t.), I got scared. What I read was exactly what I felt and what I discovered was that blood clots can often come about after long flights (Philly to Denver and back again), high altitude (hello, Mile High City!), lengthy car rides (check and check), intense physical activity (running a half marathon followed by a full day of hiking probably counts), and sometimes, as a result of taking birth control pills (guilty). Yikes. What have I done?
I walked over to Bryant Park during lunch with my co-worker Eileen and told her what my sister said and what I researched. Really, I just figured I should tell someone in the office — in case I happened to pass out during the work day. Eileen encouraged me to see a doctor to rule it out. I agreed, but, well, it was Friday, and couldn’t that just wait until Monday?
My roommate Sam and I were supposed to head out that night with friends to watch basketball. I intended to make it an early night so I could get up and run 15 miles in the morning. (Yes, at this point I still thought you could run with a blood clot.)
When I got home, I got a call from my cousin Christie, who is a physician assistant. She was calling to meet up later that night, but I ran this whole blood clot scenario past her to get her expert opinion. Rehashing the symptoms, she too thought it sounded like I could have brewed a “perfect storm” for a DVT (the official name for a blood clot like mine).
“You just so happen to have a lot of weird risk factors at the same time,” she said. “I would calmly go to the ER. If by some freak ‘all-these-forces-combined’ thing and it really is a DVT, you don’t want to mess around.”
So I ate a quick dinner and told Sam I’d catch them later. You know, just a quick Friday night pit-stop in the ER to get an ultrasound before boozin’ with my buddies. But then Christie called back.
“Just so you know, if they do find a clot, they’re going to admit you,” she said. “Tell them everything you just told me.”
With that, I knew she thought the likelihood of a clot was pretty high and she was probably just trying not to scare me before. If I wasn’t nervous before, I was now. I threw on some comfier clothes, grabbed a book, and walked the two blocks up the street to the hospital.
After a short wait in the ER waiting room with Hoboken’s
finest homeless, I told my tale to the PA on duty, who agreed that it had all the makings of a good ol’ DVT. The look on the face of the ultrasound technician later seemed to confirm it. Usually they are pretty discreet and have to wait for a radiologist, but when I asked the tech if she saw anything in there, she raised her eyebrows and said, “Oh yeah.”
By 11 pm, I saw the doctor on duty, was admitted with a blood clot, and was injected with the first round of blood thinners — a painful shot to the belly. So much for those Friday night plans. Luckily basketball was still on in the ER. And things could have been worse. I could have been the kid a few beds down who had to get his appendix out. Or I could have waited on this and things could have gotten pretty serious. Every nurse and doctor I saw said it was a good thing I came in when I did. Thank you, Sarah and Christie, my personal medical team. By 1:30 am, I was up in a room, hooked up to an IV, and was soon fast asleep.
There were lots of tears on Saturday morning, when reality hit. The doctor came in to explain that while this was a blood clot on a smaller vein (a good thing), there would be a heavy dose of medication and a pretty lengthy recovery period (a bad thing). I could be on blood thinners for a few months (maybe three, possibly up to six), so I’d have to be extra careful during that time, with lots of physical restrictions.
When I asked her about running, she had a smirk on her face since running is what seemed to help get me into this mess in the first place.
“No exercise,” she said.
“But what if I respond really well to the medicine? Any chance I can run a marathon at the beginning of May?”
“I don’t even want you doing a short jog around the block,” she said. “Just take it easy.”
Hmm, I didn’t like that answer.
“What if I just go really slow? Running is like a faster form of walking anyway, right?”
“I don’t think so, Emily,” she said. “You just can’t run right now.” I was striking out. And I hated the use of the word can’t.
“What about yoga? Isn’t that really good for circulation?” I asked.
“I want you to find some good books, watch some TV, and relax,” she said, now fully grasping what a problem-patient she had on her hands.
As you can tell from this conversation (and the countless other unsuccessful ones I’ve had since, trying to persuade my own doctor into letting me exercise), my lack of running is not for lack of desire. I started to cry like an idiot. Sure, the alternative is a lot worse (blood clots are very scary stuff), but what will I do if I can’t run? It’s become such a defining part of who I am.
I had myself a little pity party in that hospital bed (while listening to Justin Timberlake’s new album) until my parents showed up. Leave it to my Mom to remind me “you were a pretty awesome person even before you became a runner.”
A few friends (Sam, Celeste, Ali, and Caitlin) also came to visit, which made me feel a lot better. Cupcakes from Sweet (thanks, Cait!) always do. It was a long day of waiting around and making sure I didn’t have any crazy reactions to the blood thinners. When the doctor said I could leave that night, she told me I’d have to go for blood work every couple of days and in addition to an oral medication, I’d also have to give myself injections in the stomach every day.
I’m sorry, say what?
The nurse showed me how (practicing on an orange first), but it still hurt like hell. You know when you get a bee sting and you can literally feel the venom traveling through you? That’s what this medicine feels like. When I looked up at my Mom, she had tears in her eyes.
“I can’t believe you did that so fast,” she said. “That was really hard to watch you do.”
Since then, it’s been a week and a half of constant blood work, doctor’s appointments, shots, and pills while I work at home (and make my way through the Nashville and House of Cards series). Every time I think about running, I try to come up with an alternative activity.
“From one workout queen to another, I know this is going to be hard for you,” my friend Caroline told me. “So whenever you need to expel some energy, let me know! I’ll take a class with you or we can start a country band and argue over who is the star (it’s me).”
Well, so far, I’ve signed up for a jewelry-making class at Brooklyn Charm, a painting night at ArteVino Studio (minus the vino for now-sober Emmy) in Hoboken, and have gone nuts on Pinterest’s DIY arts and crafts ideas. It looks like I’ll be getting back in touch with my creative side over the next few months. Now who wants me to knit them a scarf?!
In all seriousness, this is going to be hard as I “go dark” for a little while. And the truth is, I’m still feeling pretty low about the whole thing. That trip to Denver and Utah was incredible, but was it worth all this? Was it worth throwing away all of that marathon training in the bitter cold this winter? I know it was out of my control, although my buddy John says “that’s what you get for being a warrior.” It could be so much worse and there are people out there fighting much tougher battles. I just can’t run or exercise or drink or be in a knife fight for a while and should consider myself lucky.
I will adjust, but I just don’t feel like myself. I feel like a fragile little baby bird that everyone is telling to walk around (but not too much, don’t exert yourself!) with bubble wrap on (which might not be a bad idea considering the way I generally bruise). I’ve got some tight reins on right now. So I can’t help but get jealous seeing runners trotting around town — especially now that there are so many of them since the weather is finally starting to get nicer. Where were y’all when I was freezing my double spandex butt off in February?
“You’ll be back before you know what to do with yourself,” said my friend Mike, who was literally running (and killing!) his very first marathon while all this blood clot business was going on. “Sometimes distance runners are so badass, they need time off to reflect on how badass they are. This is your reflection time.”
And I will reflect. Even though I can’t be a runner right now, it doesn’t mean I’m leaving the running (or blogging) world behind. It’s just a matter of shifting those spring running plans around. This weekend, I’ll be cheering on the sidelines for the first annual Faherty Frousin Run down in Atlantic City instead of running in it. And I’ve managed to defer my NJ Marathon registration to next May. Instead, I’ll be a volunteer this year, helping out on race day and encouraging other runners to just keep going. I still love running. I just have to change my perspective and attitude in a way that’s a little less dangerous.
So bear with me over these next few weird, inactive, super-safe, and boring couple of months.
“Take care of yourself,” my best friend Gillian said. “Your running shoes will be waiting for you when you’re ready.”
And they better be — if only to work off all the cupcakes I’ll be eating during the hiatus.