Each year for Blood Clot Awareness Month, I share my testimony of overcoming two pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs); this year’s story has unfortunate updates.
On Veteran’s Day 2013, six days away from the Philly Half Marathon (for which I’d been training), I went to the doctors to see about a sensation in my right shoulder. Even though all of my vitals were spectacular and there was seemingly no reason for my pain, she listened to my concern and sent me to get an x-ray "just to be safe." Her diligence saved my life, and seven years later I find myself facing a different battle.
When I left the doctor’s office in Nov. 2013, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was. Because of her follow-through in requesting and checking the x-ray the same day, I received a call to go to the emergency room where they found two blood clots, one in each lung. I spent the next week in the hospital, two weeks out of work, and six months on blood thinners. She saved my life.
Unbeknownst to her, I could have died a week later during the race if she hadn’t listened to me. This year, I learned how rare and important a listening doctor actually is.
Last fall, I went for my annual GYN appointment. Due to a change of insurance, I started with a new GYN in 2018. Having a history of fibroids, I proactively had my medical records sent to the new doctor. Problem number one, they never received them.
At my appointment I informed my GYN that my fibroids were bothering me. She asked why I thought I had fibroids and I told her they’d been found in 2015 and that my records should be on file (yet after two years they weren’t). I explained all the symptoms-- all fibroid related as I had done my research-- and she responded with, “I don’t think it’s fibroids; I think you have an STD so I’m going to test you for that.”
I can’t clearly remember if we talked about my sexual history or practices in that conversation but if we had, she would have known that wasn’t possible. Moreover, if I have a history of fibroids which I’m saying are bothering me, you should probably look into it. But, she didn’t listen, nor did she ever call about or update my results. Finally, after inquiring a month later, I was sent an undetailed response saying, “Your results were normal.” Meanwhile, I was living in pain.
Fortunately, after listening to my partner’s advice about following up with my primary doctor about my severe pain, I had a different outcome. Shocked at my GYN’s lack of responsiveness, my primary doctor listened to me, requested my old results and scheduled an ultrasound so we could compare my fibroid growth. As I suspected, things had gotten worse. My uterus doubled in size and retroverted, my fibroid has grown, and a new one has developed. All of this explained the pain I’d been experiencing.
As I reflect on these experiences in light of Blood Clot Awareness Month, my focus this year is slightly different. We may not be experts, but we know our bodies. It is our job as women, particularly Black women, to speak up, follow up, and advocate for the services we need. Some doctors will hear us (and thank God for them), but when you feel like you’re being ignored, do not settle; push for a solution or get a different opinion. It’s your body, and you have a right to know what’s happening with it.