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8 Lessons Almost Dying Taught Me

Veterans Day 2021 marks eight years since two pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs) were discovered in my body. I knew I wanted to acknowledge my story as I do every year, but I honestly questioned myself for treating what I went through as a near death experience. I thought I was being a bit dramatic until I learned that a close family member’s coworker passed this week due to a pulmonary embolism. This tragic news reminded me just how serious blood clots are and regrounded me on why it’s essential I use my platform to raise awareness.

You can read my full blood clot story here, but this year I want to focus on 8 lessons my near death experience taught me.

# 1 Listen to your body. Our bodies are strong, so much so that we may easily overlook slight pain thinking it’s not that serious. On the contrary, because our bodies are so strong, when they indicate pain or discomfort, we need to listen since it’s not the norm.

For me, listening to my body saved my life. 2013 was one of my healthiest years up to that point. I gave up dairy, alcohol and pork, and I was training for a half marathon. In fact, I was one week away from my 13.1 mile race when I decided to see a doctor about an unexplainable sharp pain in my shoulder.

#2 Find doctors who listen to and advocate for you. I’ve had my share of doctors. There are those who listen, those who minimize, and those who do what they want regardless of what you say. Fortunately, in 2013, God provided a doctor who listened. What’s ironic here is that my doctor was actually out that day, so I saw an intern. (I wonder now if my story would be different if this wasn’t the case.)

The stand-in doctor observed that my vitals were better than normal and saw no logical explanation for my discomfort. However, as a precautionary measure, she recommended an x-ray to rule out underlying issues. Not only that, but she also made a point to check the x-ray that night, and called me immediately after seeing the results. Her investment was key to my life being spared. When she called, she said two masses were found in my lungs and that I needed to go to the emergency room asap.

#3 Surround yourself with supportive people. I don’t remember the details, but I recall talking to my mom and being in the emergency room with both of my parents. They dropped everything to be by my side and find out what was wrong.

Conversely, I actually wanted to go to the emergency room days before when I woke up from my sleep unable to breathe. I mentioned to my boyfriend at the time that I might need to go to the hospital, but he initially thought that was dramatic. While he eventually came around, I was already second guessing myself, and I decided not to go. When you know something is off, trust yourself, and don’t entertain the opinions of those who tell you otherwise.

#4 Accept the disruption to your plans. As the story goes, an MRI revealed I had two blood clots, one in each lung. The pain I was experiencing was shooting up from the point of the clot. Even though that sounded really serious, I secretly thought I would still be able to run the race in six days. What they were telling me about my body didn’t add up to how I was feeling overall. I felt very much in shape and ready to run after a day or two in the hospital.

Little did I know, I would be hospitalized for six days, put on medication for the next six months, and given a needle to inject myself for the next week. God sat me all the way down.

#5 Think about the bigger picture. In moments like this, I’ve learned to look at the bigger picture. To me, it was clear God was trying to get my attention. Maybe it was about my relationship, maybe it was about the fact that I was doing way too much at the time between teaching, training for a half marathon, being in a bowling league, singing on the choir at church, and taking swimming lessons to work toward a triathlon. Whatever the case may be, when God sits us down, it’s probably a wake up call.

#6 Be selective about what you put in your body. My first wake up call was that I needed to stick to my guns about what I put in my body. Three weeks prior to this incident, I started a new birth control, the NuvaRing, and that was determined to be the cause of my blood clots. Outside of the medical world, it’s not widely known that birth control commonly causes clotting (even more so for people who have a family history of blood clots which, I didn’t know at the time, was my family). Without any of this knowledge, I never liked or wanted to be on birth control. It didn’t feel natural and I didn’t like the adjustments it made to my body. If I was resolved in the decision to not use birth control, I could have saved myself from this experience.

#7 Make an adjustment. I did not come out of the hospital the same way I went in. Physically, I planned to resume business as usual, but my first stop after leaving the hospital was picking up medication from Walmart. By the time I walked from the car to the entrance, I was completely out of breath and in tears. I could finally feel the effects of having two pulmonary embolisms. Running the race was no longer a thought. I had to slow down and tend to my body.

Outside of that, I of course removed the birth control the day of the diagnosis, had some necessary conversations with my partner, and withdrew myself from all activities until further notice. When life throws us curve balls, it’s essential to observe what’s being revealed, prioritize what’s important, and release what isn’t serving you.

#8 Don’t minimize your experience. My final lesson is to never minimize your experience. You survived what you went through not just for you, but to help someone else as well. Also, the fact that you overcame means there’s purpose in your life. I get teary when I think about people having the same diagnosis as me and passing away from it. I feel so heavily that it could have been me, and I don’t take the sparing of my life lightly. God kept me here to be fruitful with my gifts, and the least I can do is honor those who can no longer tell their stories by confidently telling my own.

The fact that you overcame means there’s purpose in your life.

What story have you been given to tell? Let me know in the comments.

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