When people meet me for the first time, I assume one of the first things they notice is the medical bandage on my chest or the pump in the fanny pack around my waist. I imagine most people are curious but avoid asking what’s wrong (Unless they’re five. Five-year-olds always ask. Lol.) I don’t mind answering, though, so here’s the explanation of why I rock a fanny pack everywhere we go.
Nine years ago, in July of 2009, I passed out at the gym while running on the treadmill (...after making it 100 yards). I had been having issues with my breathing doing simple things, but I wrote it off as “being out of shape.” This was especially odd considering that I had trained to run a half marathon in April, just three months prior to passing out. Granted, I did terribly at the Big D and walked nearly all of the 13.1 miles, old men shuffling past me by the end, but I had worked up to jogging five miles before I had quit exercising leading up to the event. It didn’t take long to get out of shape, I thought. I probably should have considered that I’d have to REALLY be out of shape to have to stop midway up a flight of stairs to breathe or sit down after jogging across a street or that it wasn’t normal to see spots and hear ringing when carrying groceries to my car.
I had pushed the stop button on the treadmill and was getting off to go sit down when I passed out right next to the machine. The EMS showed up, stretcher and all, to take me to the ambulance and check me out. I was mortified. Aside from a throbbing face and a few cuts from hitting the hardwood floor, embarrassment was my only issue at that point, which made me cry. (Any other criers in the house? Lol.) I refused to let them put me on the stretcher, but I did agree to comply and let them take a few standard vitals. They suggested I get checked out at the ER just to be safe, but I really felt it was a waste of money. People pass out all the time for various reasons. A friend convinced me to go get checked out, and the nurses in the ER echoed my sentiments: All my vitals seemed great. Probably I was dehydrated. They set up an appointment for me to see my primary physician later that week to get his take on things.
Dr. Fowler listened to my story, and though all of the tests they had initially run looked great and he declared me the “picture of perfect health,” he said he still wasn’t convinced there wasn’t something more going on. At 22 I shouldn’t be struggling to get up a flight of stairs like I was. He ordered an echocardiogram to check out my heart, and I’m still grateful for his intuition. All they would tell me after the echo was that the right side of my heart was enlarged and that they needed to do a heart catheterization to fully diagnose the issue. (Never Google your symptoms. You will convince yourself you’re dying, for sure.)
The cath was scheduled for a couple weeks before I was to start college again after a two year break from school. The doctor seemed grim when he told me the diagnosis, and it was probably his demeanor that freaked me out more than anything. I didn’t know what “pulmonary hypertension” was. He explained that it was a rare, serious, and progressive lung condition which I would need to begin treatment for right away as he rattled off a doctor he recommended me seeing for further consultation.
Naturally, I Googled this also when he left the room. It was pretty awful reading such things as “two to three year life expectancy”, “30-50% mortality rate during pregnancy”, “double lung transplant”, and other such phrases. I had really planned on my only concern being locating all my new classes and keeping up with the required reading assignments. All of that sort of faded into the background.
I totally feel like this blog is getting too long, so if you’re still with me and want to read more about rocking my illness and my fanny pack, stay tuned for part II.