The shortness of breath, SOB for short in the medical world, started the week of Thanksgiving. Steve’s had SOB before, several episodes over the last five or so years. A quick-paced walk or a steep flight of stairs and he’s huffing and puffing. Doctors have tried, but can’t figure out what’s causing it. Cardiac issue? Allergies? Asthma? COPD? Nope, nothing definitive. Strange and frustrating, yet the episodes always resolve after a few weeks so we aren’t too concerned. Still, we are home for the holidays so Steve calls to make an appointment with his doctor.
We arrive a few minutes early for his 9 AM appointment, expecting the visit to go quickly. We need to get back to Wake Forest. Steve has more drywall to hang and I have chili to make for the granddaughter’s first birthday party. Imagine our surprise when a blood pressure of 130/110 prompts his doctor to order a STAT CT of the chest to rule out a pulmonary embolism (think: do this test really quick because this guy might have a blood clot in his lung and there’s a 90% chance that he drops dead right here in front of us). I think the doctor is being overly cautious. I mean, really. This husband of mine hung drywall yesterday and drove here this morning from Wake Forest. He feels fine. He just gets short of breath. He’s had this before.
Fast forward to 3 PM. Steve is admitted to the hospital with a 5.4 x 2.6 cm. pulmonary embolism (think: huge-honking big, about the size of a man’s thumb). He is started on IV heparin which is supposed to keep other clots from forming while his body works to break up the huge-honking big one in his lung. The doctors assure us that his prognosis is good. He’ll be in the hospital for 2 – 3 days and will have to be on blood thinners for 6 months. They tell us it’s going to take 6 – 8 weeks for the clot to dissolve and that he will have SOB until it does, but we can expect a full recovery. We resolve ourselves to the facts that there will be no drywall hung and no chili made today. We’re going to miss the first birthday party but the middle daughter is going to FaceTime us when the granddaughter eats her cake so, at least, we’ll get to see that.
We settle in. We’ve gotten good at biding time…until another doctor comes in.
The blood clot is not the only thing found on the CT scan. There’s a 1 cm. nodule of “uncertain chronicity” (meaning: they have no idea how long it’s been there) in the back of his right lung and since blood clots can be caused by a malignancy, a PET scan is ordered to rule out cancer. It will be after Christmas before we can get that done. The doctors tell us that they expect the PET scan to be negative; that it needs to be done for “completion”. That’s certainly encouraging but waiting a week to get the scan done and then waiting another week to get the results can be a little taxing in the best of circumstances. It’s particularly taxing when you live on a boat and your boat is on a mooring ball 500 miles away in St. Augustine and you see this on Facebook.
We get great news at Steve’s follow up appointment on Monday, January 4. The nodule is scar tissue, probably from a long-ago bout with pneumonia. We can go back to boat as long as Steve promises:
- To get his blood drawn once a month to monitor how well the blood thinner is working.
- To not engage in activities that put him at risk of injuries or falls that might cause bleeding.
Pinky promises made, we’re getting FNR the heck out of the St. Augustine mooring field and heading down to Marineland Marina just south of St. Augustine. There, we’ll get FNR ready to travel to Stuart, FL for a month or two stay.
Once in Stuart, our focus will shift from a BC (Before Clot) lifestyle to an AC (After Clot) lifestyle.
BC: We relied on alternate forms of transportation (bicycles, buses, Ubers, trolleys) to get to places that are too far to walk to. This works well if you don’t have to have your blood drawn once a month.
AC: We will have a vehicle with us going forward. We’ll leave our truck in St. Augustine and once we get settled in Stuart, we’ll rent a car and go pick it up. We’ll repeat that process as we head further south.
BC: All the rain we’ve had and the long days spent traveling limited the amount we exercised. Sitting in the cabin or at the helm all day restricts blow flow, which contributes to the formation of clots.
AC: We will have transportation so we’re joining a gym meaning we can and will exercise when it rains. Also, the First Mate will be taking the helm more often so the Captain can get up and move around every hour or so.
BC: We know how to eat healthy, but eating unhealthy is easier and tastes Oh. So. Good.
AC: Eating unhealthy results in excess weight and excess weight increases the risk of blood clots. Therefore, we are going to lose a few pounds by replacing our unhealthier eating habits with healthier ones.
BC: We tackled many a boat project without even thinking about excessive bleeding caused by an injury or fall.
AC: Steve will NOT be going up the mast anytime soon. Steve will NOT use a utility knife to sharpen a pencil or cut the foil off a wine bottle. Steve WILL buy a pair of those cut-resistant gloves and he WILL wear them.
BC: We traveled long and hard, hell-bent on finding warm, happy and dry.
AC: Steve’s SOB was life threatening, and we didn’t pay it much attention. Maybe we were too focused on finding warm, happy and dry. We fell off the present moment wagon big time. We can’t change that and there’s no sense in resolving to not fall off again because we will. All we can do is get back on that wagon and enjoy the ride, one moment at a time.