In October 2017 at age 30 I was diagnosed with a Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism (find out more about my story in my recent blog post). Although this diagnosis was a shocking revelation it did provide me with some comfort to know that in fact I was not going mad. The reason was for months prior to the diagnosis I had been suffering with strange pains throughout my right leg and into my ankle. However the big question on my mind now having learnt what was truly going on with my body was WHY did I develop blood clots in the first place?
There are many reasons why one can develop blood clots. Some of the more commonly known causes include sitting for long periods of time such as flying, being overweight, pregnant or a smoker, being bed ridden for prolonged period of time, a family history of blood clots as well as birth control pills. My blood test results did not present any signs that I was predisposed to clotting so in the end the doctors theory is that I developed the clots from being on the birth control pill and that I may have been dehydrated whilst training. Although I wish they could 100% prove this was the reason this happened to me I had to accept it and start turning my focus on my road to recovery…
After one month of being on a blood thinner called Xarelto I went for a check up Ultrasound doppler scan as I was still finding my leg was still painful and it was turning blue especially after showering. Unfortunately the results of the scan showed that the clot was looking worse so the doctor decided to admit me into hospital so they could change me over to a different blood thinner starting with a week of Clexane injections and then moving over to the more commonly prescribed blood thinner Warfarin, which would allow the doctor to manage me better. However, Warfarin is not an easy drug to be on as it requires you to have to go for blood tests frequently so that your INR can be measured. INR is a standardised measurement of the time it takes for your blood to clot. My required INR range was between 2.5 and 3.0. For the first few weeks my INR was not in the required range so my dosage of warfarin was being changed weekly until they got me within the desired INR range.
When I started warfarin I was also given a booklet explaining the in’s and out’s of the drug and what you can or can’t do. Basically any physical activity that had a risk of me falling or cutting myself was out due to the risk of bleeding out. Interestingly, green vegetables such as brocolli and spinach as well as berries had to be eaten in moderation too as these all have an effect on your INR.
During the first two months of recovery I was severely depressed as I really missed being able to exercise. To fill the gap of not training I trialed a few alternative time-fillers including building a puzzle but to be honest nothing beats the endorphin rush of running or cycling. I didn’t even want to go on holiday to the Transkei over the festive period as I couldn’t bare the thought of not being able to run or cycle in such a beautiful part of the country. However, I ended up having a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday. I spent most mornings walking the 3km loop around Mazeppa Bay with our Scottish Terrier, Sir Lanark, and I even managed to complete the Mazeppa mile swim.
In February 2018, I decided to trial indoor cycling to see how my leg felt. The first session didn’t go so well as my leg throbbed whilst riding but I gave it another go and slowly with patience I managed to cycle for over 30 minutes. During this time I also started doing “parkwalks” on Saturday mornings mostly at the Delta Parkrun but also visiting a few other Parkruns in Joburg. I started to really enjoy these “Parkwalks” and I would invite friends to join me so we could catch up over a walk in the outdoors. After about two months I was slowly jogging the flat sections of the Parkruns and walking the uphills, which was a big boost to my confidence.
After 6 and half months of being on warfarin, I went for more blood tests and another Ultrasound doppler scan, which indicated that the clot had dissolved away and that despite some signs of fibrosis in the vein I was ready to go off the medication. Whilst on warfarin I had suffered from severe back pain despite being told that it isn’t a normal side-effect of the drug but as soon as I stopped the medication all these pains disappeared which was a huge relief.
Going off warfarin was a big step towards getting back to normality again. However, I have had to accept that my new ‘normal’ is a bit different. I still wear a grade 2 compression stocking whilst training and for long-haul flights or drives. My right leg is still reactive and swells every now and then with some signs of post-thrombotic syndrome but I am learning to better manage this over time. But most of all, I am far more appreciative these days of being able to ride and run again – it truly brings so much joy to me. Since recovering from the DVT and PE I have managed to get back to running a few half marathons and completing both the 947 Cycle Challenge 2018 and the Cape Town Cycle Tour 2019.
To anyone else going through a similar health setback in life, try and see the road to recovery as a journey to a NEW YOU!
“Life is a series of obstacles and setbacks; Living is overcoming them”
― Dean Karnazes