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“If I die, I don’t want to be buried. Cremate me. Scatter my ashes in the pasture with the horses.”
My dad was looking me in the eye, obviously choking back some pretty heavy emotions. My mom was bawling in the chair beside him.
Who gets blood clots at age 25?
Who tells their parents their dying wishes?
“I don’t have much money saved or anything, but if there’s anything left over after paying for the funeral – I want it to go to my future nieces and nephews. Put it into some type of account so they have a little money for college. Give it to them for high school or college graduation, whichever you think is better.”
My dad nodded. Mom kept crying.
Looking back, talking about my death was surreal. I was 25. I didn’t have my final wishes written down on paper or anything. I was trusting my parents to do what I wanted. No one plans to have this conversation. But I felt it needed to be had.
The doctors said I should be fine, if I made it through the night. I had more blood clots in my lungs than they even thought possible. I’d been a ticking time bomb for weeks. There was no reason I should have walked into the hospital on my own two feet.
Maybe I should back up and start at the beginning…
It was November 2009. Walking the two blocks home from work one day, I realized I was short of breath. I started cussing myself under my breath about how I was getting out of shape and couldn’t even walk two blocks.
That night I jumped on my elliptical and started going. Five minutes in I was panting like no one’s business, but I hadn’t even broke a sweat.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I started to cough. That’s when I noticed the first chunk of blood.
I’m not one to go to the doctor, but that totally freaked me out! I scheduled an appointment with the local PA as soon as I could get in.
At that appointment they did the standard things – height, weight, blood pressure, asked what meds I was on, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary. They gave me some antibiotics, and then sent me on my way.
Over the next few weeks, I kept getting worse. During my two block walk to work, I often had to stop 2-3 times to catch my breath. I couldn’t even go five minutes on the elliptical without panting and having to stop. Even a trip down the hallway at school to get a student to work with took me longer than normal.
Finally, at an appointment in mid-December, the PA I originally had came into the room with one last question.
“Heather, are you on birth control?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Why?”
She immediately sent me to the ER in the next town. They admitted me right away.
I got lucky. They started me on heparin immediately. The blood clots didn’t move. I guess they stabilize or something after 24 hours of heparin. I don’t understand the science behind it, but that’s what I was told. Once they were “frozen” in place, they would slowly break off and dissolve or I would cough them up.
I spent three nights in the hospital that week. I wasn’t technically in the ICU, but one of the ICU nurses was put in charge of caring for me. I believe I was her only patient.
Those blood clots changed my life forever. Obviously I stopped taking birth control (thank you modern medicine for telling us that’s a need when it’s just a life-threatening convenience!), but so much more than that changed.
I realized that death wouldn’t be so bad.
Now – don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to die. But now I see the good in heaven. I get excited about the idea of meeting my father-in-law for the fist time, about seeing my grandpa and great-grandparents again, about seeing my high school classmate, and – above all – about meeting God.
Life is pretty great. But, really, in comparison – it’s nothing compared to what I hope to experience after life.
So blood clots, thank you! You scared the bejeepers out of me, but you made me realize that every day is a gift. You made me realize that I’m fortunate to be here. You made me realize that I’m super excited about the next chapter – whether that be in life or beyond!