Kim is in the hospital, visited by her friends and boyfriend, 2019.
It was Christmas morning 2019 and I wasn’t feeling well. I spent the holiday with my parents in Oklahoma and complained all week about shortness of breath and mild chest pain. I progressed to anxiety. But when I arrived at the airport four days later, I knew something was wrong …
My shortness of breath turned to panting after I walked just a few feet through the airport; I redirected the rest of the way to my gate. That night I landed in New York and immediately went to the emergency room. I was still convinced it was just anxiety, adding it to the list of bizarre symptoms I had accumulated over the years. I never stayed in the hospital for anything. Even my parents didn’t have hospital visits, so the idea that something was wrong with my body was unthinkable. Finally someone saw me around 1am. The nurse was strict but very caring. “Okay, we did a blood test and you either have a heart attack or you have blood clots.” My mind became empty. WHAT ?? I don’t have a blood clot! I just need Xanax, I thought. But after another test, it was confirmed that I had a blood clot in one of the lungs, which explained the difficult breathing.
The nurse began to ask questions that might indicate the cause:
“Have you flown a plane recently?”
“Are you on a pill?”
“Okay. You’re going to have to stop taking the pills right away. You’re really young, and since you don’t smoke, I’m crazy to assume and say it’s either a plane or a pill.”
I was in disbelief. How could that be? I needed a CT to see the size of the clots and as I followed the doctor past the rows of hospital beds into the next room, I doubled up again, unable to breathe. She put her hand on my back and said, “This is worse than I thought.” With tears streaming down my face, I lay on a hard plastic tray as the warm color filled my veins, illuminating the clots in my lungs.
An hour later, a warm and cheerful CT technique came in and announced: “Wow, you are superior! You actually have two clots – one in each lung. We call this bilateral pulmonary embolism. “The clots were huge and straining my heart. An ECG technician would stop by in the morning to look at the blood flow. My mind was spinning, and as they placed me in the critical part of the emergency room with a drop of heparin, I tearfully called my parents and texted to your best friend Leslie, a nurse who made sure I stood up for myself. I fell asleep around 7 in the morning. That shouldn’t have happened.
The next five days were murky as I was transferred to another hospital, better equipped to handle my case. A team of three young doctors visited me daily to keep me informed of their progress. “And you don’t smoke?” the first doctor asked, scribbling a note. “No,” I replied a billion times. “But you are so young. It is strange to have blood clots at this age. Anyway, you should get out of here by New Year’s Eve! The smiling doctor left the room, winking at me as the other two doctors fell back. “Actually …” they began as soon as the first doctor left the room, “your numbers are still very high and you probably won’t come out until New Year’s Eve. We want you keep as long as we can to make sure you are completely safe. ”
I was frustrated at the time. All I wanted was to forget these traumatic last days and celebrate the new year with my boyfriend. But I should have realized that the two doctors who remained in the room were watching over me. The cheerful doctor who gave me the sun diagnosis was white, and the other two doctors are women of color. My doctor and the nurses at the first hospital were black and Asian. Everyone had their backs to me and at the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was. It made me think of an advocate and a model Mama Cax, who had just died of a pulmonary embolism, not a week before I went to the emergency room, and Serena Williams who had to – repeatedly – require a CT scan of her pulmonary embolism after the nurses refused to listen to her.
I went to the doctor and assumed that the one assigned to me would be treated fairly for granted.
According to a 2016 study, 50 percent of medical students and residents believed that blacks could not feel pain the same as whites because they had thicker skin or their nerves did not work the same way. Blacks also have a 30 to 60 percent higher chance of developing pulmonary embolism than whites. I left the hospital later that week knowing that because of those two doctors I had been examined ten times before I was allowed to leave.
Fifteen months later, I’m almost on the other side. After a year of taking blood thinners, I have no more blood clots and I visit doctors to confirm the cause. I’m still dealing with a few who dismiss my concerns, and at first I thought, Well, they are experts. Maybe I should just listen to them. But no one knows my body the way I know it and I will continue until I find the right doctors who can hear me. I never forget how happy I am just to be alive, even when I’m dealing with doctors who might have believed I was suffering less than I was suffering or that I was making it up. I do this for the long healthy life I will have, and lives are cut short because they have been ignored.
(Photo by Kim Rhodes / Instagram.)