At age 23, my life almost ended — and not in a drama queen sense of the term.
My literal brush with death occurred in March of 2006, the day after Saint Patrick’s Day. I woke up with a headache, nausea and intense body aches.
“Oops, I drank too much last night,” I tried to assure myself. But intuitively, I knew better. My right calf had swollen to twice its normal size, with patches of fire engine red.
My mom phoned our clinic’s on-call doctor, while I lay on the couch, tears rushing down my cheeks. I poked at my right leg furiously, alarmed that I couldn’t get my finger to indent my skin. My leg was hard and thick as cement.
“It sounds like it could be a blood clot,” the doctor told my mom. “You need to get your daughter to the ER immediately.”
Fast forward a few hours: “The ultrasound technician almost fell over when she saw how large Molly’s clot was,” the physician’s assistant admitted. “The primary concern now is making sure none of the clot dislodges and travels to her lungs, which can cause a pulmonary embolism.”
I was quickly hooked up to an IV and given heparin, an anticoagulant — then wheeled to a hospital room, which became my home for nine days.
My doctors were 99 percent sure that my Ortho Tri-Cyclen birth-control pill had caused my massive clot.
According to Ortho Tri-Cyclen’s official drug information pamphlet, about 1 in 2,000 women between the ages of 20 to 44 who use oral contraceptives will be hospitalized each year because of abnormal clotting. Smoking and being over the age of 35 while on the pill increase the chance of complications, although neither of these factors applied to my case.
Hormonal birth control isn’t a bad choice for all women, but there are serious complications for some. In 2012, the Food & Drug Administration added information to the labels of Yaz and Yasmin, explaining that a synthetic hormone used in their production – called drospirenone — increases the risk for blood clots.
The FDA’s own study found that 10 in 10,000 women taking pills with drospirenone would get a blood clot per year, compared with about six in 10,000 women taking older contraceptives.
No matter what birth control method you decide to use, do your research and be aware of side effects. That way, you can begin to diagnose yourself before you land in the hospital like I did.
My doctors have hinted that when I came into the ER the night of March 18, they feared I might not make it. I’m happy I didn’t have to say goodbye to everyone yet. I have a full, rich life ahead of me. Varicose veins or not, I can’t wait to live it.