Holiday emergency - Gemma's lifesaving diagnosis
21 mile walk from Putney Bridge to Walton-on-Thames
Thu 13 October 16
On the 13th October it’s National Thrombosis Day and on the 7th October 2016 Clare and I will be undertaking a 21 mile walk from Putney Bridge to Walton-on-Thames along the Thames Path in support. We are going to be raising money for Thrombosis UK and British Lung Foundation to help raise awareness and support research.
Whilst Clare and I were on holiday in Malaysia and Cambodia in March this year I was unwell. During our time in Malaysia my right leg hurt but I just assumed I'd strained it. I had some trouble breathing but again I just assumed it was the different climate affecting me. After transferring through Kuala Lumpur on the 7th March, whilst travelling from Borneo to Phnom Penh, I passed out within minutes of exiting the flight. After a couple of hours in a medical clinic at the airport I was diagnosed with dehydration. The following day we continued to Phnom Penh and although still far from feeling 100% I started to feel slightly better for the next couple of days. On the Thursday I felt awful. I was taken to another Medical Centre and I was diagnosed this time with diabetes. I was immediately transferred to hospital where tests, x-rays, ultrasounds and CTs were conducted. New diagnosis: not diabetes but a bacterial infection and acute gastroenteritis. On the Friday I was told I could be discharged, needed to take a week of work and could fly home on the Sunday as planned.
Hours later I was still in hospital as I was waiting for my travel insurance company to pay my hospital bill, they seemed to be stalling. They had sent my details off to be reviewed by a medical panel. I prepared to spend a 2nd night in hospital as it was becoming clear I wasn't leaving that night, there were concerns over my oxygen saturation level. I was put back on oxygen and continued to wait for further details. Early Saturday morning Cambodian time Dad called me to let me know that the travel insurance had reached a decision. At 20.00 that night a private medical team would arrive at the hospital in Phnom Penh where they would take charge of me and move me via air ambulance to Bangkok to a hospital there.
I arrived at the hospital in Bangkok at 23.00 and was taken straight to ICU. Within the hour I had undergone more tests, a blood gas, x-rays and a heart ultrasound. It was at this stage I was asked 'do you have any leg pain?'. The leg pain I had been experiencing was from DVT. However clots had broken off from the thrombosis and had travelled through by blood stream and I now had 4 clots in my lungs (2 in each), I was finally diagnosed correctly, it was pulmonary emboli. This was why I had been struggling to breathe and why I had low oxygen saturation. It was at this stage I was told how lucky I was and that I should have been dead.
I spent 2 weeks in hospital in Bangkok (with Dad for company), 2 days in ICU, 5 days bed bound, 7 days on oxygen 24/7. I had to undergo physio, constant blood tests, injections in the stomach, nebulizers and medication galore. When I was allowed to return home I was accompanied by a medical nurse from start to end. I spent a further 3 weeks off work before returning on a 3 month phased return. I’ve continued to have regular blood tests due to being on blood thinning medication as well as consultant appointments and scans.
On the 16th September I had my final consultant appointment. My clots are gone, my heart is fine and I’ve been lucky. However I will have to remain on blood thinning medication for life in order to prevent further clots in the future.
I have received a great deal of support over the last few months from my family and friends and now Clare and I are going to undertake our walking challenge. If I was more aware of thrombosis then I might not have ignored the symptoms I had and I wouldn’t have reached the stage that I did. Thrombosis can affect anyone regardless of age and lifestyle, like cancer, it’s not picky and there are a number of different ways in which people may suffer from a thrombosis.
Symptoms are not necessarily obvious and can be diagnosed as a number of medical conditions – I was misdiagnosed 3 times by medical professionals that could see me. It was only because a medical professional read my stats on a piece of paper that made them realise something far more serious was wrong and not as suggested. I was lucky – please help others be as lucky as I was. The picture on this page was taken 2 days before I passed out, a week before I was diagnosed with the pulmonary emboli. We had climbed to see the Orang-utan’s and to do a tree canopy walk. Although I had struggled with the walk, I managed it, that’s how unaware I was of what was going on inside me and how unassuming the symptoms can be.