Many of us were taught, very early on, to protect our necks. We all knew someone in high school, in our families, a beloved character on a 90’s sitcom who “accidentally” got pregnant. So, when some of us made the decision to start having sex, we knew there were certain measures we needed to take to not only ensure that we remained healthy but also that we didn’t bring children into the world before we were ready for them. I’m talking contraception. And while we thought we were doing the best things for ourselves, birth control can present a danger of its own.
That’s what my coworker, Tricia*, learned when her birth control pills landed her in the hospital for 7 days with massive blood clots around her lungs.
Tricia’s job at our company requires that she travels quite a bit, at least twice a month. And when she gets to her destination, she’s not exactly relaxing. She has 12-hour days, with little rest before she’s on another flight back home. Earlier this year, Tricia, who lives in New York, was in Atlanta for three days, then L.A. for two days before she went to the Philippines.
A flight to the Philippines from New York, is 19 hours.
She had a great time on vacation, attending the wedding of a friend. But when she got back to New York, after a 15-hour flight from Tokyo, she was gasping for air, like she had asthma or had just finished an intense work out.
“I couldn’t walk from the terminal to the baggage claim without taking a break. That’s not normal. Especially because I work out.”
Her breathing got increasingly worse as she struggled to carry her luggage up three flights of stairs to her apartment. Eventually, her breathing was labored even as she was having regular, seated conversations.
Tricia thought that, like her mother, she had developed asthma.
The next day she went to work and noticed a slight pain in her leg. She dismissed it as a charlie horse.
When she was going home that evening, she could no longer ignore her symptoms. Tricia almost passed out on the subway.
Once she got there, she had to walk up three flights of stairs to her apartment. When her boyfriend saw her struggling to climb the stairs, he wasn’t so willing to dismiss her shortness of breath and told her to call her mother. Tricia did and told her what was going on. Her mother said that what she was describing didn’t sound like asthma and told her to call the on-call nurse. When she told the woman on the phone her symptoms and explained that she had been on a long flight, her response was urgent.
“She was like, ‘Go to the hospital right away.’ And before I hung up the phone, she said ‘What did I say? What did I just say’ “ Tricia repeated her instructions and the on-call nurse stressed the importance of her words. “‘Right. Don’t go to sleep. Don’t sleep on it. Go to the hospital right away.’”
Yet, when Tricia hung up the phone and told her boyfriend what the nurse had just said, she was still looking for a way to avoid the hospital. Thankfully, her boyfriend listened to the nurse instead of his girlfriend and the two made their way to the emergency room.
Even though the two were in New York City, the emergency room wasn’t crowded and she was able to see a doctor relatively quickly. As she was talking to the doctors, explaining her symptoms, her breathing was going in and out.
As soon as she told the doctors that she was on a long flight, they asked if she was on oral contraceptives.
They gave her an MRI and then told her, “You have to stay at the hospital because you have blood clots.”
They told her that her birth control had caused the clotting.