I had just celebrated my twentieth birthday about three weeks before I got sick. I was a junior at CU Boulder studying sociology and I absolutely loved it. I painted with acrylic inks in my spare time, biked to and from school and in between classes five days a week. By anyone’s standards, I was a young, healthy, typical college student very much enjoying my life.
How It All Started
Everything began to change on August 30. A sick friend came over a few evenings before, and my boyfriend got sick the next day. Shortly thereafter I started getting a runny nose and tiring easily, but I reasoned that I probably caught the cold my friend and boyfriend had. I wasn’t surprised when I started coughing, and needing to sleep a lot more. However, whatever I thought I’d caught wouldn’t go away. I stayed sick for at least three weeks hoping my body would just fight it off.
On September 19, I made a same-day appointment with my doctor because in addition to the painful coughing, I also started to experience a really intense pain in my right shoulder/chest area. It sometimes felt okay when I would stand, but at night I couldn’t get comfortable because I felt like the weight of my own chest was pushing in on itself and breathing hurt.
My usual physician wasn’t available on the 19th so I was referred out to a different doctor at another hospital location. Once there, I relayed my symptoms to the doctor. I explained how long I’d been sick, how terrible the coughing and my chest hurt, and how tired I was. He prescribed me five days of an antibiotic and cough medicine, then listened to my lungs with a stethoscope and said that it sounded like I had pneumonia. He ordered an X-ray. I made my way down the hall and got the X-ray done and nothing came abnormal. I was told that my X-ray was clear.
Symptoms Dismissed by Doctors
On September 23, that sharp, knife-like pain in my upper chest/right shoulder area became unbearable and started hurting while standing too. I made myself another same-day appointment at 4:30 pm. Once again the doctor ordered an X-ray. The doctor told me I was good to go down and get the X-ray then be on my way but I was in so much pain that I kept asking him questions about what I should do. I explained that this was no normal pain; in fact, I had never felt anything like it. He acted very annoyed, sighed, looked off to the side, and said “Do you have Advil at home?” I said that I was already taking three ibuprofen at a time, and that it didn’t really do anything for the pain. He said “Just go ahead and take four and that should work.” And then he walked away.
Feeling defeated and frustrated, I went to get the X-ray then waited in the hall for the results. A few minutes later I was told I might have had a little bit of bronchitis and maybe pneumonia because the tubes of my lungs looked a little enlarged, but I was assured there was nothing serious because “everyone’s lungs look a little inflamed around this time of year.” I wanted a little more clarification on my condition and the doctor called me a few minutes later and just repeated what the first person had said. I again mentioned my pain and he informed me that my pain was common for someone who had a sore chest from coughing for as long as I had been.
My pain was not taken seriously and no further tests were done to rule out anything more serious. I was extremely exhausted at this point and just wanted to go home and go to bed. My mother called to see what happened at my appointment and was angry at the level of care I received. She told me to go to the emergency room but I was just too tired at this point and wanted to go to bed. So I went home and took four more ibuprofen for the pain.
In the meantime, my mother had called an advice nurse who recommended that I go to the ER. I explained that I would go the next day and was too exhausted and just needed to sleep. She wasn’t happy with my decision and told me that if anything changed to please go in. I agreed and went to bed, having an extremely hard time falling asleep with the pain.
The Crisis: Pulmonary Embolism
At some point I did fall asleep but I woke back up after midnight with severe, severe pain in my chest. It was the worst pain I had ever felt and I was extremely worried for my safety suddenly. The area that had been hurting for the past few weeks (on my upper chest/shoulder) was not hurting at all anymore. The pain had actually moved lower in a concentrated feeling mass. Every position–lying down, standing up, crouching–it all hurt with excruciating pain. I started crying and called my mom, and she told me I needed to get to the emergency room and that she was on her way.
I got there at around 1:00 am. I was taken back pretty much immediately and given dilantin and morphine. After answering a bunch of questions to narrow down what this might be, one of the doctors said that he was going to take my blood to run some sort of test to check for clotting, and he presented me with the option to get a CT scan as well. He heavily emphasized with the CT scan that there was a significant amount of radiation. Clearly he wanted me to consider that in my decision, especially since in his opinion there was very little chance I had a blood clot.
I decided to get the CT scan despite the risk. Afterwards, the doctor came back very surprised and said that I had blood clots in my right lung. This whole time I had been texting my mom who was frantic and on her way to me. When I found out it was a clot I told her what it was with relief. I completely did not realize how serious this was.
Afterwards, I found out my mom knew that this was extremely serious, but she didn’t tell me until she got to me in person because she didn’t want to scare me. Throughout the day we found out more about what had gone on. It was revealed that I had a pulmonary embolism and that the right part of my lungs were “riddled with clots.” I was also told that part of my lung had died from the blockages and that this damage is was permanent. All of the ER doctors said that the NuvaRing had to be discontinued immediately and that it was almost definitely the NuvaRing that had caused this but none of them would write that on paper.
How This Could Have Happened
Now that it has been a little while and the shock has worn off a bit, I’m left with more questions: questions concerning the big picture of what exactly happened to me here and questions concerning why a drug that causes so many truly life-threatening blood clots in girls and women is okay to be distributed and sold in so many countries across the globe. I was young, healthy, not overweight, and a non-smoker and because of this I was led to believe I was not at risk for this to happen to me.
In addition, I was not given enough information about how to recognize life-threatening symptoms and what to do if I detected one of the warning signs. If my doctors didn’t even realize what was happening, how was I supposed to know? Why did I have to come within moments of dying before the puzzle was put together?
I just truly did not realize how serious this could have been for me. It didn’t hit me until my mom told me that she was talking to a man who had lost his daughter to a blood clot while using the NuvaRing. She said that he actually called me a survivor. And as I do more research I’m finding out why. And I’m angry about what is going on here.
I am a 20 year old warfarin patient who has permanent lung damage, takes narcotics daily to manage ongoing pain, suffers from exhaustion due to lack of lung function in my right lung, deals with the side effects of the drugs used to help ease the pain, and feels a lot of mistrust with the pharmaceutical industry and doctors.
The NuvaRing is dangerous. It’s deadly. In my opinion, it should not be given to people when there are safer alternatives. No amount of injury or death should be considered “acceptable,” especially when people haven’t been properly informed of the risks. If clearer information had been given to me, I never would have chosen this product. I will forever question an “FDA-approved” product’s safety as long as the NuvaRing is considered safe by the FDA.
Real Risk Study: Birth Control and Blood Clots
Lucine Health Sciences and Hormones Matter are conducting research to investigate the relationship between hormonal birth control and blood clots. If you or a loved one have suffered from a blood clot while using hormonal birth control, please consider participating. We are also looking for participants who have been using hormonal birth control for at least one year and have NOT had a blood clot, as well as women who have NEVER used hormonal birth control. For more information or to participate, click here.