Pulmonary Embolism: Recovery & Return to Running


One of my first snowshoe hikes after getting out of the hospital

The past few months since I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism have been a blur. On January 25th when I was released from the hospital I felt very vulnerable, raw, weak and scared. I knew that I’d dodged a significant bullet, and was fortunate to at least get to this stage of living again. I had no idea at that point what recovery would look like for me. I remember walking up our stairs the first day home and having to stop halfway up to take a break.


The first week at home involved mostly just getting as much rest as possible while trying to stay comfortable, with numerous daily naps to help my body heal. I was prescribed the blood thinner Apixaban. Contrary to popular belief, blood thinners don’t actually break down blood clots, but just help to prevent clots from forming and allow your body to naturally break down the existing clots. Apixaban is a fairly new drug that I feel fortunate to be on as it is more effective and there are less side effects compared to other blood thinners. I will be on Apixaban for at least 3-6 months, if not permanently.


I tried my first short walk one week after I was released from the hospital and was shocked how difficult it was for me. I used trekking poles for balance and it was everything that I had in me to walk slowly for ten minutes. Having literally been able to run all day and night previously, this was a hard thing to wrap my head around.


My first follow-up appointment with my doctor was three weeks after being released from the hospital. I felt very nervous going into this appointment since I’d had a number of tests and scans leading up to it and was scared to hear the results. I was deeply relieved to hear that my doctor was pleased with my results and that I was recovering as well or better than to be expected. I will have some further appointments and tests in the coming months, but was told I could slowly begin returning to being active as long as I listened to my body and increased slowly. This was very comforting to hear.


I had been slowly increasing the amount that I’d been walking and snowshoe hiking on the trails, and continued to get stronger. I had a couple of memorable snowshoe hikes with Sara and Siku on some pretty cold days on some of our favourite nearby frozen lakes. They weren’t very long, but the cold wind on my face felt very invigorating, and made me feel alive again. They were a reminder of my favourite types of runs from past winters. I slowly got up to the point where I could comfortably hike for an hour. I was still weak at times, but my breathing and strength were definitely improving.


During the last week of February, I felt that my health and fitness had improved to the point that I was ready to mix in the occasional few minutes of easy jogging within my daily hikes. While this was a bit of a frustrating reminder of what my fitness level was now compared to what it used to be, it was also a step in the right direction and the start of my return to running.


March 1 was a pretty great day for me. Every indication on that day told me that I was ready to try a real run. It wasn’t going to be fast, but it was important for me to do it. I knew that I was fine to do it as I continued to listen to my body and watch my heartrate on my watch to make sure I didn’t overdo it.

My first run after my pulmonary embolism.

Sara, Siku and I headed out for a short hike on the trail to begin, and then I started running ever so cautiously. I had been hiking with trekking poles and decided to use them for this first run as well. A flood of emotions came over me in those first few steps of running. There was also some nervous apprehension. The first few minutes set my mind at ease as I settled into my familiar cadence. More emotions came flowing in at the memories of what I’d been through up to this point, and tears began to build. It felt so good to be back in nature doing what I love again. I had planned to take a few walk breaks on this run, but ended up feeling that I didn’t need them and completed 20 minutes of glorious, continuous running. I felt strong enough that I even passed off the trekking poles to Sara and jogged the final 5 minutes feeling free like a bird. Finishing this run gave me joy comparable to any race I’ve won or epic adventure or ultra completed. Life is good!


I’ve done a lot of thinking and reliving the memories since before my pulmonary embolism diagnosis, to my time in the hospital, and now as I continue on with my recovery. I’ve read a lot of articles about blood clots and pulmonary embolisms, visited support group websites, and tried to find as much information as possible, especially now with regards to recovery. Some people aren’t so fortunate and don’t survive, and some have significant levels of permanent damage. Sometimes people don’t recover very quickly, but many are able to return to full activity level at or near their previous level. Even though I do have some permanent damage to my right lung, I am optimistic and determined that I can return to my pre-pulmonary embolism level of activity and hopefully fitness level. It will be a challenge, but one that I’m excited to work towards.


Hundreds of people have reached out, commented, and offered words of support, and for that I am truly grateful and appreciative. There were a few very special people in particular who have shared their invaluable experience with having gone through the same thing, which has helped to put my mind at ease and given me a better idea of what to expect moving forward. Thanks again to all!


Onwards!


See you on the trails!

Derrick


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