Three weeks ago, the Canadian wildfire smoke rolled into Durham. I took my dog out on a short walk, and after five minutes I felt like I'd just run a mile. Air came in gulps and my heart was pounding. I chalked it up to the smoke, some mild asthma, and again a general out of shape-ness. I bought a HEPA filter and slowly recovered.
For weeks now I've been experiencing acute bouts of shortness of breath, mostly while walking around or going up and down stairs. Generally I was embarrassed and felt out of shape, telling myself I would start exercising more after I finished my PhD on the 26th.
Last Sunday, while visiting with family and had another acute breathing episode. Even getting up to walk across the house left me needing to sit down recover. Luckily my mom was able to help me out, but we had no idea that I should have been rushing to the ER. I had a dissertation due in three days. I had a cat to feed. I didn't have time for an emergency.
My dad is a pulmonologist. This is either a stroke of luck or the universe's terrible sense of irony.
When I called him on my drive home and described my symptoms, my dad told me to go straight to the emergency room. He wanted to rule out a pulmonary embolism "to make your dad happy". I rolled my eyes, joked I'd only go if he paid the bill, and took the exit to Duke University Hospital.
Good thing I still had all my things with me, because I was in for a long stay.
I was in the hospital for three days, diagnosed with a bilateral pulmonary embolism---massive blood clots in both lungs. Eventually those clots would have strained my heart so much, I would have keeled over.
My dad saved my life. Had I not listened to him or to what my body was telling me, I would likely be dead.
In a quarter of pulmonary embolism cases, the first symptom is sudden death.
I'm still reeling from the implications. Physically I'm doing fine; they've got me on blood thinners and I'm home with my cat, still planning on moving to New York soon. Mentally? I feel like my dad pulled me off a train track a second before a steam engine blew by.
I'll have to wait a bit for some genetic clotting disorder testing, but the overall consensus is that hormonal birth control contributed to my risk factors and tipped me over the edge into clot territory.
I've postponed my dissertation defense and postdoc start date for now, and hope to jump back into writing this week.
I'm taking a break from writing my dissertation (due in a week!) to do .... some more writing. Sounds like a wild idea but I wanted to get down on "paper" how my fast-track dissertation has been going so far.
I've written over sixty pages of text in the past three weeks, churned out dozens of figures and tables, and, okay, so I've spent a few hours watering my crops and slaying monsters in Stardew Valley, too. Nobody's perfect, and sometimes a girl needs a break.
I've got a week left until this document is due to the Graduate School, and you know what? I think I'm gonna make it. I am starting to see the light on the other side.
Yesterday I took one of my rare trips outside my house to go to the store. I grabbed a half-gallon of milk and checked the label.
July 26. The date of my defense. I couldn't believe it. After all this time, it's almost over.
Y'all, we're officially in milk territory now.
I've learned a lot about myself already.
I've learned that I do my best work around 11pm. I hate that this is true, but it is, and I've got to embrace it.
I've learned that I can't tie my self worth to how I write. I have to send drafts to my advisors, and they are GOING to find issues. At first it was paralyzing, but this is the only way to get better.
I keep thinking back to an early segment of The Daily Show in Trevor Noah's run, where he says something along the lines of "Look, I'm not as good as Jon Stewart. If I were as good a host at the beginning as Jon Stewart was at the end of his career, I think that would be doing a disservice to Jon's talent."
I can't find the clip, but the memory has stuck with me. I can't expect to write as well as the papers I read now, at the beginning of my scientific career. Do I think I can just jump into scientific writing and immediately be better than everyone else? If I did, that would be pretty arrogant of me, huh? So why not cut myself some slack?
There will be flaws, and I'll fix them, and I'll get better.
Some parting mantras for myself:
TTFN. See you on the other side.