From bliss to the edge of death: how the Pill almost killed me
I will never forget the night my life changed forever. That night, I woke up with a deep stabbing pain in my chest. Each breath felt like a thin knife in my lungs. Even today, I cannot understand how a completely healthy 25-year-old woman could suffer the blow I discovered that night. This is my story.
When I was sixteen, I began having horrible cramps throughout my period. I would spend the day throwing up and passing out from the pain. My doctor told me that I had two options. I could take a pain pill a few days prior to starting my period or I could go on the Pill. Without regular cycles, I was unable to use pain pills successfully. So, as a young teen, my doctor put me on birth control pills.
I was on the Pill for ten years on and off. Each time that I tried to go off the Pill, I would have a few quiet months that would eventually culminate in debilitating pain and going back on the Pill. I couldn’t continue to live with the pain and passing out. Even after marrying my husband, I continued to take the Pill only for my pain. I would never have imagined that birth control pills would eventually cause me more pain than I had ever felt.
In October 2014, I went off the Pill hoping to get pregnant. Unfortunately, my body had forgotten how to regulate itself. When I went to my obstetrician for help, it was the first time someone told me that the pain I suffered with each period was probably endometriosis. I sought help from a fertility specialist and he put on the Pill for a second time while waiting for surgery.
One night as I snuggled with my husband and dog, I felt a deep pain in my chest. I could not understand why my chest hurt so much. I thought, I must have indigestion at best or at worst, I was having some sort of asthma attack. I took some Benadryl and went to sleep. At midnight I woke up coughing, gasping for air and in severe pain. So, I called my mom, a nurse, and asked what she thought I should do. She told me I should go to the hospital.
At the hospital, I was in so much pain that I could not lay flat without stabbing pains in my chest. The staff immediately stripped my clothes off, held me down and performed an EKG on my heart. Later, a CT scan confirmed that I had blood clots in both of my lungs. Pulmonary embolism. We were stunned. How does a healthy 25-year-old who does not smoke or have any other risk factors end up with blood clots?
The next day the doctors told me that I should never take artificial hormones again, including the birth control pill. I was put on blood thinners for four months. For months, I couldn’t sing, go outside, or walk long distances without getting tired or having pain. Not being able to take deep breaths without pain resulted in a low energy level. Chores around the house became a burden. At work, I had to sit while teaching. I could not lift or use any of my crisis prevention training. I had to rely on others for any difficulties at work. My young body suddenly felt old. Even after months of healing, I know I will never be the same.
Libby at the hospital after her blood clots.
After going off of the blood thinners, genetic testing revealed I did not have Factor Five Leiden or any other genetic condition that would predispose me to blood clots. Doctors have not been able to give me a good explanation of why I joined the ranks of women who have been injured from the pill, but it happened.
Before this, I blissfully believed that the Pill was not dangerous. I never read the fine print that came with each of the packets I got from the pharmacy and do not remember ever being warned about the worst side effects. I know many who do read that fine print and think that they won’t be part of the small percentage of women who get hurt. After my experience, that small percentage feels a lot larger. I hope my story makes women think twice before taking a pill and thinking that it will solve all their problems.