On July 2, 2005 my Aunt Geraldine died. She was only 51 years old.
My aunt did not die from one of the ailments or events that usually come to mind when we hear of someoneís unfortunate passing, namely cancer or a heart attack or a horrible car accident. My aunt died from a pulmonary embolism, commonly called a blood clot, as a result of a minor foot surgery she had a few weeks earlier.
I had heard of blot clots before and knew that they could be very serious and often deadly. A few years ago, a friendís husband suffered from a clot in his leg. His doctor was able to successfully dissolve the clot using a variety of medications. He was one of the lucky ones. However, since my auntís untimely and unexpected death, I have learned a great deal more about this alarming condition.
Let me share a bit of what Iíve learned. Pulmonary embolism is a sudden blockage that occurs in an artery within the lung. The arterial blockage, also referred to in medical literature as an embolus, results in decreased oxygen flow, which in turn causes the blood pressure within the lung to rise. Blockage can be caused by a single, large blood clot or, in some cases, several smaller clots. The origin of blood clots leading to (a) pulmonary embolism can vary; however, formation in the deep veins of the legs (calf or thigh) is most common. Formation of clots in this area of the leg results in a condition called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. It is reported that complications from DVT kills roughly 200,000 people in the United States annually. With DVT, clots can break off and travel through the circulatory system and eventually end up in the lungs.
Several factors can increase a personís risk for DVT. Some of these include long periods of inactivity (perhaps due to bed rest, long flights or car trips), recent surgery, stroke, heart attack, some cancers, and obesity. There are a variety of treatment options available for DVT including medications, surgical procedures, and practical measures such as applying heat to relieve pain and avoiding long periods of immobility.
Symptoms can manifest during pulmonary embolism or as in the case of my aunt, sudden death can occur without any warning. Shortness of breath, sharp chest pain, cough, anxiety and sweating are some of the documented symptoms of this condition. Even when symptoms occur, the onset is rather rapid; therefore immediate medical attention is essential. You should contact your physician if you feel you are at risk.
My aunt chose to have elective foot surgery and unfortunately, she died as a result of it. If she had chosen to live with her foot pain, perhaps she would be with us today. There are some conditions that are so unbearable that patients accept the possibility of death in effort to try a treatment/surgery that may help them. Cancer is one of those horrible diseases. I have experienced that in these situations, if the outcome is death, the family is better able to cope because they find comfort in knowing that their loved one is no longer suffering. On the contrary, when we feel that a loved one is taken senselessly, we are often unable to wrap our human mind around Godís greater plan.
We are uncertain if my aunt experienced any warning signs just prior to her death. She woke up that morning around her usual time, ate breakfast with her husband and retreated to their bedroom. It was the Saturday before July 4th and she was planning to meet her sister later that day at a cookout. It was part of her morning routine to sit at the edge of her bed and lotion herself after getting out of the shower. She was especially fond of nice fragrances and particularly savored this part of her morning routine. Sadly, on this bright, summer morning, her routine was abruptly interrupted. Shortly after sitting down on the bed like she had done so many mornings before, she suddenly lost consciousness and fell back across her bed. Just like that. She was gone away from us, forever.
My family and I have replayed the last days, especially the final hours of my auntís life over and over in our minds. We desperately searched for clues, some unrecognized symptom that could have alerted us to her impending death. Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one knows that death can cause you to feel unimaginable pain, anguish, disbelief, numbness and even a fear of immortality, especially when the loss is sudden and unexpected. I know that when God calls one of his children home we are to rejoice, but I am still having a hard time coming to terms with my Aunt Geriís death. I continue to pray for strength and understanding. I have also decided to stop taking life for granted and to live each day as if itís my last. Because you never know, it actually may be.