When your doctor tells you "You're lucky to be alive…" it is overwhelming.

Unbeknownst to me, I was a walking time bomb and could have been another statistic in the number one cause of death. How is that possible? I'm forty-two years old, married with three kids and a dog; I love my job, I work out (okay—not enough), I try to eat healthy and life is good. Thank G‑d. I am supposedly doing everything right.

I am supposedly doing everything right I recently went on a trip to Israel for work. I spent a week living in the Old City in Jerusalem: working in the morning, learning in the afternoon, praying every day at the Western Wall and eating kosher food. Jerusalem gives me clarity on life, and I felt tremendous gratitude.

After an uneventful thirteen-hour plane ride, I landed in Philadelphia. Upon boarding the flight, I had taken a sleeping pill. I slept most of the trip and when I woke up, I had people asleep on both sides of me so I just remained in my seat the whole time. My courtesy to the other passengers is what could have killed me. Sitting still for so long is what created the blood clot that was forming in my leg.

I began feeling a knot in my calf the day I landed. I thought it was from all the walking I'd done on my trip. I kept stretching it, applying heat and taking Advil. A week and a half later the pain was still there but it was never so bad that I felt the need to see a doctor.

Lucky for me my dad and brother are doctors, and I mentioned to my dad that I had a pain in my calf and it seemed to have moved to behind my knee. He said "It's probably nothing but get an ultrasound to be sure." When I called the hospital they couldn't schedule me for another week but my brother had said it was imperative I have the ultrasound immediately.

I went to an out-patient radiology dept and they found a clot in my leg and immediately sent me to the emergency room. As it turned out, part of the clot had broken off and migrated to my chest. I was truly a walking time bomb.

The doctor put me on Heparin and Coumadin and Lovenox, blood thinners, and told me that I would be fine. He also told me that my father's and brother's advice had saved my life.

Part of the clot had broken off and migrated to my chest He explained that pulmonary embolism (a blockage of the main artery of the lung or one of its branches by a substance, usually a blood clot, that has traveled from somewhere else in the body through the bloodstream) is one of the big three cardiovascular causes of death, along with myocardial infarction (a heart attack) and Stroke. It causes more deaths than AIDS and breast cancer combined. CBS reporter David Bloom died of pulmonary embolism after being in a tank for hours. Most cases are diagnosed in the coroner's office. Since most Jewish people don't get autopsies, the cause of death is often thought to be a heart attack. PE (Pulmonary Embolism) and DVT (Deep Venous Thrombosis) are the most preventable causes of death and disability in the US.

In the past few years, Judaism and Jewish practice have become an integral part of my life. I was on a spiritual high from my trip to Israel and it was so clear to me that G‑d was running the show. It gave me an inner comfort and I was actually never worried. But it makes me think of the story of the man who was drowning in a big flood. When the coast guard came, he said, "It's OK, G‑d will save me." When the helicopter dropped the ladder, he once again refused the rescue and said, "G‑d will save me." And when he drowned and went to heaven he asked G‑d why He didn't save him. G‑d responded, "I sent you the coast guard and dropped a rope!"

I realize now that the pain I was experiencing was that warning sign. It was a gift, and rather than checking it out immediately, I wrote it off as an annoyance. I now see that ignoring it could have cost me my life. The truth is, it is hard to know what to take seriously. We are busy, with plenty of responsibilities to take care of. We can't go running to the doctor every time we have an ache and pain. So then how do we know when to go and what are true symptoms?

Here is a list of what you should not ignore:

Signs of DVT (Deep Venous Thrombosis): a leg that is swollen on one side; it may be red and painful.

The pain was a warning sign Signs of PE (Pulmonary Embolism): newly onset shortness of breath that is unexplained, chest pain which is worse when breathing, unexplained anxiety.

These warning signs are especially important to follow up on if you:

  • Have a personal or family history of blood clots
  • Have a personal or family history of cancer
  • Are currently taking an estrogen preparation such as an oral contraceptive
  • Recently experienced a prolonged immobilization such as a long plane or car trip, or recent hospitalization.

Hopefully you will find out that your ache is truly nothing, but when it could be a life or death decision, you are definitely better off safe than sorry.