One year ago, I almost died. A little checklist saved my life.

As 2021 got underway, I was actually thrilled about the pain in my calf. To me, it was a sign that the hikes I’d been doing along the steep bluffs of Lake Michigan were good workouts — and a promising start on my new year’s resolve to shed the Covid 5 around my waist.

As a few days went by, my calf grew more tender and I had a vague sense that the pain was creeping upward. “Just my imagination”, I thought. Then I woke one morning struggling to breathe. Couldn’t walk. Couldn’t talk. Very oddly, as I passed out, two words clicked in my brain, “charley horse.”

I was unconscious for only seconds and came to with a good, deep breath! Great – time to get on with my day! Except…“Charley Horse” rankled. I grabbed my laptop and scanned my own website,, sure enough, there it was: a patient safety checklist I’d written years earlier about possible signs of blood clots – including a charley-horse pain that lasts for days.

Have to admit, I was in total shock and denial when I called a nurse friend for confirmation. He told me I was crazy to call him instead of 911. (Yep!)

In the emergency room, my D-dimer test result was 5700 ­– normal is around 500. A CT scan showed 5 pulmonary emboli scattered across both of my lungs. As the ER doc counted them out on his screen, I asked him to stop at 3 – I’d heard enough. Denial turned into a quiet, private meltdown.

My internist offered a charming take on my survival: she told me the universe thinks I have more work to do and I’m going with that. As it happens, my work is patient education. Patient checklists, in fact! Check them out for yourself at You just may save a life with a little checklist, too!