Ah, the happy camaraderie of being in a guild with like-minded people! The joy of gaming and grouping with people you genuinely like to be around! It’s such an amazing feeling, one that makes you want to log on just to be with your friends, even if you don’t feel like actually playing the game very much. But then something happens: drama. It might start with something said in gchat. Maybe it’s an officer who’s being heavy handed. The prima-donna who thinks they’re more “leet” than the guild. The list and variety of guild drama, and what causes it, are endless.
I’ve been in several guilds over the past 8 1/2 years, and I’ve seen some incredible things. One guildie used her friend to help her fake her own death. They knowingly let us be grief-stricken for about a week before she came back. Or not one, but two guilds I was in were run by couples in a committed relationship… until the relationship became not so committed. That was fun after the break-up, waiting in Ventrilo on raid night for “him” to show up, while “she” bad mouthed him and wondered who he was with that was making him late. Talk about awkward! Or the guilds where cliques form and only the “in crowd” talks to each other in gchat or forms groups, leaving others feel ignored or unwanted. Or the guild coup: where a group of people decide they don’t like the leaders anymore and either leave, taking a large number of guildies with them, or argue/pick on the leaders incessantly until the leaders decide they’re moving on. This behavior is destructive to guilds and to the morale of guild members, and despite good friendships, many will leave to avoid the drama.
If you find yourself in a nice, drama-free guild, regardless of size, here are some things to help keep it drama-free.
1. Read the rules on the guild membership forums, if there are any. If there aren’t, ask an officer or the GM what guidelines for behavior are expected within the guild. Don’t assume because you see people acting a certain way in guild chat that you know how things are supposed to go. People might be behaving improperly because they think there’s not an officer on to see what’s happening. You don’t have to contribute to that, because other people might be online who, just because they’re not speaking, are unhappy with what’s being said or done.
2. Don’t take it upon yourself to be the “guild police”. Are you an officer? No? Calling out someone in gchat about language, topic, or behavior could just start more drama. If you are so distressed about what’s happening, whisper to an officer. If no officer is present, you could try to whisper the person who is upsetting you, but be diplomatic, explain what is wrong, state your piece, and be done. Avoid starting an argument. If the person remains difficult, make note and talk to an officer as soon as one is present. Screenshot any behavior that you find particularly offensive.
3. One person’s definition of “guild-mate” is different from another’s. For example, some people feel that they cannot, in good faith, charge guildies for items, enchants, etc. Others don’t feel the need to be that selfless. Unless something is stated in the rules, no one is obligated to provide freebies for guild-mates. Just because that’s a standard you might hold yourself to, doesn’t mean that it’s a standard everyone must uphold. That’s on you, and you alone.
4. If a guild-mate is so out of hand that you cannot stand to read what they say, and you feel you must put them on ignore, then do so without making a public statement about it. If you want to whisper an officer about it, that’s fine. But the broadcast, “Well, I hate putting a guild-mate on ignore, but So-and-so is on my list now,” is unnecessary drama. The whole guild doesn’t need to hear about your ignore list, or your self-important comment. Same goes with a gquit. You might want to whisper a few people to say goodbyes, or let an officer know behind the scenes. But the dramatic exit announcement is unnecessary.
5. Unless you know that it’s ok otherwise, keep guild chat the way you would behave at work. Avoid hot button issues, such as politics and religion. Even sports talk can be fraught with danger unless guildies know how to keep partisanship and temper in check. The best rule of thumb is, if you wouldn’t say it at work, don’t say it in gchat until you are comfortable with the situation and know your audience.
6. Don’t turn your guild into your own personal dating pool or need for attention. You know the types. Guys who hit on all the girls. Or, girls who are experiencing their first taste of the attention they get from all the gamer guys that they say provocative things to keep that attention going. Guilds are meant for friendship, camaraderie, and gameplay. Not Match.com. And if someone, anyone, asks you to stop flirting with or hitting on them, do so immediately, officer or not. No guildie should be made uncomfortable by explicit talk of a sexual nature, or unwanted advances, Again, if you wouldn’t do it at work, don’t do it in guild.
7. Interpersonal relationships within guilds can be cute when things are going well. They’re not so cute when things are going poorly. Please keep your couple-hood drama out of general guild conversation or gchat. It’s nobody’s business but your own, and you can bet that aside from being nosey, no one wants to hear about it.
8. If you are unhappy with guild leadership, please discuss what issues you’re having with officers, up to the GM if necessary. Staging an insurrection in gchat is not the way to handle things, even if you’re trying to garner support. Keep in mind that there may be members who are perfectly content and who might worry that their happy home is fractured. If you find a guild situation unbearable, just leave, quietly, without drama. Get battle tags of friends you want to keep in touch with so you don’t have to worry about losing touch when you join or form a new guild.
9. If you feel the level of gameplay by your guildies in a group or raid setting is not up to par with your own, there is no need to say so in gchat. No need to link meters, or publicly pine that there’s no progressions because “some people” are not playing well and holding the team back. That might be as much of a team that guild has to offer. Help them if you can, and if your desires are for a more “‘leet” gaming experience that they seem incapable of achieving, find a new guild that suits your needs. Again, leave quietly. There’s no need to make others feel bad. They’re probably doing the best they can.
10. Be careful how you characterize your guild on social media such as Facebook or Twitter if many of your guild-mates are connected there. Don’t tweet about how much better you are than the rest of your guild because they called your class OP and you’re always top dps. Don’t comment about what you hate about the rules, or the officers, or the lack of things to do. Don’t assume that your guildies will never see it. They often do. Social media drama turns into guild drama, and vice versa.
11. Officers, don’t be tyrants. Rules are rules, but be even and consistent with how you enforce them. No favoritism for friends. Responses should be in whispers unless it’s something that needs to be broadcast in gchat, which is very rare and should be done in a general nature, not calling anyone out specifically. Humiliating guildies publicly is never cool. Being an officer comes with some responsibility to not just the guild, but the very real people within it.
12. Remember, screenshots are forever. Watch what you say and do under a guild tag. Even if you think no one can see, it can still come back and bite you in the ass. Same goes for social media, forum posts, and emails. If it’s something you don’t want getting back to another person, don’t put it in writing.
Many of you in the World of Warcraft (WoW) community have, by now, seen Alt:ernative Chat’s post for her 10 Years::10 Questions project in preparation for WoW’s 10th Anniversary in November. I’m excited to be able to contribute toward this project, as WoW has been and will continue to be an important part of my life. So, without fanfare, I give you the questions, and my answers.
1. Why did you start playing Warcraft?
2. What was the first ever character you rolled?
3. Which factors determined your faction choice in game?
4. What has been your most memorable moment in Warcraft and why?
5. What is your favourite aspect of the game and has this always been the case?
6. Do you have an area in game that you always return to?
7. How long have you /played and has that been continuous?
8. Admit it: do you read quest text or not?
9. Are there any regrets from your time in game?
10. What effect has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming?
1. Why Did You Start Playing World of Warcraft?
I had heard of World of Warcraft for a year or so before I actually started playing. At that point, I was still looking for ways to network for career purposes, and I read an article in a business magazine about people using WoW as a means to network with like-minded people and open doors for possible job opportunities. Plus, I had purchased a new gaming PC and was looking for more titles to play. Sounded great to me! So I started the free trial in July of 2006.
2. What was the first ever character you rolled?
Once WoW was installed on my computer, I watched the opening cinematic. I saw a beautiful elf-like creature transform into a cat and run through the trees. I knew that’s what I wanted to be! I logged onto the suggested server, and when through character creation. There I saw the race and class of the girl in the cinematic: Night Elf, Druid. But what to name her? My childhood nickname, of course. And thus, Lilu, Night Elf Druid, was born on Anvilmar-US. There have been many server transfers and a name change over the years. She’s now Lilulicious in the <Convert to Raid> guild on Aerie Peak-US.
3. Which factors determined your faction choice in game?
I felt that the Horde races were ugly (this was Vanilla, after all) and that they were the “bad guys” anyway. Plus, in doing a little pre-game research, I noticed that many Horde players somehow felt cooler because they were “outcasts”. I really wasn’t interested in the whole “being bad to be cool” thing. I’d had one brush with the law as a teenager, being “bad” was no longer of interest. So, I chose Alliance.
4. What has been your most memorable moment in Warcraft, and why?
Without a doubt, it was downing the Lich King in 10 man normal mode. I had raided since the Burning Crusade expansion in a 25 man progression raiding guild: Black Temple, Serpentshrine Caverns, Hyjal. I switched guilds for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion into a 25 man raiding guild that was more my style, not so elitist. Unfortunately, the guild was run by a husband/wife team which split up just as we were getting deep into the Icecrown Citadel raid encounter, and the guild dissolved. Fortunately, myself and 9 others formed a 10 man group and resolved to finish what we started. And on July 20, 2010, the Lich King fell at our hands.
5. What is your favourite aspect of the game, and has this always been the case?
I thoroughly enjoy end-game content and raiding. I reached level 60 only a few days before the BC expansion, so any Vanilla raiding was done after the fact. But in BC, I discovered the adrenaline-fueled thrill ride of 25 man raiding. Not 10 man, but 25s. I enjoy the teamwork, the strategies, and the perseverance required to bring down a serious raid boss. As of late, my time commitments don’t allow me to raid much outside of doing LFR on-demand when time allows. But I still find that to be the content I consistently work towards at every expansion now.
6. Do you have an area in-game that you always return to?
Yes! Teldrassil and Ashenvale are my favorite zones to return to when I’m feeling nostalgic. I spent a lot of time there as I leveled my original character, Lilu. Perhaps more than typical because I was such a noob. I didn’t know about Wowhead, or add-ons like Quest Helper. I wandered throughout those zones seemingly forever (it took me moths and months to hit 60). But I was entranced by the beauty of the zones and the music there. It was truly a magical time. So, occasionally, I return to try to recapture those fond memories of when the World of Warcraft was new (to me).
7. How long have you /played, and has that been continuous?
I’ve been playing since July, 2006. I have never let my subscription lapse. I have taken a couple breaks. One was during the Cataclysm expansion, right when Dragonsoul came out. I was burned out from raiding, and my current guild had become a pit of drama thanks to yet another couple leading it that was undergoing a nasty break-up. I would log on from time to time to make sure I hadn’t been hacked, but I probably stayed away from actually playing the game for a good six months. I took another brief break during this current content lull, post-Pandaria, earlier this year for a couple months. I’ve now returned to leveling a few alts to 90 in preparation for the Warlords of Draenor expansion. My total /played time is about a year and a half, roughly, spread between 19 characters over 8 years.
8. Admit it: do you read quest text or not?
Not. Nor do I pay attention to the lore. To me, fake lore made up to suit a game doesn’t hold up as well as fake lore that was written before and upon which a game is based. If that makes any sense.
9. Are there any regrets from your time in game?
Yes, I do have a few regrets. I sometimes lose confidence in myself and abilities that I often won’t try to get into a progression raid team anymore. I regret not finishing Dragonsoul at level. I’m hoping to finish Siege of Orgrimmar on flex or normal (non-LFR) difficulty to get a shot at the mount, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen in time.
10. What effect has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming?
Playing WoW has had one profound effect on my life: I was able to save enough money to put down on a house, which I did four years ago. I used to spend my money at bars, at the movies, at the mall, because I was bored. When I started WoW, I was locked firmly in the grips of obsession with the game. I stopped wasting money on stupid stuff to keep me occupied, and the money began to pool up in my savings account. Before long, I had enough to make a small down payment on a house, and now I’m a homeowner because of WoW.
Additionally, I have several real life friends (and one real life boyfriend) that I would not have made without WoW. Some are friends I actually visit with from time to time. Others are friends online only, but friends nevertheless. So many WoW players exhibit so much wit and vivacity that they add a lot of joy to my life. And my boyfriend… Well, that goes without saying.
WoW has meant a lot to me over the past several years, and I feel certain I’ll keep playing until the last server shuts down, even if it’s more of a hobby now than a hardcore obsession. I’m grateful for what it’s given me, and what it’s taught me about gaming, people, and relationships. Congratulations to Blizzard for World of Warcraft’s 10th Anniversary, and thank you, Alt:ernative Chat for inviting us to participate in the 10 Years::10 Questions project. I am open to any further questions, podcast participation, whatever you need, dear Mistress.
The notion of sexism in video gaming, and the video game industry as a whole, is one that keeps returning to the forefront of discussions on forums and social media. And many times, for good reason. While some incidents seem like molehills made into mountains, other incidents really leave you scratching your head and wondering what century you live in.
Recently, an eSports competition was taken to task over having separate divisions for male and female gamers. What’s so wrong with that, you ask? Well, it’s “e” sports. There is no advantage in physical size or strength between men and women working a keyboard, mouse, or controller. Mental acuity and hand-eye coordination are the main abilities used by gamers, and these abilities are not influenced by sex or gender. And to make matters worse, there are fewer games available to “females” in this competition, as opposed to the “male” division.
Several analogies have been made between this competition and the fact that many professional sports have male and female divisions, which may have led these eSports coordinators to feel it’s natural to do the same for their competition. I also received a comment that perhaps it helps to spotlight women in the competition that might not otherwise be noticed. Fair points, but allow me to share some personal anecdotes that might shed light on why this still doesn’t help women who want to compete in eSports.
I’ve always been a horse lover and owner, and I am an avid horse racing fan. In 2004, I discovered an arcade game from Sega called Derby Owners Club, or DOC. It allowed you to breed a “racehorse” from a list of sires and dams, save it to a magnetic card, race the horse, retire it, and use it as breeding stock to create your own bloodlines. The deeper you got in generations, the more powerful the “offspring” were. The DOC machine, which could be found at Dave & Busters, Jillian’s, and similar arcades, had eight consoles for people to compete against each other, for fun, bragging rights, and (as it turned out) ranked competitive tournaments.
Me being me, as soon as I found out I could compete seriously, and that there were tournaments all over the country, I set out to join the ranks. I got resistance immediately. As much as women typically love horses, there were no women competing on the west coast, and very few women competing around the nation as a whole. The first practice I tried to attend, I was turned away. I was told that I didn’t know what I was doing, and that I would be behind the “pros” at every step. I won’t lie: I cried on the way home, from anger. I took to the forums of that game, and blasted the folks who had ostracized me. Surprisingly, one of the local racers took pity on me, and invited me out to help me learn the proper methods to train and race my horse for competition. He basically held my hand throughout my first practice, and I was gratified when I actually won a race (out of 19).
I started attending every practice. Never did I see another woman compete. The only women I saw were the other competitors’ wives or girlfriends. But I wasn’t discouraged. I entered my first tournament in Peoria, IL. I was eliminated in the first round. Memphis, TN, I was eliminated in the second round. Alpharetta, GA, I made it to the semi-finals. Ontario, CA, I made it to the final table. By the time I quit racing in 2006, I had won a major tournament (the first and only female to have done so since the major tournaments were implemented), placed 3rd in another, was consistently making the finals, and was twice invited to the Tournament of Champions in Wyomissing, PA. I cracked the top 20 of 350 racers, and yes, by that time, I was the top ranked “female racer” in the rankings. Considering there were maybe six or seven other women out of 350, that in and of itself was not much of an achievement.
I still remember the surprise from some of the racers who were pioneers of this eSport when I beat them. I remember the incredulity when I got my trophy and prize money for winning the West Coast Major. I frequently heard my male counterparts tease each other with the put down, “You just got beat by a girl!” I knew what they were trying to say, and I didn’t get it. It was a video game. I was pushing buttons, not running around the track on my own legs. I didn’t care about being the top female racer, I wanted to be the best racer, period. And I was thrilled to make it into the top 5% of all ranked racers in the country.
This is why I strongly object to gender divisions in eSports. What good is it to be the champion of a limited field in a competition where physical differences (besides those who are physically challenged) don’t exist? Who wants to be the best of 10 competitors when they can be the best of 100? A gender division doesn’t help a female gamer feel empowered, it doesn’t help spotlight her in a positive light. It makes her feel less, like she isn’t capable of competing against males. She deserves the chance to hear “You just got beat by a girl,” so she can pat herself on the back and say “Damn straight, because I’m just as good, if not better, than the competition, male or female.” She’ll feel like an equal. That’s empowerment. And that’s what ANY eSports competitor deserves.
Afterword: I wrote this blog post on July 2nd. Today, July 3rd, the governing body of the eSports organization putting on the gender segregated tournament made a statement saying that it recognized the gaming community’s concerns and was altering the tournament format. There will now be an “open to all” division, with all the previously “male” game categories, and a “female” division with only two games, Starcraft 2 and Tekken (which, curiously, is not offered in the “open to all” division). The word on the street is that Blizzard Entertainment had a hand in bringing about this change as they didn’t want their games to be used in an environment that wasn’t all-inclusive. This is a step in the right direction.
World of Warcraft, I’ve been running around on you with that little chippy, WildStar. I know that you and I have been together a long time. I feel like I know your every thought, your every quest, your every hill and vale. We’ve had some great times together, you and I. But now I’m thinking maybe I settled too quickly. There’s a whole wide world out there, full of new experiences. I’m not sure I’ve really seen all there is to see to commit myself to you alone. I don’t want to break up with you, but WoW… I’d like to start seeing some other games. I need to experiment. If what you and I had was really right, then I’ll be back. I know you probably feel betrayed, I know this seems disloyal. But if you love something, you have to set it free.
OK, that was more than a bit corny, but this is basically how I feel at this stage in my gaming life. I love WoW. I’ve invested a lot of years leveling characters, raiding, making friends, gaining achievements. This isn’t something I plan on throwing away. WoW is a major part of my life, and as long as the servers are active and the game is still running, I imagine it will continue to be so, even if on a more casual basis.
So, what leads me to stray? First, you can blame my boyfriend. He started it by getting me to try a new game in a genre I’d never tried before. Sure, I played a few other pc games before WoW, but once I discovered the beauty of the MMO, WoW was my main squeeze. Over the years of playing WoW, I had dabbled in a couple of other MMOs: Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). But none gave me the feeling that WoW did. They weren’t as well done (in my opinion), and the content wasn’t as fun or compelling. It was all WoW, all the time. Even the other Blizzard titles seemed like games to tide me over until a new WoW expansion or content patch hit.
My boyfriend, however, introduced me to League of Legends (LoL), my first MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena). I sucked at it at first (I sorta still do), but I loved it. I had never played a game like that before. But he didn’t stop there. He got me to try more MMOs and really give them a chance. Forsaken World, Final Fantasy XIV, DC Universe Online, and lately, Rift. Through him, I got a new perspective on gaming. I didn’t have to devote my gameplay to one game and one game only. I could play whatever struck my fancy, depending on my mood from day to day. I know that it seems like a “Duh!” statement, but only recently have I discovered that I’m not the only one who thought like that.
I discovered this fact because of this little game called WildStar. Every MMO that comes along gets people talking about whether or not this will be the so-called “WoW-killer.” WildStar had a lot of hype built up about it. Its beta testing and release dates were right in the middle of one of the longest content lulls WoW has ever seen. People were excited about WildStar; more and more folks started talking about it. I couldn’t resist it. I had to try it. It was new and fun and colorful, and it didn’t take itself too seriously. I was all in, as were many other current and former WoW players.
What brought the issue to a head was, upon its pending release, the backlash from people who considered playing another MMO as “disloyal to WoW,” or to Blizzard Entertainment as a company. While I’m sure that Blizzard doesn’t mind this way of thinking, it doesn’t really make any sense. Playing a game doesn’t call for an oath of fealty. We don’t make vows never to touch another game when we accept Blizzard’s terms of service. We play games to have fun. And fun can be found in more than one title.
Indeed, some of the negativity surrounding the WildStar release has been surprising. I can understand people not wanting to pay another subscription. Times are still tough, everyone is stretching their entertainment dollars. But some of the comments from those in social media circles go beyond a matter of economics. In the face of so many people excited to play this new game, we’ve heard things like, “WildStar looks stupid.” “It’s just WoW in space.” “Give it a couple months and it’ll be free to play anyways.” “I don’t understand people being disloyal to Blizzard.”
I heard something on the podcast Tauren Think Tank (Episode 102) that spoke to how people behaved when they didn’t get an alpha invite for the new Blizzard MOBA, Heroes of the Storm. One of the hosts mentioned something about inclusiveness, and what feelings come forth when people don’t feel included with “the group.” I suspect that’s what’s happening here with WildStar. People who, for whatever reason, have not gotten in on this new game are feeling like they’re not part of the excitement. They feel left out, and sadly, negativity is their only response to these feelings.
Folks, you don’t have to be loyal to one game or one game company. There are a lot of good free to play MMOs, MOBAs, and similar games out there. You are missing out on worlds of different content and play styles. You may think you don’t have time to devote to other games, but no one’s saying you have to be hardcore in whatever you try. Have fun! Experiment! You can still play WoW and enjoy other games, too! See what elements can be found in these games that you never knew existed, which you can use as valuable feedback to Blizzard about what changes you’d like to see in WoW.
But above all, don’t ruin the experiences of others who have decided to take the leap away from WoW to try new games. If you’re disinterested, fine. You don’t have to be negative. Be happy for people who are excited, don’t resent them for it. Let us have our fun. We’re not abandoning you. We aren’t changing as people because we’ve changed games during the WoW pre-expansion lull. Many of us will continue to play WoW, too. Most of us will be back to share the excitement of Warlords of Draenor when it’s released. In the meantime, I challenge you to try an entirely new game, if you haven’t already. You might be surprised how it changes your entire gaming perspective as a whole.
When I was a teenager, my life revolved around music and the popular bands of the moment. This is going to date me a bit, but my big “crush” band was Duran Duran. I knew everything about them. Their birthdays, their height, where they were born; it was almost as if this information was more important than the music they actually produced. I had posters of them everywhere. I was desperate for every scrap of news or photo I could get of them. I was a total fangirl!
Flash forward to present day. Muse is my one of my favorite bands ever. I know little to nothing about them. I know of Matt Bellamy, I think one of the band member’s names is Dominic. I couldn’t tell you when they were born, where they were born (except the UK), and I probably wouldn’t recognize one of them on the street if I were to pass them. I don’t know their personal opinions on politics (except in song), equal rights, religion, or society as a whole. I only know that I love their music, their lyrics, and their melodies. That music strikes a chord within me that makes these other aspects unimportant.
It therefore puzzles me greatly how we, as a gaming community, have elevated our game developers to celebrity status. We treat them like rock stars, and we’re their adoring fans. Who are these people that so many of us should hang on their every word? Why should anyone be excited if they get a mention from one on Twitter? And why would we expect their words, whether through social media or in an interview, to be anything other than their personal opinion and thus they are entitled to it?
To me, these game developers are not celebrities. They’re employees. They work for a company. They get their paychecks with taxes and Medicare taken out just like everyone else. They get in to work in the morning and have to deal with their email inbox just like you and I. They are people. Just regular ol’ people working a J-O-B. And just like regular ol’ people, they have their own opinions about their job, the games they work on, and life in general.
Should it be a surprise when one of them makes a gaffe that implies that somehow their employer feels the same way as the employee? No. It’s to be expected. They’re not public relations people, they’re game developers. Dealing with the public is not their calling. And their word is not gospel. The owners and shareholders of their company have the final word. And that word will be issued in a carefully prepared press release, like any other company. One developer’s interview or tweet does not equate an entire company’s viewpoint. While it could be argued that it’s indicative of a systemic problem, it does not mean that every employee, manager, executive, owner, or shareholder of that company feels the same way.
We all know the latest controversy surrounding Blizzard, and from whence it came. There’s a lot of debate as to whether or not this employee’s words were taken out of context or twisted to fit an agenda. That’s not what I’m looking to solve here. I just want to remind you all to take one man’s word with a grain of salt. He’s just one person. He wasn’t reading a prepared press release; it was just him, shooting off the cuff. His audience has made him more important than he needs to be, and thus his words held greater weight than they deserved.
What we should all remember is how these games make us feel when we play them. The content and its immersive fantasy world is what compelled us to play to begin with. What do these games touch within us? By and large, we’ve all enjoyed Blizzard games for years. There may be reasons why we decide that these games are no longer for us: lack of content, repetitiveness, other hobbies, real life, or the feeling that the game doesn’t reflect our society as we see it. But don’t let one employee’s remarks change how you view something that once gave you pleasure. He’s just a guy. A regular ol’ guy, like the rest of us.
Let’s go back to a slightly over a month ago.
I left my union’s Board of Director’s meeting on a Thursday evening, full of excitement. It was my birthday on Saturday, but it wasn’t just that. I was getting ready to board a plane early Friday morning to head to Boston for Pax East, the big video-game convention. I was going to meet some friends that I knew from Twitter, and I was eagerly anticipating spending my first birthday with my boyfriend. All seemed full of promise. Who was to know that what would happen next would completely change my life, possibly forever.
My schedule is always hectic. I’m always busy, always running to the next appointment. Problems with insomnia and stress leave me feeling exhausted more often than not. Meetings, political events, work, a long and aggravating commute, they all build up. I was already worn out by the time I hit Boston. My arthritic knee was throbbing, the sciatic nerve issue I had was angry. Gimpy and tired, I hobbled around Pax, had a lovely birthday dinner on Saturday…and that’s when the chain of events started that would eventually take me down. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, I felt sick to my stomach. I wasn’t sure if I had food poisoning or a stomach virus. All I knew was I was burning up with fever, I couldn’t even keep water down, and I was locked in the bathroom most of the day. I was dehydrating fast, and despite my BF bringing me juice, water, and some salty crackers, I remained sick that entire day and night. Monday morning dawned, I knew I had to fly home. Still feeling ill, I continued to drink very little fluids and didn’t chance much in the way of food. My flight wasn’t non-stop, I had a short hop to Chicago, and then the 4hr plus flight from Chicago back to SoCal.
You read all sorts of things about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), but you never think it’ll happen to you. A blood clot can form in your body for a number of contributing factors, travel being one. I never bothered wearing fancy compression stockings for travel. I didn’t get up and walk in the plane. I was dehydrated. I sat locked in one position for the entire 4hr flight. My doctors think this is what caused the clot to reach critical mass. But it may have started at any point. This was my third cross-country trip in less than three months. Plus, I sit too much at work without taking proper ergo breaks. And, I’m a gamer. I spend hours sitting at my desk in the evenings and on weekends, playing games, losing track of time, and not taking breaks to stretch or move around. Immobility is a tremendous risk factor for DVT.
When I returned home, I naturally was worn out from travel and having that stomach bug. My right leg really hurt me. I assumed I had overdone the walking and was feeling the anger of an arthritic joint pushed past its limit. My calf really ached and throbbed, too, but again, I chalked it up to muscle strain. As the week wore on, I became increasingly more exhausted. Surely, I thought, resting over the weekend would help.
But it didn’t help. I actually started to feel worse. By Easter Sunday, the slightest activity set my lungs gasping for air and my heart thundering out of my chest. I knew something was wrong. At the urging of my boyfriend and another friend, I opted to go to my medical clinic’s urgent care. My EKG was normal, but as soon as the doctors learned of my air travel, they suspected that I had a blood clot in my lung, a pulmonary embolism (PE), brought on by DVT in my leg that broke loose and travelled through my veins. Wasting no time, the urgent care staff summoned an ambulance and rushed me to the hospital’s emergency room.
It was at this point I became truly frightened, because I realized that this could kill me at literally any point. A PE can break loose, sending the clot to the brain or heart, which could result in permanent impairment, or an almost instant death. 2/3 of PE deaths occur within 30 minutes. Once at the hospital, a battery of tests, including a CT scan, confirmed the diagnosis, PE in both lungs. I spent two days in the ICU (intensive care unit), basically locked down to the bed because the doctors didn’t want me to move and possibly dislodge the clot. I spent another two days after that in a regular room, and I was discharged with a new lifestyle: I was going to have to be on blood thinners (anti-coagulant therapy) for at least 6 months as the PE slowly dissolves, and to prevent the formation of any new clots.
Anti-coagulant therapy is no joke. Your blood is brought to a point where it’s very hard to clot at all, even after minor injuries. I was told to be careful in the kitchen, to switch to an electric razor, to avoid falls, and if I should hit my head, that I should seek emergency room help immediately as even the slightest trauma can trigger a brain bleed. I now sport a Medic-Alert bracelet in case of an accident where I can’t speak for myself, so that providers will know I’m on blood thinners. My blood’s clotting rate needs to be tested constantly because of the danger of spontaneous bleeding if my blood is too thin. I have to avoid all foods with Vitamin K, because Vitamin K helps with clotting. It’s not an easy or comfortable lifestyle at all. If I’m lucky, I’ll be off in six months. But if I should show signs of forming another clot, there are no second chances. I’ll be on anti-coagulants for life after that.
To prevent DVT and its complications, some things to remember are:
1. Move. Try to get some exercise daily. Make sure you take frequent ergo-breaks from your desk or game to get up, stretch, move around, get your circulation going a bit.
2. Exercise your calf muscles while you sit. Try raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor, then raising your toes while your heels are on the floor.
3. Make lifestyle changes. Lose weight, quit smoking (nicotine is a clotting culprit), watch hormone pills (birth control or the like), exercise, eat healthy.
4. Consider using compression stockings for any extended travel or desk time. Their efficacy for preventing clots and swelling of the legs and feet are well established.
I was reminded by a nurse that there are millions of us out there with silent killers lurking in our bodies. 80% of PE victims show no signs. I was lucky that I had symptoms that told me something was wrong before it was too late, and I acted on it. But it’s important to remember that none of us should ever think that something like this won’t happen to us. It can happen to anyone. Don’t let it happen to you.