It was bound to happen, I always knew that. It’s been a great run, 49 years without any real problems with my body. Other than when I broke my ankle in high school and a couple of crowns, I’ve always been able to rely on it to come through. No matter how much I punished it with alcohol or the foods you’re not supposed to eat, there were never any problems. Never been particularly fat, although for a little while after moving to the US I did gain a lot of weight; a combination of not riding a bike anymore like back in the homeland and the constant availability of food, in copious amounts of course, led to me packing on 35 extra pounds in three years or so. A couple of adjustments brought me right back to where I should be, without the need for any more exercise than what one gets from just walking to the store instead of biking and being active in general.
As I’m approaching 50, even my vision has remained quite good, as most of my peers have had to resort to lenses or glasses. I sleep well, and my weight is still not a problem, my blood pressure is good, heart and lungs in great shape (even after all the pot smoking I’ve partaken in) and my endurance excellent. Unfortunately, last Tuesday I found out that in one way, but body has now broken down in a way that can never get better. My right leg had been feeling different for a few months; it wasn’t hurting exactly, but it just felt a little achy, even when I woke up in the morning. Also, a couple of veins on the inside had become blue and visible, clearly different than in my left leg. Sometimes, I’d feel a burning sensation all the way along what I now know is called the “Great Saphenous Vein”. If you’re above 50, you’ve probably already guessed it: varicose veins, but let’s back up.
A good friend of mine, 62 in excellent shape by the way, called me a few weeks ago to tell me he had just had quintuple bypass surgery. It scared the shit out of me, so I scheduled an appointment for a physical, which I hadn’t had in 5 years, right away. I figured I’d ask the doc about my leg too, especially since after all I’d been reading it had become clear that there was a real possibility that my vein issue could have been caused by Thrombosis, a blood clot somewhere in my leg, especially since it was only in one leg. I’d talked to a nurse at Kaiser Permanente on the phone and she assured me that, because I had to real pain or swelling, it was not a blood clot. Now, according to just about everything I’d read, up to 50% of people with DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) have NO symptoms, so it seemed really weird for her to brush it off that easily. At the same time, because my symptoms were so mild, I figured it probably wasn’t completely urgent so that the doctor would order a true exam after seeing me, so we could know what exactly was going on.
So, I go in for my physical and the doctor takes a look at my leg: there are no veins popping out, none of those crazy huge twisted veins you always see in the pix, but he says: yep, varicose veins. OK, but no clot? “Any swelling?” he asks, “Redness along the vein?”. There wasn’t so with that it’s case closed apparently! When asked what he suggests he says: “Compression stockings”. I fully expected him to order an ultrasound examination but he doesn’t! And boom, I get spit out again by the system. Mind you, if you have a clot in a deep vein and it travels to your lungs you get what’s called a Pulmonary Embolism, which can literally kill you!
It just blew my mind how easily he dismissed me, so I decide to see what it would cost to get a second opinion, and lo and behold, there’s a vein clinic 3 miles from my house which will do a full ultrasound for $200. So much for health insurance I guess, it’s worth it for me to know what exactly is going on. Even though I only thought I’d get one leg checked out, the do both for $200 and the doctor takes a lot of time to sit with me and explain everything found. He was excellent actually, going through it all, without talking down to me. When he realizes I did my research he doesn’t waste time explaining stuff I clearly understand already. It turns out I do NOT have a Thrombus which is excellent news, but I do have “venous insufficiency” in a few veins. Mostly in my symptomatic right leg, but even in the Short Saphenous Vein in my left leg too!
In the weeks leading up to this, I had been reading a LOT about all of this stuff; it’s quite fascinating how it all works. Perhaps I’ll write a post about all of it in the future, but the short of it is that, unlike the arterial system which brings oxygenated blood from your heart to your body under pressure, the venous system works under low pressure with a system of one-way valves to prevent de-oxygenated blood from moving in the wrong direction. Your calf muscle pumps towards your heart for instance, but when the valves stop working properly, usually because the veins get stretched too wide for them to close fully, you get pooling in your legs. This causes the veins to be under more pressure and they get stretched even wider. It’s a vicious cycle that eventually leads to those tortuous enormous monstrosities on the inside of your leg.
In my right leg, both the Great and the Short Saphenous Veins are incompetent, as are a couple of so-called “perforator veins” which connect to the deep system, which thankfully is still working properly. The doctor told me that the one at Kaiser was crazy not to order an ultrasound examination and I have to say I agree with him; I’m quite disappointed at the lack of proper examination before treatment. Going forward, I’m gonna have to make some changes in my lifestyle I guess, which will be the topic for my next post…. in the meantime it’s time to accept the fact that I’m not 25 anymore and that the inevitable decline of my body has now undeniably commenced!