Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Medical Mystery

Though I am only thirty-two, I've had my share of medical issues. Probably one of the oddest ones I had started when I was twenty-five.

One day I noticed that I was having some pain in my ankle/calf area. I've always been pretty active to so I just chalked it up to some sort of injury (believe me, I am an expert at injuring myself) and kept going. Six weeks later, it was still persisting. I iced, heated, and took it easy for a while. It kept bothering me, even gave out when I was coming down some stairs. Now I was annoyed.

 I went to my doc who suggested that I might have achilles tendonitis or possible a stress fracture. I joked that if anyone could fracture a bone and not know how they did it, it was me. He laughed and recommended I see an orthopedic specialist. The Ortho doc X-Rayed my leg and cleared me of having a fracture. He agreed that I probably had tendonitis and suggested the same regimen I was already on. Frustrated, I sighed and left the office.

Two days later the swelling began. Just a little at first, right around my ankle and heel. I shrugged it off, but by the end of the week it looked like someone has shoved a softball under my skin at the ankle bone. Needless to say, I was a bit worried. Off to the doc I went a second time. I believe the doctors first words when he saw my leg was, "Oh crap."

Up until then I was pretty calm, but seeing his shocked face freaked me out a little. Like I always do when I'm worried or stressed out I made a joke. "You see doc, when I swallowed that baseball I never thought it would end up in my foot."

He blinked at me but grinned. But through that grin, I could by the way his eyebrows knitted together that he was worried and thinking hard. According to him it could be a lot of things, from a blood clot to a deep vein problem, to a vascular issue. None of these things sounded like a good time. But there were two that were especially frightening.

One was the possibility of having to undergo a "vein stripping".  The procedure is exactly what it sounds like. They cut you from groin to ankle, pull the veins out, work on them and then reattach them.   The procedure is long, the recovery is excruciating. It sounded medieval to me, so much that I was waiting for them to laugh like it was some sort of weird doctor humor. It wasn't.

The second was that I had a heart malfunction. There really isn't a need to explain why that would freak me out.

The next few weeks I was moved from office to office as they searched for an answer. I  underwent a slew of tests and even more needle pokes than I care to remember.

The worst was the nerve conduction test. If you are unfamiliar with this test let me explain. The good docs take a special tool that looks suspiciously like a taser. They then proceed to shock you with it, gradually increasing the intensity of the electric charge. Near the end of the test your leg contracts on it's own. It's is definitely not pleasant. However, during the last round, I couldn't help but let out a bark of laughter. Both docs in the room stopped the test immediately. One of them asked me if I was all right.

As my poor leg lie there twitching uncontrollably, I said, "I just wondered if I looked like my dog does when she's sleeping and chasing a rabbit." The lady running the test lost it. When the test was over she patted my head and called me a good girl. I asked if I got a cookie. She just shook her head and told me to expect the results in a couple weeks.

When the swelling started to move up my leg things got pretty wild. At one point my left leg was an inch and a half larger than my right. That was when they shipped me to the vascular specialist.
I remember sitting in the room when he came in. He stopped looked at the door then back at me, then at his clip board.

"Mrs. Shannon?" he asked tentatively.
"Oh. I was expecting someone older."
"Oh, I get that all the time. I'm really 80, I just aged really well. Yoga, ya know?"

This doc didn't think I was funny. (Hey you can't win them all right?) He was the one to review all of the test, labs, charts, moon graphs, tides, and whatever else he had in that thick file on me. (You would think my birthdate would have been in there somewhere), and inform me that I had lymphedema.

Lymphedema is a problem with your adrenal system. In my case, he explained, that  fluid would move down my leg with no issue, but have problems moving back up like it was supposed too. I asked what we could do and his answer shocked me.

"Nothing. You'll have this for the rest of your life. You can't get rid of it, but I'll give you some pointers on how to control it."

That was probably the worst thing I could have heard. I've been light about it so far, but let me tell you, there was some days I was in real pain. Pain that would sometimes make me throw up. Pain that would make it very difficult to walk. Pain that put me on the sidelines of life when I really wanted to be in the thick of it.

I just stared at him as he rattled off a list of things I could do. I'm sure he was speaking English but honestly at that time all I heard was Charlie Brown's teacher. Wah-wah-wahawahwah.
I came home and told my husband what I could remember, and that the doc had issued a lovely stocking (think of an 80 year ladies knee high) that came up to my knee to relieve the pressure in my leg.

A couple of days later I was sitting at work when I got very, very hot. My face and ears were on fire. Turns out that the damn stocking pushed up all of the fluid into my knee and thigh. That slowed down the circulation in my leg. That cause my brain to receive a message that I was not receiving enough blood flow, and THAT caused all the blood vessels in my face to go full throttle.

Of course I didn't know that at the time and unfortunately neither did my co-workers. I guess I looked pretty bad (one lady thought I was having a stroke) because they all wigged. And not a little. We are talking flapping hands and screeching voices, wigged out. My boss prepared to call 911 and I stopped him. I convinced him to let me have my husband come take me to the docs office. My boss reluctantly agreed.

My husband made it to my work so quickly I swear he must have learned to teleport. As he Indy Car raced me to the docs office he kept making me talk to make sure I wasn't having a stroke. Once we got to the  office, they put me in to see him right away. After he calmly explained what happened he suggested was that I leave the stocking off. Fine with me. I can rock a lot of looks, but the "Estelle Getty" just wasn't doing it for me.

After all the specialist I saw, my primary doc came up with the real solution. He gave me a steroid shot through the knee (ouch) and put me on water pills. That relieved the pressure in my leg within a few days. It also increased my bathroom time tenfold, but I was fully prepared to march to the bathroom a hundred times a day if it was going to help. I made a betting pool at work. The people in the office would guess how many times in a day I would have to go to the bathroom. The winner got a specially made treat or a candy bar. It actually got pretty competitive, which always made me laugh.

 My husband, in the meantime, was studying to be a chiro and was researching everything he could on adrenal systems and lymphedema. The main thing I needed to do was watch my salt intake (which was, admittedly,horrid at the time) and make some other dietary changes. He also learned some specific acupuncture to help with the pain.

Such a simple solution to all the drama. Once I started watching my diet the swelling eventually disappeared and the pain was gone. After months of agony, it was finally at an end.

One thing the vascular doc got right was that it is a life long issue. I still have episodes, but they don't last long and aren't nearly as painful.

Most importantly, I learned something about myself. If I could laugh through something, it wasn't nearly as bad as when I went in afraid. So, now I try to make that my motto.

You can get through anything, if you just laugh through it. You may even get a cookie.


  1. Yes, you have to keep laughing. I'm so sorry you had to go through all that, but I'm very glad you kept your sense of humor. Stay strong and stay funny.

  2. Thanks! It could have been a million times worse, so I'm thankful for how it turned out. :)

  3. Oh my! That sounds so scary! But you have a great sense of humor.