It’s been a very strange week for me, which has left lots of time for pondering.
Most of that pondering took place at Springhill Medical Center over the weekend, after it was determined Friday afternoon that I have a blood clot in my right leg. Worse than that, apparently a chunk of said clot broke off and went into my lungs — a dreaded pulmonary embolism.
It was a rather surreal program, as I’m generally very healthy and am pretty OCD about exercising. But Wednesday, while walking around downtown, my right calf clenched up like a ball of concrete. I assumed it was an extremely bad muscle pull from riding the stationary bike like a maniac the past couple of weeks, and limped back to the office. By bedtime it seemed OK.
My love for the bike was waning, as it always made my legs numb and made me feel like I was sitting on a monkey’s fist (just a guess). Still, I jumped back on again the next morning. I felt kind of “puny,” as my first boss would describe any illness, and was a little short of breath. By that afternoon my calf was swollen so badly my pant leg would get stuck on it when I stood up.
I asked the wife and kids what they thought about it when I got home, comparing my two legs and they all agreed in unison that my left leg — the one that didn’t hurt — was pretty disgusting looking and that I should probably be more concerned about it.
They all watch a TON of “Grey’s Anatomy” and therefore are practically world-class physicians, so I felt better. The next morning, however, I became concerned. My leg looked like if I had signed up at Ancestry.com, it would tell me Popeye was a not-so-distant cousin. I was Popleg. Consulting the internet about symptoms of a blood clot, I was alarmed to see I was experiencing most of them, even though none of the usual precipitating factors were present. So I did what I almost never do — I went to the doctor.
The folks at Greater Mobile Urgent Care were concerned, but the doctor held out a glimmer of hope that since my foot wasn’t swollen, perhaps I’d just ripped my calf and was bleeding into the muscle. It’s sad when that’s what you’re hoping for. But he also said blood clots must be ruled out and sent me over to Alabama Orthopedic Clinic for an ultrasound. My hopes of a muscle tear were dashed when the ultrasound tech looked at me and said, “Yeah, you have some blood clots in here.”
At that point everyone started acting like I might drop dead at any second, and, to be honest, I was a bit concerned. I know clots are not to be taken lightly and can kill quickly. So, I headed next door to Springhill Medical Center.
As I said, hospitals have not been a usual thing for me. The couple of times I have been in as a patient are sort of hazy since I was generally doped up in some way. Childbirths weren’t about me, but there was a lot of adrenaline and screaming and hollering, at least until they told me to leave. This was different.
I went into the emergency room and my wife, Beth, showed up a few minutes later. It was actually pretty quiet at 3 in the afternoon. The only strange thing that happened was some kid wheeled a guy over near us who looked like Howard Hughes in the later stages of life — skinny, long hair and long scraggly beard. I didn’t think much of it until he said, “Hey Holbert.” Turns out he was a guy I hadn’t seen in years and he was having a bad time with a mysterious illness. After I shook his hand he said, “You might want to wash that.”
We were called back quickly and sent to a triage room. The word triage always makes me think of war, but ours was blood-free and had a door. Beth went to look around in the hall for the “on-call room,” as she says that’s where most of the hanky-panky goes down in “Grey’s Anatomy.” All we saw was a suspicious-looking supply closet. The doc came in and broke up our sleuthing.
He said I’d probably have to stay in the hospital for a few days, but maybe it wouldn’t be that long if nothing had gone to my lungs. He asked if I’d had any chest pains and I recalled a few days earlier thinking I was having a heart attack, but it went away, so I went to work. I suspected I’d be staying a while. The various scans confirmed all of that, and they started talking about me possibly being there for five or six days!
It was all so surreal. Beth was worried. The kids were worried. I was actually holding it together pretty well as we waited for a room to open up. “Shark Tank” came on the little TV in the corner and we laughed at all the goofy business ideas getting shot down. Suddenly Mobile’s own “serial entrepreneur” Scott Tindle and his buddy showed up on the screen. Holy crap! It was a rerun of his famed “Tie Try” business.
For a moment I thought maybe I had died and gone to some kind of purgatory where I’d have to watch a pitch for a used tie service over and over. Luckily a doctor came in and snapped me back to reality.
It was all punctuated by the sound of a guy in the hallway vomiting onto the tile floor. Nobody was in the mood for the on-call room after that, I’d imagine.
I ended up staying just two nights, being pumped full of blood thinners and getting my vital signs taken every time I fell asleep. The people at SMC were great, though, and definitely took good care of me. And I had lots of kind family and friends visit over those days.
Still, being wide awake and unsedated in the hospital is not something I want to try again.
As for the pondering, mostly it was about thoughts of mortality, getting older and maybe not pushing myself too hard — but mostly it was about whether I washed my hand quickly enough.
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