When a pain in the leg turns out to be deep vein danger

Blogging this from a post on my Facebook page on Thursday, Aug. 20:

For 10 hours today until getting discharged about noon, this was my view from a room at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth (the same place I had my ruptured appendix yanked out in late May). But before being wheeled to the fourth floor of the Cardiac Tower around 2 a.m., I spent almost five hours in a crazy-busy ER, thankfully in the relative silence of my own little room.

To cut to the chase, I am the proud (?) owner/recipient/beneficiary of a DVT, more complicatedly known as a deep vein thrombosis. In layman’s terms, a blood clot in my right leg, extending approximately from mid-calf to mid-thigh. I’m also now getting my first crack at blood thinners (anticoagulants), specifically one called Eliquis, which I’ll take twice daily for about three months.

This all started about two weeks ago. Actually, it probably started in mid-March when we at The Dallas Morning News all took our jobs home, and my level of activity that came with a daily commute, a standing desk — and getting away from it on a fairly regular basis — dwindled big-time. At home during the pandemic, I’m not standing at my desk, I don’t get up and walk around enough, and I’m not getting nearly enough exercise. Those would seem to be prime suspects for this thing I now must deal with.

When I started having right calf pain week before last, I logically thought I had pulled a muscle during a couple of bike rides. But it lingered into our drive to Galveston several days later, although the pain wasn’t unbearable. Before we left on our trip, though, I did what we all do and attempted to self-diagnose through the infinite sources within clicking reach. There were possibilities including dehydration, hypothyroidism (which I do have) and pulled muscles.

But the one that seemed more prevalent on the sites I visited — and the one I could never entirely convince myself I *didn’t* have — was a DVT. Some days the pain decreased, some days it increased. Sometimes walking seemed to help relieve the pain. Meanwhile, as I was favoring my right leg so much, I started having pain in my left heel. As it grew worse, I started searching for an answer to that, too — and all signs pointed to plantar fasciitis.

I would’ve cried if it weren’t so laughable. But reading all the material about DVT and seeing how it could become a life-threatening issue if pieces of the clot break free, travel through the heart and become lodged in the lungs, creating a pulmonary embolism, I decided I needed to see my doctor to be sure.

I made an appointment to be worked in at 7:45 Tuesday morning and saw a nurse practitioner. Sure enough, she did make one certain diagnosis: plantar fasciitis in my left foot. Told me about the stretches I should do, the iced water bottle I needed to roll on the bottom of my foot to help heal the inflammed plantar fascia, and the shoe insert I should buy. But when it came to my right leg, she did a physical exam of the calf and determined I had nothing more than a muscle strain. I didn’t have a couple of the common symptoms of DVT: redness and warmth in the alleged area of clotting. Do some calf stretches and this will work itself out, she said.

Here’s what normal blood flow in the legs looks like, and what happens when you have a DVT like I somehow ended up with in my right leg.

Thank goodness for what happened the next day, yesterday. The leg pain was much worse and extended higher, around my knee and into my thigh. But the biggest change I noticed as my editing shift wore on was how swollen my right calf and the area below it had become. It also was now somewhat numb to the touch. I asked Kay to come into our bedroom, which has been my pandemic office, and look at my two legs and tell me what she saw. She was shocked at how swollen my lower right leg was. Up to this point, she hadn’t been sure I had a DVT — but now, even though she didn’t tell me this until I got home from the hospital today — she was almost sure of it.

Kay told me I’d better call the 24-hour nurse line for our insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, after my shift for guidance. I did that, and the nurse recommended I see a doctor within four hours. Not twenty-four. Four.

I went just before 9 p.m. to CareNow, realizing they didn’t do imaging but hoping the doctor might at least give me his best opinion. Instead, I was told by the woman at the front desk, who spoke to him, that I should go straight to the ER if I thought I might have a DVT. That’s how I landed at the Harris Methodist ER, which had taken such good care of my rotten appendix and me. Within a couple of hours, I had the ultrasound that confirmed the blood clot, and, knowing only what little I’d read online, I was surprised to hear it wasn’t confined to my calf — and that it was as extensive as it is.

Me in the emergency room at Texas Health Harris Methodist in Fort Worth, waiting, waiting, waiting. By this time, I’d already learned that an ultrasound showed I had a deep vein thrombosis in my right leg, I already had an IV port inserted in my left arm, I knew I was being admitted to the hospital and was waiting to be taken to a room. That would finally happen about 2 a.m.

After finally getting in a hospital room at 2 a.m. on a growling stomach after skipping dinner, sleeping about three hours, talking this morning to nurses, the doctor on duty and the PA for the hematologist I’ll now be a patient of, and watching videos about DVT, I understand more about what I’m dealing with and my treatment. Like, for instance, I thought the blood thinners would be helping break up the clot that’s already there. Nope, those are to prevent another one from forming. Basically, your body works to dissolve the clot while the med’s doing its job. If all goes as it should, there’s a low risk that any chunk of the clot will break free, flow upstream and wind up in my lungs.

So, let me close out my usual long-winded storytelling with this: If you have symptoms of any kind and you’re unsure what they are, it’s perfectly OK to go online and see what’s out there. You’ll learn which sources are the most reliable, although I still find myself perusing many for the same reason I eat a lot of the food I eat — because it’s there. 😉 

But if you experience anything with even the remote potential of being serious, call your doctor. Don’t let it go. With my appendix, I didn’t wait to get in to see mine when the intense pain hit, and I’m damn glad I didn’t. With this situation, I probably could/should have gone in sooner. But if I had, I probably would’ve gotten the same misdiagnosis I received Tuesday. Once the symptoms and pain reached another level a day later, it seemed pretty clear this was something serious.

Do your own research, but don’t blow off seeing a doctor. It seriously can make all the difference for your life and your loved ones’. 

One thought on “When a pain in the leg turns out to be deep vein danger

  1. Frank! You have had a heck of a year on top of the general heck of a year! So sorry to hear about your DVT. We are dealing with my mom’s health as she had a stroke and has not been able to get out of bed for over a month. Her dementia does not help as she frequently asks where she is and why she can’t go home. 😦
    I hope that you recover enough to cover the fightin Texas Aggies…Glad they are playing this year.


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