In some capacity, my dad saved my life this week. Well, my dad, Tony, and a bunch of nurses and a couple of doctors. I’ll explain…
I’ve been having endovenous laser treatments (EVLA) done to the deep veins in both of my legs. Apparently, gaining 65 lbs. when I was pregnant with Teno was a bit much for my 5’2″ frame and the damage it did to my circulatory system finally caught up with me this summer. I’d been having serious pain in my left leg, sometimes to the point where it kept me up at night. My mom just underwent EVLA treatments, and I knew the pain I was experiencing was due to a combo of hereditary and pregnancy vein crapola. That’s the medical term for it, I’m pretty sure.
I had the first treatment on my left leg four weeks ago, and I was scheduled for a total of 4 lasers, two phlebectomies and then quite a few injections after that. One treatment a week, every week, until early December when I decided to take a break so I could visit my grandparents in Florida for the holidays. Even though my mom, and other people I knew who’d had EVLA said it was no big deal and they were back on their feet within minutes, I experienced severe pain after my first treatment. They opted to treat two veins in one session, because my insurance only covered so many per calendar year so they threw one in for “free.”
First, I was allergic to the antibiotic they gave me, so I ended up with a giant, puffy face and crusted-together eyes for a few days. Just in time to work at a three-day-long fashion event for the makeup brand I’ve been developing for my company. I thought maybe the compression stockings were causing my problems – you have to wear them 24 hours a day for the first three days, and then during waking hours for the next 2-3 weeks. They bunch up at the knee every time you sit or stand, which cuts off circulation, and if you get the silicone thigh-high versions, they pull at your skin all day. Oh, and if you’re short, they dig into your crotch as well. They’re great, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t wear them all the time.
When I went back the next week I asked if we should really do the same leg because I was so sore, and was told that soreness is normal, and we did a smaller vein in the same leg. I went to Catholic school, so I assumed that the pain was my fault somehow, and didn’t ask any more questions.
The next week we moved onto the other leg, and the very next day it felt fine. That leg felt how everyone said it should feel – a little bruised, but fine. Meanwhile the other one was still killing me. By the end of the week it was swollen so big I couldn’t get my stockings on without crying – and my foot was so huge and swollen literally no shoes fit me. Not even Crocs.
I toughed it out at work on Friday and hobbled home to prop my foot up. The next morning I called the vein doctor or whatever he’s called and he said that it was probably fine, but if I wanted to be “really conservative” I could go to the ER and ask for an ultrasound. Otherwise, I could have them look at it when I came in for my final laser on the OK leg that following Tuesday. I’ve never wanted to be “really conservative” and, every time I go to the ER I get treated like garbage, so I decided to just wait until Tuesday.
Here’s an aside about getting treated like garbage at the ER… when Teno was 9 months old, he became very ill and started vomiting. Tony and I thought it was the flu, but it freaked us out so we brought him to the ER. We spent the next 7 hours trying convince various nurses and doctors that no, we don’t have any drugs in the house that he could have gotten into and no, we didn’t give him any drugs ourselves. They drew blood, they gave him a catheter, and when we finally got a room, they came in and flopped him around every time he fell asleep, demanding to know why he had a rash and which drugs we gave him that could have caused it. After raising holy hell, and stopping Tony from face-shoving a 90-year-old shithead nurse, I removed Teno from the ER. The next day, his pediatrician said, “it’s the flu,” and reassured us that it was nothing we could have possibly done.
Last summer, I was bitten by a spider while at the beach. I then wandered into disgusting Lake Michigan, which is mostly made of toddler pee and AIDS blood, where I contracted an infection that made my joints ache. I went to an urgent care center which, for whatever reason, gave me two antibiotics and a tetanus shot. When I had a severe allergic reaction to one of the antibiotics (yeah, the same one I was allergic to a month ago… see, when you take two at once and you’re allergic to one, you don’t know which one) I went to the ER and the attending doctor gave me a lecture about why I was dumb for taking two antibiotics at once. Because, you know, I prescribed them to myself.
Anyway, after I talked to Dr. Vein, I spent the day in bed with my leg propped up, bored as all get out. My friend Joy started keeping me company via text message and as we chatted, she started to tell me about the Day of the Dead altar she makes for my dad each year. She’d just made him coffee and fresh bread and sent me a picture, which I thanked her for, and she told me, “I know you don’t believe in this kind of stuff, so sorry for being a weirdo, but when I visit your dad’s table I get all emotional.” She went on to say that more than anyone else on her altars, she feels a presence at my dad’s. She feels a calmness, like he’s there. She said visiting him makes her happy.
At this point I am crying all over myself in bed, and Tony is holding me. I just miss him so much. I think about him every day. I love Joy so much for doing this for us. I know it’s silly, but if he was going to visit anyone I would want it to be someone so sweet that she bakes him bread and makes him coffee.
I decided to get out of bed, and I putzed out to the living room, propped my leg up, and watched TV where I could be close to his hat and his scary clown gumball machine and his bunny Pez and the receipt from his last trip to Starbucks. Around 9:30pm, I felt the slightest, almost unnoticeable pressure in my chest – accompanied by a warm wave of a frontal headache that felt like tears running over my forehead. I sat up, and put my hand to my chest and tried to take a deep breath. I couldn’t. Still, it wasn’t dramatic or alarming – just weird.
As I tried to catch my breath, I glanced over at my dad’s hat on the mantle, and remembered reading fine print on something at the vein institute that said something about the risk of blood clots. From my mom’s description of the night my dad died, it sounded like he had an aneurysm. I remembered her talking about his weird snoring, and how she hesitated to call 9-11 because it might just be nothing. I calmly turned to Tony and said, “I think I need to go to the doctor now.”
Fifteen minutes later we were in the ER. I slouched in my seat, still trying to breathe, and wondering if I was being crazy and should just go home. Teno’s grandma came to get him once we’d been there waiting a few hours, and shortly after midnight I finally got in to see a nurse who, guess what – treated me like shit.
“What is a UVLU? I’ve never heard of that.”
“EVLA, it’s a laser vein treatment.”
“They put UVLU on here, but either way, I have no idea what that is.” Said in the bitchiest possible tone.
I shoot a pleading look at Tony, and start to explain, “It’s a treatment where they close off bad veins…”
“Bad veins?” she snaps. “What do you mean ‘bad veins’? Varicose veins? For cosmetic reasons?”
“No, bad veins like veins that are too large and aren’t doing their job.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Listen,” Tony yells, smoke pouring out of his ears, “She didn’t make this up. Our insurance paid for it. It was surgery…”
“Sir, I’m not asking you, I’m asking her…”
“No, you’re grilling her about something you can just Google. She can’t breathe.”
“Sir, she’s a grown woman, she can speak for herself…”
“OK, that’s it, we’re going to a different hospital…”
I put my hand up to calm the room.
“It. Is. A. Surgical. Procedure.” I explain, slowly out of anger and also because I CAN’T BREATHE. “I have the doctor’s cell phone number if you would like to call him…”
“That’s not necessary. But what do your legs have to do with you not being able to breathe?”
“I read that you can get blood clots from it, I’m worried I might have one.”
Then she left. For almost two hours.
Around 2 am I ripped the blood pressure monitor off my finger and whipped the privacy curtain open while Tony tried to talk me into staying in the ER. I still couldn’t breathe, and I was going to die in the ER surrounded by asshole nurses who thought this was some extreme body mod or probably drugs. No thanks. I will die at home where my dad’s hat is.
Tony went and found the bitchy nurse and told her I was walking out, and she promised the doctor would be there in 10 minutes. Thirty minutes later, what appeared to be a 14-year-old girl walked into the room and introduced herself as my doctor. I told my laser vein story all over again, and for the second time, had my legs examined by someone despite explaining that it was done with lasers, there’s nothing to see, and I can’t breathe.
They’d drawn blood earlier in the night, so she said they’d check on the results and then she left. Around 4am I started ripping my monitor off again and demanding to leave. Again Tony wouldn’t let me, and Nurse Bitchface went to get the doctor. The doctor left again to “check on” my blood work, and came back a few minutes later to say that the tests did indicate clotting, and that they’d send me for ultrasounds and a CT scan shortly.
The horrible, awful nurse then became very soft-spoken and sweet. She gave me a blanket and tucked me in before putting my IV in the crook of my right arm, the most painful place I can think of to have an IV north of the belt buckle. The CT scan was first. I laid there, as the iodine rushed into my veins and, for some reason, directly to my crotch, and thought about Teno. I’m not ready to leave him. He needs me, and I need him. How will Tony explain to him what happened to me? Will Tony marry someone else? What dress will Tony bury me in? I hope it’s the gold and black one I just got. God, I’m going to miss Teno so much. Did my dad have time to think about this stuff? Did he know he was dying? Was he sad for all the things he was going to miss? I bet he was sad about missing whatever iPhones were coming next. I bet he thought about me.
As the orderly wheeled me away from the machine and back into the room where Tony was waiting for me, I turned my head and started to sob. Thick-snot, ugly-face sobbing because I was going to die. I already couldn’t breathe and now I was all stuffed up and there was snot all over my face. Then they wheeled me up for ultrasounds.
As the tech scanned my right leg, I noticed a troubled look spreading across her face. She took zillions of screen shots and moved to the left leg. Troubled became horrified as she stopped scanning and said, “you haven’t had any surgeries lately, have you?” I explained, for the third time during my ER visit, what I’d had done and she suddenly looked relieved. “OK, well I’ll just delete all these pictures, then. I thought the main veins in your legs had shut down.” Then I went back to Tony and cried some more.
At some point I also had a chest x-ray, it must have been before the IV went in. I don’t remember much about it other than flicking my “nipple markers” at Tony afterwards for making fun of me.
The doctor came back with the saddest puss I ever saw and explained that I had a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in my lung. They’d have to admit me, and put me on blood thinners for a while. It won’t break up the clots you already have, but it will prevent new ones while this one breaks up.
At 6:30am I was admitted to the hospital. Neither Tony or I had slept at all. He went home to get some things for me while I got hooked up to a heparin drip and had more blood drawn. Tony came back, and tried to stay the night in the chair next to me but I made him go home to sleep and be there when Teno woke up. Nurses poked me all night, and multiple doctors came in. Everyone needed my story all over again, and everyone had to look at my legs even though there was nothing to see.
Debbie, a nurse I got to know over the next few days, told me I was a very lucky girl. I could have died in my sleep that night. PEs are killers. They go undetected and then, suddenly, you die. I thought about my dad’s hat. There is a man down the hall who scream-barfs. He screams like a lady while making this wet, barfy hacking noise. I name him the Scream Barfer and make fun of him on Facebook.
The next day Teno and Tony came to see me. My face was all swollen from crying and feeling sorry for myself all night, and my arms were all bruised and battered from blood draws. Dr. Shin came in to tell me the plan – heparin for a few days, then we add coumadin. When my blood is thinned to “therapeutic level” I can go home, but I’ll need to take blood thinners for 6 months to be safe. I’m very lucky. I could have died. Why did I have lasers done? He doesn’t see any varicose veins. Stupid me.
The nurses rush into my room twice that night because my heart rate dropped dangerously low. Scream Barfer is hacking down the hallway.
On Monday Tony brings his laptop and works next to my bed. I watch Law & Order: SVU and fall asleep constantly. On Saturday Tony called Dr. Vein to tell him I was in the ER and he’s been calling me constantly. I don’t want to talk to him. It’s probably not his fault I’m here, but I hate him anyway. Tony gets to hear the Scream Barfer and we laugh so hard my chest seizes up. I end up having to call the nurse, who calls Dr. Shin. Dr. Shin prescribes me morphine for the pain. I decline, and opt for Motrin. “That seems a bit extreme,” I tell her, struggling to catch a breath.
My IV starts to bleed so they mercifully move it to my left wrist. The crook of my right arm is black with bruises and sticky from all the tape. I am getting tired of having to tell someone every time I need to pee so they can unplug me and walk me into the bathroom. I unplug myself and pee alone a few times. When Debbie comes in to ask me questions about my BMs and whatnot her eyebrow goes up when I tell her I’ve peed 6 or 7 times that day. Why didn’t I call her? I could pass out from the PE and the blood thinners and then I’d be a code blue, didn’t I know that? It’s very dangerous, a code blue. I think about my dad. I don’t want to be a code blue, no matter what that means. I call Debbie whenever I need to pee. Unless Tony is there. Then I tell him, stand out there and listen in case I fall. I don’t want to be a code blue.
That night, my heart rate drops again and apparently the best treatment for that remains rushing into my room and scaring the crap out of me while I sleep.
It’s Tuesday and I’ve been woken up at 2am to have blood drawn from an artery in my vein. I’m sleepy, and everyone keeps stealing my blood. In my memory the man who did it looked just like Boris Karloff, but with an Eastern European accent. At 6am the nurse comes in to check my vitals, which have been perfect since day one. She comments on my skinny arms and when she leaves I run my hands over my body. I feel skinny. How could I get so skinny in three days?
Dr. Shin says my blood hasn’t thinned at all. Three days on a gnarly blood thinner and nada. Stubborn blood, big surprise. They’re going to start me on coumadin, then things will really start to happen. I Google all the side effects of the drugs I’m getting and prepare myself for nose bleeds and epic menstrual periods. I start to think about all of the things I do every day that could kill me now. I’ll have to use Nair or something, I cut myself shaving too much. Lulu bites me all the time, no more playing with Lulu. I like to walk, but now if a car hits me, instead of just breaking my bones I could bleed to death in the street.
Meanwhile, my friends and co-workers and family are all being amazing. My office sends me fruit and takes care of absolutely everything even though this is the week our new brand launches and there’s SO MUCH to do. My grandparents call me every day to make sure I have enough money and that I’m eating even though the food is bad. My friend Jessica brings me dinner, and other friends send flowers and send me text messages so I don’t get bored. Tony works from my room every day, he doesn’t leave my side even when I watch Law & Order: SVU for 8 hours straight.
Two blood thinners later and my blood is exactly as thick as it was when I came in. The nurse is amazed. I am secretly proud of my thick, stubborn blood even though Dr. Shin says I have to sit there and watch Law & Order until it’s thin. The nurses take me for 20-foot walks down the hallway. All of the other patients in this ward are 1,000 years old. I look for Scream Barfer, but I don’t hear him so I don’t know which incredibly old person he is.
It’s Wednesday, and Dr. Shin has given up on my blood. A hematologist comes in to tell me that all the drugs I’ve been on are bullshit. He has an earbud hanging out of one ear and his shirt is unbuttoned at the top. Those drugs are for squares, I’m young and healthy, I should be on Xarelto, the blood thinner for cool people. Take two a day for three weeks, then go down to one a day for 5 months. Come see him in a week. Any questions? Cool. He hands me his card and I feel better knowing that a young, hip doctor is helping me. He knows how to Google things and he listens to music while he talks to patients, not like these other lame old doctors. He leaves, and I look at his card. He has an AOL email address. I feel my thick, stubborn blood leave my face.
Either way, I get to go home tomorrow. I call Tony and tell him everything. He’s happy to hear a more “with it” doctor is in charge now. “But he has an AOL address,” I argue. Tony doesn’t care about my email address snobbery. He just wants me to get better and come home. Dr. Shin comes back and reminds me that I can’t take my beloved birth control pills while I’m on any of these drugs. Listening him talk about condoms in his thick accent is inappropriately hilarious but I have no one to giggle with when he leaves. Tony caught a bad cold and I’ve ordered him to stay away from me and my shitty lungs. I’m lonely and I’ve already seen this episode of Law & Order: SVU. Two of the “doctors” from the vein clinic come to see me. They ask to see my legs even though there’s nothing to see, and the Eastern European one gives my leg a slap and asks me why I’m not wearing my compression stockings. Because I’m dying in the hospital and I don’t care and also Dr. Shin told me not to. Then they tell me I should have come to the ER when the other vein doctor told me to. I guess they mean when he yawned and said, “I guess if you feel like it.” I take a sad #hospitalselfie and go to sleep.
The next day a pee by myself because I don’t care about anything. I do it like, 5 times because this IV goes straight to my bladder. I have scrambled tofu and a veggie sausage patty for breakfast. I take a picture of it, and realize it’s too pathetic even for Instagram. The nurse unhooks my IV at 9am. Since I can roam freely, I pack up all my stuff and take a walk down the hallway. I’m in a good mood, so I walk up and down three times. Sixty feet.
Dr. Shin comes in and talks to me about condoms again. I guess I look really horny or something because he seems convinced I’m going to get pregnant and bleed to death as soon as I get the chance. I call Tony to come get me and one of the firms we use at work sends me cupcakes from my favorite shop. The nurse takes my IV out, but can’t get my heart monitor stickers off so I go home in sweatpants, boat shoes, a $5 Wrestling t-shirt and six heart monitor stickers on my chest.
I feel weak, and my legs hurt, but I’m determined to get these stickers off. I douse myself in olive oil and take a bath. Tony listens just in case I pass out. While I take a nap Tony runs out to get me some Nair because I muttered something about being a wolf before I fell asleep. He’s not home yet when I wake up, so I scoop Lulu up and she snuggles me while we watch a documentary about Jeffrey Dahmer. Tony gets home with Teno and life at home starts again.
My friend Megan calls to ask “what the hell happened.” She says she knows I don’t go for that stuff, but she thinks my dad was looking out for me. When we get off the phone I sit in the living room, looking at my dad’s hat, rubbing olive oil on the crook of my arm.