When in doubt, consult Dr. Internet
I was in pain. I got out of my car a few weeks ago after a fivehour drive, and could barely walk. My left calf had tightened up. I had no idea why.
“Might be a blood clot,” my 33year-old daughter warned me the next day when I limped past her and then explained the circumstances of my disability.
“You were immobile for five hours. You’d better check it out.”
It’s important to note that my daughter is a certified hypochondriac, and proud of it. For instance, she came into my office the other day and announced that she had burning mouth syndrome, and was off to the doctor to confirm it.
“I’ve had it for a few days,” she told me. “I have all the symptoms — I checked it out on the Internet.”
That reminded me of the constant headaches she complained about last winter. “Wasn’t it a few months ago you were convinced you had linebacker’s disease?” I asked.
“In case you forgot, I had three concussions when I was young,” she huffed. “Just because I didn’t play in the NFL doesn’t mean I couldn’t have linebacker’s disease.”
It turned out, miraculously, that she had neither linebacker’s disease or burning mouth syndrome. But that didn’t preclude her from trying to convince me I had a blood clot.
I was having none of it. I would just tough it out. I was certain my calf would get better with a little time.
The next day it was every bit as bad. No improvement. And I was getting a very uncomfortable burning sensation. I hadn’t pulled a muscle — it made no sense.
That night I got a text from my daughter. “Dad, I talked to a good friend of mine who had a blood clot. She agreed you might have one, too. You should see a doctor.”
It was enough to get me to the computer to check with Dr. Internet. I googled “blood clot in calf” and read about all the symptoms.
Within minutes, I was pretty sure I was dead. I had all the symptoms — stiffness, tenderness, a little swelling, weakness, burning sensation. And, of course, the fivehour car drive without moving my leg. It had to be a blood clot.
I called the Kaiser hotline and got the night nurse. I told her my symptoms and my diagnosis and she agreed, with my prodding, that I was pretty much dead. She scheduled me for a 9:15 appointment the next morning.
I then went into the bedroom to give my wife the bad news. “I think I’ve got a blood clot,” I told her gently. “If it breaks loose, it will travel to my brain and I will get a pulmonary embolism and I will be dead.”
She actually yawned. “That’s nice, dear. Let’s see what the doctor says. Go to sleep.”
I wasn’t much interested in sleep, since I was going to have plenty of it when the pulmonary embolism hit. But I did manage to doze off, only to be awakened by a searing pain in my knee.
“I think the blood clot is headed north,” I whispered with clenched teeth to my wife, trying to remain strong. “My knee is killing me.”
She sleepily noticed I was holding my right knee. “Isn’t the blood clot in your left leg?” she asked. “That’s a rather strange route it’s taking.”
Oh. She had a point. Maybe it hadn’t broken off yet. But it would.
I managed to make it through the night and headed for the doctor’s office. I was ushered into the examination room and waited for the doctor to give me the sad news.
When he finally entered, I tried to remain brave. I told him my sordid story of the car ride, the sudden pain, the limp, the burning, the weakness, the tenderness, the impending pulmonary embolism, the whole shebang.
He prodded around, measured the circumference of each calf, and then took a blood pressure reading of each calf. Finally, he put his hand on my shoulder (bad sign) and, with a slight hint of laughter, gave me his expert diagnosis.
He was pretty sure it was a cramp.
“I think I’ve got a blood clot. If it breaks loose, it will travel to my brain and I will get a pulmonary embolism and I will be dead.”