Somewhere around late October, my body decided to crap out.
It was completely unexpected, considering that I had been doing so much better, health-wise. I’d started my diet, 77 pounds in the two months prior, and was starting to honestly feel better.
The water started sneaking up on me.
I didn’t notice until the day after my birthday, when I got in the car to drive to a doctor’s appointment, in Erie — about a 90 minute drive. It was time for my monthly check-in with the bariatric surgeon, so it was an appointment I was motivated to get to. I got behind the wheel, and I noticed that my right leg couldn’t reach the pedals right. There wasn’t enough space.
So I made sure that the seat was all the way back (it was), and I set off, anyway. I barely made it around the corner before I realized that I couldn’t drive like this. My reaction times were off, my placement was off. It would be too easy to make a mistake that could get somebody hurt.
So I went back home.
My leg was definitely messed up.
But, what you have to understand is, my leg is always messed up.
From the literal moment of my birth, my right leg has been . . . a problem. I was born with a club foot, and when I was fairly young (six months old, I think?) I had a surgery to correct it.
Or, over-correct it, anyway.
The one thing I do remember is, when I was in elementary school, seeing a podiatrist who told me and my mom that my right foot was, essentially a bag of bones.
But it’s not just the foot that’s screwed up. The whole leg juts out at a weird angle. When I walk, it’s not with my feet and knees parallel to each other. My right leg is offset at about a 60° angle.
But that wasn’t the problem this time. My leg was swollen.
I had a cellulitis infection earlier in the year — one that had sent me into the hospital, and one that basically rendered the entire surface of my right shin into an open wound, constantly draining fluid. And it was swollen.
Over those months, it had been healing slowly, but I’d gotten used to the status quo of dealing with that. I was able to drive. I was able to get around. I was living with it.
Suddenly, and seemingly without provocation, the swelling was worse. Bad enough that it was hard for me to move around. And all of the wounds from earlier in the year were reopening on my leg.
And I had new wounds on my left leg, strange little buckshot wounds that first started as spots, and then pustules, and then hard little scabs, within about a week.
So, I went to the ER.
In the last year and a half, I’ve become well-acquainted with the ER staff at the local hospital. It’s not a happy relationship. As someone who had greatly enjoyed the domestic television fantasies of ER and Grey’s Anatomy (both of which take place at prestigious medical institutions, I should add), becoming a frequent flier at a place the locals call a band-aid station left me feeling kind of frustrated.
There’s no Susan Lewis or Doc. McDreamy here, folks.
They freaked out about my blood pressure, gave me some pills, wrapped my leg in gauze, and told me to see my doctor.
That became a recurring theme in everything.
Every doctor or nurse I saw freaked out about my blood pressure. And I get it. I’m a very large person, and my blood pressure runs high. To the tune of 240/110 if I let it go untreated.
But during this entire time, I was on medication for my blood pressure. And it was still running dangerously high. Resulting in more hospital visits.
But it seemed like there was a disconnect: while they were all worrying about my blood pressure — to the extent where I spent another few days in the hospital over it.
Meanwhile, I was more worried about the fact that my legs were so swollen that I could barely walk, and that some days, I could barely move without catching my breath.
One of my benchmarks for how well I feel is pretty simple. My bedroom is upstairs, so every night, I have to climb up.
Before I started losing weight, I had to pause every few steps while climbing up. After I lost weight, I could make it up the stairs, more or less, without having to stop.
And when the swelling started again? It was the same issue. Some days, I’d only have to stop once while going up the stairs. Other days, I’d have to stop after every few steps to catch my breath.
And it seemed like everything the doctors tried to throw at the problem wasn’t helping. Twice-weekly leg wrappings? Helped some, but not much. And, as soon as some of the swelling went down, the wraps would fall off, only for my legs to swell back up again.
It’s hard to explain just how much despair I felt over this.
Over these months, my mobility went from “already kind of crappy” to “basically zero.”
I couldn’t put on pants. I couldn’t put on shoes. I could barely put on my sandals. I had trouble lifting my leg enough to get it into the passenger seat of the car. I had trouble lifting my leg over the side of the shower. There were times where my knee wouldn’t bend from all the swelling in the leg.
I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t drive. I was stuck at home. Honestly, there were days when it was just easier to stay in bed.
It felt like a punishment, almost. I’d done my diet, lost a considerable amount of weight, and this swelling felt like my body’s retribution. Oh, you think you’re going to make things better for yourself? I’ll show you!
And, even worse, I thought this was permanent. Everything the doctors were trying wasn’t working. And it felt like it was getting worse and worse.
And then, the break.
I had a doctor’s appointment with Jen, my primary care physician, on January 3rd. Talk about ringing in the new year, wrong.
It was the new status quo: she was worried about my blood pressure. I was worried about the fact that I could barely walk, could barely breathe while I was walking.
Nothing got resolved in that meeting. Instead, she wanted to come back and see her supervising physician, to see if he could figure out what was going wrong.
They scheduled me in for an appointment on the 6th, quite possibly the fastest turn-around I’ve ever seen in a medical office.
I was nervous about seeing him, and kind of intrigued.
This doctor is kind of a polarizing figure in this small town. Some people love him, others absolutely hate him. And, even more personally, Shaunta had had some recent issues with him not coming through when she needed him to.
But I went through the appointment because, what the hell, it’s not like I had anything better to do. But I didn’t really have that much faith that things would change.
But, goddamn, I was wrong. This doctor put everything into perspective.
From the second he looked at me, he said “I can see you’re easily carrying 30–40 pounds of fluid weight. That’s easily about 5 gallons of fluid.”
When you think about it like that, it’s kind of crazy. Five big milk jugs just full of excess fluid hanging onto my body. Inside of my body, dragging me down.
He didn’t harp on about my weight, like most doctors who haven’t seen me before are wont to do. Instead, he realized that dealing with the other problems — the swelling, the constantly feeling like crap, would eventually help with the weight loss — the weight loss I had already been achieving.
He explained why the doctors were worried about my heart — about the left ventricular hypertrophy that had been showing up in scans, and about how losing weight — making things easier for my heart — might lead to reversal in that, and lowering my blood pressure.
But the first thing he wanted to do was deal with the fluid.
“If you were an in-patient, I could have all of this fluid off of you in two days,” he told me. “But since you’d probably have to have a catheter, just to keep you from getting up and down to pee, I’m not going to recommend that.”
Instead, he decided to go through my list of medications.
I take a lot of medications.
Like, more than everybody else in the house combined.
But the doctor went through the list, striking things off. “This isn’t working. This isn’t working. I don’t even know why you’re on this.”
Then he looked at me and said, “I’m going to take this home. The nurse will call you tomorrow with new instructions. I hope you’re prepared to pee.”
We shook hands, and that was that. I went home, hoping that he would actually follow through and that I’d get the call back.
I did. The next day, the nurse called, and had me write down the new orders. The doctor was removing me from four of the medications I was on, and placing me on two new ones, Bumex and Metolazone, and insistent orders that I have blood work done at the end of the week, to make sure my kidneys were still working.
Okay, like that isn’t ominous at all. But I figured, what the hell. I could live without kidneys. I couldn’t live with my legs like this.
The difference was immediate.
My first night after taking the pills, I didn’t sleep at all. I was up peeing every hour.
That’s not an exaggeration. Every hour.
Within two days, the loss of swelling was noticeable. Both legs were remarkably smaller.
I’m about a week in to the pills now. Most of the swelling is gone, to the amazement of just about everybody. I feel the best that I’ve felt in three months. I can walk easier. I can breathe easier. I can make it all the way up the stairs without having to take a break.
There’s still a little bit of swelling in my upper right thigh, a hard nodule that kind of worries me, but it’s much smaller than it was before. I hope that the pills will keep doing their work, and eventually bust that.
I feel like I’m coming out of a haze that’s lasted for nearly a quarter of a year.
I want to work on my book again. I need to come back to writing regularly on Medium. I want to start heading down to the Y and swimming regularly.
Just being stuck inside this body sometimes, makes everything harder. Even the things you’d think would be easy, if you’re forced to stay in your chair, in front of the computer.
That that panic, that anxiety, that worry, it drains everything away. It becomes easier to scroll, to get lost doing mindless things, to just stop doing everything. Like a depressive episode, almost, except it’s your body betraying you, not your brain. Regardless, the symptoms are similar: it’s easier to let the undertow pull you all the way down.
But I can breathe again, for now. I get to pick up everything that I dropped, and start trying to juggle it again.