“It’s nothing,” I thought, when I had lower back pain at the age of 19 followed by odd cramps in my quadriceps while working out. See a doctor? “No way,” I thought, “I will fight through this, I can tolerate pain and I will be fine.” I even wrote off feeling oddly exhausted thinking that I just needed to push myself harder. All of this thinking continued until one morning I woke up, and it was far too painful for me to walk. My legs had seized up almost completely from my hip down to my ankle. It was to the point that I finally had someone take me to the emergency room.
What happened next was life changing. I had developed a massive number of blood clots in my veins that had almost completely cut off the circulation to my legs. Seeing that I was already anxious about the situation, the doctors elected to only tell my parents that they weren’t sure they could save my legs, or even my life. I spent five days in intensive care undergoing numerous procedures to try to break up the clots and restore blood flow to and from my legs. In the process, tests showed that I had factor V Leiden, as well as a nearly cut-off inferior vena cava. Ironically, the inferior vena cava abnormality may have actually saved my life, as my body didn’t have a vein large enough to easily pass blood clots to my lungs. Knowing me, I would have ignored the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism and likely would have died.
Fast forward to just over eight years of being symptom free. Complacency took over, and I stopped following up on my warfarin blood thinning medication. Sure enough, the back pain returned. Again, I dismissed it, thinking that some heavy lifting had triggered it. A few mornings later, I woke up with my left leg swollen, and at least this time, I took action. I drove immediately to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis or blood clots in my legs.
As I was recovering in the hospital, I came across a cartoon that was ironic. The cartoon depicted a man dismissing an injury while another person urged him to see a doctor. I have been that man and I deeply regret it.
I also wish it was more widely known that a cause of lower back pain could be blood clots. Hardly any of the doctors I interacted with were aware of that, and I have had many excellent and heroic doctors who helped keep my body intact. There needs to be more attention to this, as I don’t want anyone else to go through this or something even worse.