This was not a good day.
I had my appointment at the vascular surgeon's for a pressure test on Monday, April 17. I met with the nurse practitioner because I wasn't able to get an appointment with the doctor until April 27. We went over my symptoms again. Then, a lab tech took my blood pressure in my arms, thighs, calves, ankles, and big toes. She used an ultrasound pen to double-check my BP in my thighs, calves, and ankles.
Weird, to hear my heartbeat coming out of my feet.
Then I did five minutes of calf raises to get that lovely burning sensation, and we tested everything again.
Then, she did a full scan of both legs, from groin to ankle; she spent extra time behind my knees to rule out peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
Then they brought me in to see the doctor. I'd been told he was too busy to see me, so knowing he was making time for me immediately brought a sense of dread. He broke the news. They'd ruled out PAD and other vascular issues, so barring bilateral tears (still a possibility but unlikely) it's probably compartment syndrome. That's unlikely too - a rare diagnosis. But less rare than bilateral calf tears.
His suggestion was that I "find another exercise". That I "take up biking."
"I am going to be running at 90," I told him and started crying. I felt stupid for crying, but I was so caught off-guard the emotions just kind of took over. When I had control, I asked some followup questions. What's the next step? What if I elect to have surgery, a fasciotomy, the only real "cure"? He recommended against it because of the risk of scarring, but agreed to help me seek a second opinion for testing and treatment.
When the doctor stepped out again, the nurse practitioner took over. She was really nice, and explained that sometimes male doctors don't get it, that she could see running is my passion.
I cried on the drive home. I wasn't sure why I was so upset; maybe because hearing "You should give up running" was the last thing I expected. Maybe because the doctor had treated me like a vain little girl who would care about surgical scars and because he clearly doesn't get that running is more than just my preferred means of exercise.
When I came home I tried to look like everything was fine, but Matt took one look at me and asked, "What's wrong?"
"They said I can never run again." I tried to make it a joke. But then I started crying. Again. And I explained against his chest that this wasn't really the case, that we have ruled out PAD and the doctor thinks I have compartment syndrome after all. That the cure is a fasciotomy resulting in horrendous scars or to take up another form of exercise.
That the doctor highly recommended biking. That he said most of his female patients regret the surgery because the scars are so bad.
I think that's what brought me to tears. That he would speak to me like that, telling me that "young women" don't like the scars. Like scars matter. I have scars. I embrace the history of my scars. Our bodies are made to be lived in and banged about. No one is scarless. I am not scared of scars.
I can't give up running. Running saved my life. It changed who I am wholly and completely. And I still have goals to meet. A sub-5:00 full marathon. A 2:05 half. A sub-60 10k. A sub-26:00 5k. The Loch Ness Marathon.
It seems silly; I'm a hobby runner. I'm not winning any races. I'm not an elite racer who makes a living off this. But I can't give up running...not without a fight. And not for fear of scars.
So. The plan.
I'm still in pain from the exercises on Monday. Once this dissipates, I'll try running a bit. Intervals. Then, if the pain comes back for real, I'll see if my insurance company will allow for an MRI now. And I'll schedule an actual pressure test, complete with needles and pressure gauges, like my calves are some kind of a messed up basketballs.
And if that test is positive and it really is compartment syndrome, I'll have the surgery over the summer. Five weeks of recovery time and then, hopefully, pain free runs and some storytelling scars for the rest of my life.
Having a plan isn't making me feel any better because the lingering pain in my calves tells me running isn't going to work out right now. It's Friday, and my legs still hurt so much it takes me two minutes to stand up - slow, slow, careful - and I'm walking with ginger, timid steps. I was prepared to hear this was nothing; I was taking silly pictures of myself hooked up to the BP machine before the hammer dropped. I don't feel like I run enough to get a diagnosis like this. It's like the injury doesn't fit the athlete.
And we don't know yet, for certain. So I should be trying to stay positive. But I feel like I'm grieving, and I'm pissed and frustrated. I don't feel happy to have an answer because I don't really have a real answer yet. Waiting is worse.
Maybe, if this goes the way I'm imagining, I'll feel happy five weeks post-op when I can run without pain. And that will be August.
I did talk to a Sub-30 Club friend about this; she had a bilateral fasciotomy for compartment syndrome years ago. She doesn't regret it. She can finally run without pain. Her scars are noticeable but far from terrifying. She made me feel much better about the option. It feels viable, knowing someone who had it done.
But I just wish I weren't in a position to have to make the choice.
Sorry this is long and maudlin and a little all-over the place. Obviously my head is full of things right now and this was the best way to try to wrap my mind around it all.