Thursday, April 21, 2011

Compartment Syndrome--Officially Diagnosed

As the title would suggest, I got the official diagnosis this afternoon.  Here's how that shit when down, y'all.

I left work early, and when I got home, I put on my running clothes and discovered I didn't have any Tylenol.  AWESOME.  I arrived at the office, a quick drive away, and filled out lots of fun information.  Eventually, I went into the exam room and had a conversation with the doctor about my symptoms.  He agreed that it really sounded like I had compartment syndrome, and explained to me what it was.  He didn't know that I'd pretty much done all of the research already and didn't need to be told that information, but I did like that he explained it, and in very clear terms.  A lot of doctors DON'T explain things very well, which is frustrating, so I appreciated the explanation, even if I didn't need it.

He had me lie down on the exam table (it had a pillow, so that plus my affinity for extremely firm mattresses made that table super comfortable, no joke), and he explained what he was going to do.  He then injected novocaine into each compartment in each leg.  There are four compartments in the calf, so that meant 8 injections.  He first applied betadyne, and then marked each injection site by pressing a plastic rod into my skin.  He then told me I would feel a pinch and then a burn as he injected the novocaine.  I barely felt the pinch, which is normal, but wow, he wasn't joking about the burn.  If you've gotten the HPV vaccine, you'll know what it feels like.  Unpleasant, but temporary.  I'd never had novocaine before, so I didn't know it burned.

Next, he took the initial measurements.  These weren't that painful, thanks to the novocaine, but they did feel very weird, and not in a completely innocuous way.  For female readers with gyno experiences, it's sort of the same weird kind of sensation when you get a pap smear, in terms of feeling discomfort in an area you usually don't have things stuck in (for male readers or readers with less gyno experience, having your cervix touched, either because of a pap smear or through sex, is a different sensation than, say, simple penetration.  Often, if "pap smear" is mentioned, women who've had them might make a face or squirm a little.  Unpleasant).

After the initial measurements, he had me help him apply pressure to the injection sites to keep them from bleeding.  Then I went outside for a 10 minute run.  I was concerned because my symptoms weren't kicking in, not until the end of the run, and even then, it was borderline.  However, even though I didn't feel the pain of my usual symptoms, my calves did feel as if something was still wrong.  That is, when I don't have any symptoms, I can very comfortably run at least 2 miles.  With symptoms, my calves feel stiff, as if they've seized up.  That feeling was present, while the pain was not.  I ended my run at 10 minutes, disappointed that my symptoms weren't popping up on the one day they really needed to, and decided to run up the stairs to the second floor office to make sure I stressed my calves more.  I ran in place in the exam room until the doctor returned, and I made sure to land on my toes to keep my calves stressed.

The second round of measurements was less pleasant.  I've had a cold for the past week that went from nuisance to nasty over the weekend, and I've been coughing a lot, quite painfully, for the past couple of days.  The run in chilly weather didn't help much, so I was gasping a bit (thus supporting the illusion that I'm out of shape, ugh).  Plus, the novocaine was wearing off, so the measurements were slightly painful in addition to seriously uncomfortable.

Afterwards, we applied pressure again, and he confirmed that I definitely have compartment syndrome, in three out of four compartments in both legs (and, as I expected based on my symptoms, worse in the right leg).  I don't have it in my lateral compartments, which he explained is actually a normal finding for folks with compartment syndrome.  He's sending the info and diagnosis back to the podiatrist, and she and I will talk and she'll refer me to a surgeon.  In the meantime, he recommended Tylenol (picked up some on the way home, yay), and he ace bandaged some ice packs to my legs.

Walking to and from my car, and within my apartment, has been unpleasant.  It's a strange feeling.  It's not serious pain.  It's a constant moderate discomfort and ache.  I can't take a lot of Tylenol right now, since I took DayQuil earlier and I don't want to risk frying my liver, but if my cold is better tomorrow, I'll take it in the morning.

I totally understand why my podatrist explained how rarely she sends people to get this test.  At first, I thought, "Well, if you think it might be compartment syndrome, why wouldn't you?"  Now, I'm like, "Wow, she must have been REALLY sure!!"

We'll see what happens next.  I don't think I want surgery right away, not because I want to try something else, but because I've got two weddings this summer, a vacation I'm planning on taking, and flute ensemble.  I'd only be able to do surgery in early May or the beginning of August, and I'd rather do August so I don't miss work!  But as a friend pointed out, my insurance is about to change, and it might be too difficult to get the right surgeon and find a good physical therapist with my school insurance in the fall.  I'm calling the podiatrist tomorrow and I'll hopefully be able to meet with her as early as next week.  Probably not, though, increasing the chances that I'll wait till August for surgery.

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