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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Going Under the Knife

A week from today, I'm having surgery.  I mentioned it a few times, but I haven't specifically gone into what I'm having done and what the deal is.

Image courtesy of
I am having a varicose vein closure procedure done.  On my left leg, I have a varicose vein that I first noticed in 2005.  My mom has them as well, and she has for as long as I can remember.  Hers are especially bad, and she is finally having them treated now.  In fact, she has already had the closure procedure done on both legs with no problem.

First, a little about varicose veins.  When your blood goes up the veins in your leg, something has to stop gravity from pulling it back down again.  In a normal vein, there are valves that close and stop the blood from going down.  The heart pumps, valves close, then the heart pumps again and the valves open again and let the blood go up.  In a varicose vein, these valves are broken and don't close all the way.  The blood is pumped upward by the heart, but between heartbeats, it all falls back down the leg again.  After a while, the vein starts to bulge and look funny.  It is misshapen from the blood pooling there.

Varicose veins are similar to spider veins, which a lot of people have and are small capillaries near the skin that resemble spider webs.  Spider veins are typically cosmetic only and don't really have any bad consequences and don't require treatment.  They also don't bulge out like varicose veins do.

My symptoms are that my legs are frequently tired and heavy, even if there is no reason for them to feel that way.  The veins themselves are warm to the touch and are sometimes itchy and burn.  I've been wearing medical compression stockings to work and on airplanes since 2008, and I sometimes have to wear them to bed because my legs will cramp terribly during the night because of my veins.

My vein doesn't look horrible, it certainly could look worse, but it is noticeable on my leg, and it's getting more and more noticeable as time goes on.  If I don't have the surgery, my leg will eventually look like this:
Varicose Veins...  Image courtesy of VNUS
I don't want that.  Not only will they look bad, but eventually my symptoms will get worse and worse until the vein breaks the skin and becomes a bleeding ulcer.  I don't want that either.

So, what happens here?  Well, I'm going to go under general anesthesia, and then the doctor will make a very small incision in my leg and insert a catheter into the vein.  The end of the catheter will get warm, and that will make the vein close.  As the doctor pulls the catheter out, the vein will close around it until the entire vein has closed.  She will then go in and make a few more incisions in my calf to close the branches of the vein in my calf.  Then, the vein will no longer have blood going through it and it will eventually be absorbed into my body and just... gone.
The Closure Procedure... Image courtesy of VNUS

The biggest question I've gotten is "Um, don't you need that vein?" and the answer is, apparently, no.  This is a superficial vein, and the body knows how to reroute the blood into deeper veins inside the leg that are still healthy.

After the surgery, my doctor is going to want me to walk a lot, but I've been asked not to run for 2 weeks.  This is the biggest reason why I'm not shooting for a time goal for the Indianapolis Half.  I also can't go into a pool or hot tub, and I can't fly during that time.  However, by next Friday, 2 days after the surgery, I should be feeling at about 98% of what I was feeling before the surgery.  So, recovery time will be fairly quick.

I first started considering surgery in early 2009.  However, I couldn't find a good time to do it and I kept procrastinating about it.  I should have had the surgery done back in October, when I was not training for anything and I was still far enough from going to Indonesia that I wouldn't have messed up the trip.  However, I didn't, so here I am in the midst of training for a half marathon, going into surgery.

I'm pretty nervous that I won't be able to run again as quickly as I'd like.  Or, that my doctor won't want me running the mileage that I want to run.  When I saw her in December, I asked her if I could walk during my recovery period, and she said absolutely, she wants me to walk!  So, I said, "Okay, so if I want to walk, say, 10 to 12 miles the weekend after the surgery, that will be good?"  She gave me a blank stare, and said no, not that much walking.  So, I said, "Ok, um, 5 to 7 miles?"  Another blank stare.  She never did get specific with me about what I can and can't do, and I almost don't want to ask her again because I'm afraid she'll tell me no.

I have to wear the support hose 24/7 after the surgery for two weeks, but besides that I think I'll be ok.  I'm not nervous about the surgery itself, just about my running and how that will come into play.  It's difficult for me to give up that need to race Indy all out.  I know that I might still have a pretty admirable time at Indy, but I tend to prefer to RACE RACE RACE, and to do so I need to train... and if I am recovering from surgery, I can't do that.  I've worked the two weeks off into my training schedule, but if the doctor tells me I have to sit out longer, it will be a problem.  We shall see.


misszippy said...

Kim--Tough decision, but sounds liek you made the right one. I hope it all goes smoothly for you!

Kovas said...

Better to do it now than wait until it worsens - good luck!

James said...

Good luck!

marathonmaiden said...

thanks for posting this. my mom has been wrestling with the decision to do the same thing. good luck!

lindsay said...

This is crazy! But interesting. And I hope all goes smoothly!!

Jen said...

Sending lots of good healing wishes your way!

onelittletrigirl said...

Hope you get heal easy! My friend is having the same surgery soon- i am curious to hear abotu it!

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