Varicose Vein Surgery: A Patient's Perspective
Having varicose veins can be uncomfortable, or even painful for some people. But it's mostly the way they look that cause patients to have surgery or other procedures to remove the nasty veins. Of course, having too much blood flow to your legs without it being able to get back up can cause other problems, such as clotting, that can be potentially dangerous. But I wanted to write this from the perspective of a patient who had the varicose vein stripping surgery a month ago, and especially from the perspective of a man, since this is a condition most typically associated with women.
But first, let me give you some short history. I was born in 1963 and in 1986 was helping a relative cut down a tree. The tree fell weird and pinned my leg against a fence, and left a bruise, a bruise they didn’t really ever go away, but rather started to spread and take the form of varicose veins in the front and back of my lower right leg. To be honest, I’m not sure if that tree started it, or if it was already in the cards for me since my mom and maternal grandfather had vein issues. And in 1994 I had a vein center look at me and recommended those injections that basically dissolve the veins. Now, at that point they didn’t look that bad, but were starting to poke out in various parts of my leg. Plus, my insurance wouldn’t cover it, so I passed on getting it done at the time.
But I still didn’t wear shorts much, except when on vacation, in my house or when it was 100 degrees. However, I was always self-conscious about my leg and how others would perceive it. It didn’t help that I also have very white skin that burns before it tans. So it’s like having the deck stacked against you right out of the gate. Anyway, we lived in Nashville for seven years and our health insurance did not cover my leg due to a pre-existing condition since I was self-employed. And all the while, the leg kept getting worse, and in late 2009 after a run, my ankle and foot swelled too. I elevated it and it got back to “normal” after a day or two, but I was beginning to realize I needed to do something before I had more health problems because of my bad veins. One of them was really bulging too.
So once we moved to Madison and my wife got a job with excellent health insurance, I asked my doctor to refer me to a vein specialist, which he did. The doc suggested surgery but also told me I’d have to wear a compression stocking first, for three months. I did, and while it helped some of the surface veins, the progress was minimal, especially for that long, bulging vein. The doc then said he would see me at the hospital. I asked him if it would be local anesthesia, and he said, “No, there are a lot of needles, we prefer that you sleep.”
We scheduled it (for last month) and since this was the first surgery I would ever have, I was nervous. Would it hurt? What would anesthesia be like? Would I wake up? Well, first I ha d a pre-op physical where they drew blood and asked me a million questions. They also explained how it would all work. I also had to make two more appointments—one two days later to have an ultrasound to make sure all looked good; and a second one a week later to have the stitches removed.
They called a few days before and told me the surgery would be at noon on the specified day. I had to arrive two hours early. So I did and they asked me questions along the way, then finally got me into one of those hideous hospital gowns. I looked on the table next to the bed and noticed an IV needle, and a --wait for it—catheter. Now, while I told my wife I was terrified of having something stuck up my manhood, my nerves were just skyrocketing. Why would they have to do this? I wasn’t going to pee my pants during surgery, was I? Thankfully, the nurse came in and eased my mind—it was not that kind of catheter, but a conduit for the IV needle that they would put into my wrist. Whew. I think I told the nurse I loved her. Of course, it hurt, because there are lots of tiny bones where they put the IV. But she first numbed it with lidocaine and after that it was all good.
Nurses kept coming in asking questions, and two anesthesiologists did as well, with everyone explaining how things would go. The surgeon, my doctor, was about two hours late, but finally showed up and marked my leg with magic marker so he knew where to make the incisions. In addition, they would be injecting something into some of the other veins, making them close off and therefore not pump too much blood into my leg.
Then it was time. They wheeled me down to the OR, and I was still a bit freaked out. But then the anesthesiologist told me he was giving me something to relax me before they gave me something to breathe in to knock me out. They usually stick a tube down your throat, but they do it when you’re asleep, thankfully. Well, I suddenly felt a buzz like I’d never felt before, an all-powerful one that did relax me beyond belief.
Then, the next thing I know….I’m dreaming….and then, awake. And I’m all bandaged up and laying in a bed in the recovery room. A nurse came by and checked my vitals, then sent me to a hospital room where I would hang for another hour before being allowed to go home. Wow, just like that! Despite a giant ace bandage, I was able to walk and go to the bathroom. They gave me pain meds and it was indeed pretty sore a few hours later once all of the anesthesia wore off. But it was done, and I had made it through with no major problems. I had to go home and put my leg up and rest for several days, and I also had to keep the bandage on for two days before they did the ultrasound.
At that point, I had to take off the bandage, and thankfully it didn’t look too horrible, and the ultrasound checked out nicely. I finally could take a shower, but had to wrap the leg up for another two weeks each day. Yikes. Then they took the stitches out five days later, and I was home free. They told me the bumps and bruises formed by the surgery would fade, and so would the blood in the surface veins, including the ones that started it all in 1986.
And yesterday, as the temperature rose into the ‘70’s here in Wisconsin, I wore shorts. My legs do not look perfect, but they look a heck of a lot better now.
I hope this recap helps many of you going in for this surgery, and feel free to leave comments and/or e-mail me with any further questions. And best of luck to you!
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