Tuesday, January 12, 2016


About six hours into the first of many flights from San Francisco to Bangalore, India a few weeks ago, my left calf started to hurt. By the time we arrived at G's cousins' home in Bangalore, the pain had spread from my knee to my toes, which were now numb. Instead of easing, the pain continued day after day. By about day three, I decided to call my mom. She quickly offered advice for icing the leg (my calf to be precise), keeping the leg over my heart, and using heated compresses. But what I really wanted to know was if leg/foot pain and numbness was something she usually encountered when traveling long distances. Despite her own foot pain, my mom is an avid traveler. She didn't think this was a normal occurrence.

So things didn't seem to be quite right. I had not experienced this level of pain while flying before. And it didn't seem to be easing up anytime soon. While at lunch on day four, the pain was so acute, I didn't know what to do. Fortunately, the restaurant was above a hair salon. Down in the salon, we convinced the pedicurist to massage my calves and feet. But nothing seemed to help. Where could I find a foam roller, my usual go to cure for leg cramping and pain? Surely Bangalore had its fair share of gyms and yoga studios. Maybe I could talk my way in? But then I thought, maybe at this point I should just leave the calf alone and try to enjoy India.

(this man definitely seems to be enjoying Bangalore)

Still writhing in pain, unable to sleep, I came out into the living room (where I got wifi signal) at about 5am on day five. Just then my phone began to beep. A lot. The messages started coming through. Mom had talked to dad (a doctor) and it seemed to them that I had a common traveler's condition: a deep vein thrombosis, or blood clot. I had all the symptoms. And I was taking a medication that additionally put me at risk. It seemed to them to be a no brainer: get to a hospital and get a doppler (ultrasound) of my left calf. But I'm in Bangalore. This is a lot easier said than done.

I called my mom. She started to tell me that I needed to seek medical attention asap. "This must be serious," I thought. My family has never been one to actually go to the emergency room or even the doctor's office. I basically have to be unconscious before having myself checked out my a medical professional. And then mom started telling me about all the people she knew about who had blood clots and died. Friends of friends. Friends of friends' children. Even famous journalists. Do you remember David Bloom? He died of a blood clot. Each name pushed me further and further into panic mode.

I immediately woke up Rama and Neetu. "I need to get to the hospital," I said. "I might have a blood clot." We jumped into the car for a quick (by India standards) ride, eventually walking into the Emergency Room of Apollo Hospital at a little past 6am. I walked right up to a Doctor. "I need to get checked for a DVT," I said. Then I sat down on a bed. I put on a gown. And I immediately spoke with two very sympathetic doctors. They ordered an EKG and a doppler.

Making the best of a scary situation

The key to the doppler (ultrasound) is to compare legs; one in significant pain against one without pain. The tech rubbed the wand up and down my leg, taking photos. The assistant positioned my leg for the tech and did as he said. When the tech first said "compress" the assistant squeezed my thigh. When the tech again said "compress" the assistant squeezed my calf. I immediately screamed out in pain. I'd never felt pain like that before. The assistant looked at me. "What happened?" she asked. I was speechless, trying to mouth the words. "The reason, I'm here...the pain...is here...don't squeeze...the pain...is here." She gave me a quizzical look and continued on. "Oh well," I thought, "at least the photos will be accurate."

A copy of the doppler ultrasound of my legs

In the end, there was no blood clot. I would be in and out of the hospital in less than three hours. There was no admission to the hospital during our vacation; no damage to my heart, lungs, or brain. So why the pain? Why the unending, un-ignorable pain? No answer. The prescribed treatment for my pain? Ibuprofen. Plus a referral to see a neurologist back in the US. Because the pain is most likely neuropathy related.

After checking out of the hospital, handwritten intake forms in tow, I stopped by the pharmacy for yet more ibuprofen. "How many do you want?" the pharmacy tech asked me. I pointed to the sheet of six pills in her hand. "5 rupees," she said. I handed her a 10 rupee note. When I went to take my change, she began to hand me a handful of candy. "No change," she told me. I was quick to reply. "No candy," I said. "I'll take six more pills." So she handed me five more pills and a piece candy. India, where you get change in the form of candy.

That night, before going to bed, I quickly checked my email as I usually do. In my inbox sat an article "sent from mom" entitled, "The legacy of reporter David Bloom - News." It's actually an interesting read.

Thanks, mom.

To see more of our non-hospital related photos from a somewhat epic journey to India, they can be found online here.

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