Monday, June 13, 2011

The Dangers of Just Sitting There

Imagine a trip that included white water rafting in the Colorado River, horseback riding in New Mexico and hiking the trails near Mt. Rushmore and the steep plateaus of Mesa Verde.  You wouldn’t think that the most dangerous part of said trip was just sitting in the car.  But that’s exactly what put me in an Oklahoma City hospital for three days in the summer of 2008. 

(l-r) George, Ann, John, Abe (not pictured: Tom, Ted)
First, the back story.  Ann & I decided to take a “see America” drive out west.  Our route would take us from our home in Greenwood, IN to Sioux Falls, SD, through Badlands National Park with a stop at Mt. Rushmore.  Then south to Denver, eventually making our way to Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado near the town of Cortez.  From there, it was a brief side trip to Four Corners for the obligatory picture (“Look at me.  I’m standing in four states at once.”) and Monument Valley in Utah, before reaching our next stop, a rural real estate development south of Albuquerque, NM.  (We were offered a free stay in a beautiful prairie home if we listened to a sales pitch.  How could we say no?).
Monument Valley (Is this inappropriate?)
The homestretch would take us through Santa Fe (for lunch), with an overnight in Oklahoma City.  But this is where things got a little squirrely.  About two hours outside Santa Fe, I started to get what at first seemed like heartburn… the burritos and refried beans for lunch in Santa Fe may not have been the best choice.  But as the pain became more intense and my breathing more labored somewhere in the Texas panhandle, I thought it best that I hand the driving duties over to Ann.  Finally, as we crossed the Texas/Oklahoma border I decided this wasn’t heartburn, but potentially something worse.  Considering my family history of heart trouble (a heart attack took my mom, one brother survived a heart attack and another brother required a stent for a heart blockage), I was sure I was having a heart attack. 

We found an emergency room at a small hospital just outside Oklahoma City.  After a battery of tests, we got the good news: no heart attack.  The bad news: pulmonary embolism.  Three blood clots in my lungs were causing the pain and the trouble breathing.  The emergency room personnel thought I should be transferred a larger hospital in Oklahoma City for more specialized care.  That’s where I spent the next three days undergoing more tests and getting pumped full of blood thinners.  The diagnosis was deep vein thrombosis - clots that had formed in my legs because of the cramped quarters of being in a car for a week had broken loose and moved to my lungs.  Despite all the activity along the way - hiking, rafting, horseback riding – it was the relative inactivity of sitting in the car for 2500 miles that really took its toll.    This is the kind of ailment that is often referred to as Economy Class Syndrome because of its common occurrence during long-distance plane trips.  It was also a DVT and pulmonary embolism that took the life of NBC reporter David Bloom while covering the war in Iraq in 2003.
Luxurious accommodations in Oklahoma City
Our plan was to spend one night in an Oklahoma City hotel.  Instead, it was three days in a hospital gown enjoying typical hospital cuisine.  I spent the next year on a regular regimen of blood thinners.  And to this day I still take special care on our long, international flights (and long car trips), making sure to drink plenty of water, walk around every couple of hours and wear knee-high compression socks.  One fashion tip: don’t wear the compression socks with shorts.


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