Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Listening to that Inner Voice…

Sometimes you never know what life has in store for you. I found out first hand when my own personal health issues played out several months ago. At a time when my focus was on my wife and me celebrating our wedding anniversary I was confronted with a possible life threatening condition.

After extensive traveling by plane and car earlier this year for business as well as pleasure I was surprised to suffer pain in my right calf early one morning as I was walking up stairs in my home. I didn’t do anything strenuous to aggravate my calf, it just happened.

As it turned out I did not have a heavy schedule on that day so I decided to lie down, watch television and relax until the pain subsided. Keep in mind that I played professional football for 13 years and with high school and college ball 21 years, so I naturally developed a very high tolerance for pain having sustained an assortment of ankle sprains, hyper extended knees and elbows. Throughout those years of playing I had been trained to tolerate pain. Not just to tolerate it but to play games with pain on Sunday afternoons was like wearing a badge of honor. As the day was wearing on the pain eased a little but I was still having a problem just standing independent of holding on to something to maintain my balance.

During the course of the day I shrugged my wife's suggestions to go to the hospital. I kept saying I'm okay, it will be alright. But at some point I started to think that it was strange to have a severe cramp like I thought I had last for the better part of the day. At that point I began to wonder if it was something more than what I was thinking it was. It was at that time that I had to shed the whole football tough guy mindset. So I got up, shaved and got dressed. When my wife saw me, she asked me "where are you going?" I replied, "I’m going to the hospital's emergency room”. I was so certain that all was well that I stopped at my dry cleaners to pick up clothes I had dropped off the previous week to be cleaned. The trip to the emergency room was a “it's better to be safe than sorry” trip to ease my own mind.

When we arrived and checked in I described my symptoms to the doctor on call. He ordered an ultra sound that showed I had developed blood clots in my leg. With that diagnosis I immediately lost the smile that I had on my face when I was first wheeled into the emergency room. He then requested an MRI of my chest. When that test was completed I was informed that I had a double dose of trouble with clots in my lungs as well. Wow! You could have knocked me over with a feather!  With the diagnosis it became abundantly clear to me that I was a mere mortal and not the Superman I had a tendency to feel like when I was on the football field many years ago. It was quickly setting in that if had I done nothing and stayed in bed, the possibility of having a stroke or heart attack was very real. I began to think of NBC Newsman David Bloom who died as a result of being in very cramped quarters of a tank as he was embedded with troops during the invasion of Iraq. I also thought of former defensive end Dwight White one fourth of the famed Pittsburgh Steelers "Steel Curtain" defense of the 1970s who also passed away several years ago as a result of blood clots in his lungs.

I feel very fortunate that for once I was wise enough to listen to the better sense in me to go to the hospital to be better safe than sorry! Most men are born with a stubborn gene that prohibits us from asking for directions when we are obviously lost. That gene also makes old football players like me "suck it up" and not acknowledge when we are in pain or in need of help.

I am happy to report that with some lifestyle changes (like stopping more often to stretch my legs when going on very long car trips) and blood thinning medication for about the next 6 months my doctors and I expect me to make a full recovery.

I share my personal experience with you for one major reason. I hope many of the men who read this article listen to their own bodies when they are in distress or in pain. What might seem minor initially could end up being something that we never counted on. For me, it was better to err on the side of caution than pay the ultimate price for being either stubborn or pretending to be a macho man.