The attending team at the urgent care facility in south Overland Park whisked me out of the facility as soon as they saw my complaint. My calf was swollen, red, hot, and painful. I could hardly walk. The doctor suspected deep-vein thrombosis, a life-threatening condition if the clot they thought was in my lower leg broke free and traveled to the heart or lungs.
I’d called in Saturday, saying something was seriously wrong and that I might need a doctor. The day before, while working in the ice carrying mail, pain had started in my knee and extended over the course of the day to my calf. I thought the problem came from having to wear bulky, strap-on cleats, like maybe they made me walk funny. Since this may have been a work-related injury, the supervisor said I needed to come in and fill in an incident report. The Postal Service is an institution that doesn’t move without proper documentation.
I arrived at my station at noon, the time she specified, and waited about an hour for the afternoon supervisor to free up time for me. He filled in a lengthy set of forms and sent me on my way. The urgent care people had me fill in another set of forms and then sat down with me in the examination room. The doctor poked and prodded and gave me the bad news. I should go to an emergency room associated with the facility. It was on the outer fringes of Overland Park.
My GPS picked up the address and sent me driving. And driving and driving. When I finally questioned where in the world I was going, I pulled over on the side of the road and reentered the information. It turns out the address the maps were setting me up for was in Burlingame, Kansas. When I corrected the information, the address was so new, it wasn’t in the GPS. It took a full five minutes for the program to find the right location and then it sent me backtracking.
As I cruised the country roads, I kept thinking, wow, the end could come at any time. That clot could tear loose for almost any or no reason and that would be it for me. The sun was setting and the tawny colors of rural Kansas made a perfect backdrop for me to contemplate the last moments of my life. Am I ready to go? Did I get everything done that I’ve wanted? Did I do everything I have to the best of my ability?
Maybe. I’ve lived an adventurous life. I’ve seen wonders. Where all that goes, I don’t know and don’t know that I care. Every life is a universe. They pop into existence and end without ceremony. But all of them matter, all of them influence all the other universes that are and ever have been.
In the end, I figured my existential crisis didn’t matter in the big scheme of things and who knew what my problem was. DVT was just a suspicion.
My thoughts turned to more practical considerations. What would happen if I had to spend a few days in the hospital? If the condition wasn’t work-related, the bill would come out of me and not Workers Comp. We cannot afford such a financial set back.
What would happen to the job? In all likelihood, I would lose it. After all, I’m just an assistant in my probationary period. The Postal Service is looking for any reason to reject a new candidate—prone to accidents and fender benders, sickness, aches and pains, and so on. An emergency-room visit, no matter how low-impact, would cost thousands of dollars. This would go on my record and would be considered at the end of my probationary period.
With these thoughts, I walked into the stand-alone emergency room. The people there seemed happy to see me. I was the only patient in the place. They attended to me immediately. A doctor sat me in an exam room in a squeaky-clean and new-smelling building.
“Yep,” he said. “This looks like a DVT.”
“What does that mean?”
“Depending on the severity of the problem, treatment could range from rest and blood thinners to two or more days in the hospital with a lengthier period of recovery after.”
They had to call out to a sonographer to do the test. A quiet professional showed up about twenty minutes later and wheeled in the sonogram machine. He turned down the lights and switched thee device on.
“Sorry for the cold,” he said, as he squished out a measure of gel on my leg. Then he ran the scope up and down from the groin to the ankle. He looked thoughtful and circumspect.
“What’s it showing?” I asked.
“Well, I’m able to look deep into your leg, from one side of the calf to the other,” he said. “But I really can’t say until a radiologist takes a look at these images I’ve captured.”
I thought about that a minute. Not only was I the only patient, a cadre of medical professionals staffed this out-of-the-way facility waiting for the surrounding area to be developed. From my count, there was a front-desk attendant who all saw to the billing. A doctor, a couple of nurses, and at least one radiologist staffed the place. These were just the people I saw. I’m sure custodians, nursing assistants, room cleaners also walked around the building.
The doctor, who was interested in who I was and what I did, was fascinated when I told him I was an author. While the sonographer was dealing with me, the doctor had googled me and found my books. Since he was a reader, he ordered my two books for his Kindle. So, if nothing else came of this, at least I sold a couple of books.
He came in after the sonographer folded up shop and told me the radiologist found no evidence of a DVT. I’m not sure I was relieved. Being a fatalist, I’m more prone to anxiety than worry. I’m always ready for the worst to happen. I was more concerned about the family. At least this wouldn’t kill me and they would be spared another day from the grief and loss that would come from my demise.
The doctor explained, “What’s happened, we think, is that a Baker’s cyst at your knee broke. This is a sac filled with excess fluid at a joint, in this case, your left knee. These are common occurrences and people live their whole lives with them and don’t even know they have them. Likely, the intensity of your work and use of the cleats caused the cyst to break, dumping that fluid into your calf.”
“So, will I be able to work?” I was thinking that any lost days at work would count against me when it came to my 90-day evaluation.
“The best case is that you take it easy a couple of days with your leg elevated. If you have to work, the recovery will last a little longer, maybe a week or ten days. I suggest you take a couple of days off.”
“But it would be best if I didn’t.”
“Do you know what a compression sock is?”
“Yes. My wife used to wear them when she was a nurse.”
“Then I can say you can go to work but only with a compression sock,” he said.
The whole endeavor, from coming in at noon to driving around the Kansas countryside and the exam, had lasted six or seven hours. I went home that night in pain but feeling I’d been given another chance. More important, Virginia wouldn’t have to worry about funeral arrangements.
And those questions I asked myself . . . These aren’t new to me. At the end of every day, I contemplate not waking up the next morning. Did I do my best that day? I try, with varying degrees of success, to make everything count. That’s the critical part. I make ready for the moment when I cease to breathe. DVT or heart attack or car crash or stroke or whatever. The end can come at any time. It’s only in moments like this that I really understand how close the end is.
So, what happens if I lose my job? For a 57-year-old unemployed man who looked for meaningful work for months—hundreds of applications, resumes, and cover letters—there’s always the railroad. They pay better anyway.