I'm not a squeamish person. I watch educational shows that contain "graphic medical procedures" and stare happily at every detail. By any measure, I have a high tolerance for biology. Except. Except when it comes to me. Inconveniently, I am phobic about any medical procedures performed upon my own self, even if they don't hurt, or involve only the most minimal and brief discomfort. It's completely annoying.
This is why, although I've been accumulating spider veins on my legs since I was in high school, I've never had them treated. I alternate between wearing long pants all the time and, on the hottest days of summer, just saying F it, and exposing my pasty, blue cheese thighs to the world. If you don't like them, look somewhere else.
On two occasions, I did go for sclerotherapy treatments. The first time, after a few injections I started to feel faint, and I never went back. The second time, many years later, I didn't even make it through the consultation.
This time though. This time I'm determined to be brave, and to go through with it.
I found a clinic two blocks away from where I work. The doctor has rave reviews on RateMDs.com. I made an appointment. I spent time during the two weeks before the consultation visualizing how the appointment was going to go, and talking myself through it. "You're going to be in an examination room with people in scrubs. You're going to wear shorts. They will run an ultrasound thingy up and down your legs [*rubs own knuckles against legs*] like this. See, that doesn't hurt, does it? Then you will talk to the doctor. You will be totally fine."
And that is more or less how it went. Except for the totally fine part. Because I had forgotten how strongly a phobia can surge up from one's subconscious and start calling the shots.
My self-talk: "You're doing great! Hey, look out the window! Isn't that a nice view? Look, you can see our office right there. I wonder what's happening at work."
My subconscious: "AAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
I was keeping it together until the doctor asked me to look at the ultrasound screen. He pointed at an area that was pulsing red. "See that?" he said. "That's why your left leg is worse than your right. That's where your blood is flowing in the wrong direction." (Emphasis mine.) Basically he was showing me that in one of my main veins the valves were slightly degraded, and therefore the blood that should have been flowing back up to my heart to be re-oxygenated was in part flowing back downhill whenever his assistant gently squeezed my thigh. I can write that now and find it interesting and not terribly threatening, but when I was standing right there I heard "Your essential, life-giving blood vessels are rotting within your aging flesh, and soon you shall suffer and die in horrible pain."
So then we had to take a little break while I laid down on the examination table, sweating profusely and apologizing to the doctor and his assistant for making their lives difficult. They gave me a cup of cold water and a wet cloth for my forehead, and left me alone to stare at the ceiling and contemplate my failure.
Just think of how badly things would have gone if I hadn't mentally prepared myself, right?
Anyway, I did recover enough to complete the examination. Then the doctor had a little chat with me while I carefully sipped my cup of water and concentrated on not freaking out. Every time he said "saphenous vein" it got a little harder to wrangle my flight reflex. But somehow I got through it. Yay me!
The upshot of his diagnosis is that my veins are just good enough that if we treat them now I can avoid the more expensive treatment which would be necessary down the road if I keep ignoring the situation. And, if I ignore it indefinitely, it could progress from a cosmetic problem to a medical problem, with painful varicosities and even the potential for skin ulcers. No more sticking my head in the sand. I've got to deal with it now.
So, I went out to the reception desk to order two pairs of super-expensive compression stockings ($150 per pair - mercy!), and book the appointment for my first treatment, in June. I can expect bruising, soreness, and possible discolouration of the skin in the area which may take up to a year to fully resolve. Fantastic. I will also have to wear the super-expensive compression stockings for weeks after each treatment, and I expect that they won't be super-comfortable. (I ordered thigh-highs instead of pantyhose, because the less of me that gets compressed the happier I am.)
Oh, and also, because I have protein C deficiency, which I never thought much about, but which is actually a clotting disorder, I have to take blood thinners before (and after? I'm not sure yet) the treatments. I am slightly terrified by the blood thinner (Xarelto). Maybe it will be fine. Or maybe I'll have a stroke and die, like Joan Didion's daughter. (On the other hand if I don't take it, I could get a blood clot and die. Six of one, a half-dozen of the other.)
All in all, I'm being a total wuss about my first foray into middle-aged-person medical procedures. I guess that's just how it goes. You start small, with vein treatments, and work up to the bigger stuff, like knee replacements or any diagnosis that has the motto "It's not a death sentence anymore, but it's a life sentence." I hope that the repeated visits to the vein clinic will function as exposure therapy for my phobia. Either way, I'm going to be brave, and I'm going to get through it.