Opinion » Alta States

Down but not out — A cautionary mountain tale



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The rest of the ride was uneventful. Yeah, I know. Weird, eh? All the way home I kept expecting another attack. But it never came. I was fine. In fact, it was like my little oxygen-debt incident had never happened. And rather than dwell on it, I decided to dismiss it as a one-off event. Maybe, I reasoned, I was simply not as fit as I thought I was. Maybe. And I left it at that...

I rode some more that week. But things didn't feel right anymore. I was totally dragging my ass –- fatigue weighed on my shoulders like a wet bag of cement. My chest hurt, my breathing was ragged and I was getting seriously frustrated. Where had my get-up-and-go gone? Why was I so tired all the time? It was a total mystery. Still, I refused to heed the signs.

And then I woke up one morning with a badly-swollen leg. At first I thought I must have been bitten by something –- a spider, a centipede, I don't know, some creepy, crawly, coastal thing. But the pain wasn't at all like any bite I'd experienced before. And the leg just kept swelling.

Finally my daughter made the call. "Dad, you've got to go to emergency and get that thing checked out," she said in her best 'you're-an-idiot-but-I-love-you' voice. It was Father's Day. The last place I wanted to see on this sunny Sunday was the inside of a hospital. But she was right. I was in trouble. My right leg, by this time, looked like a fat sausage trying to burst its skin. It was hot to the touch. Getting purple-y around the ankles. Damn! I had no choice. "Can you drive me then," I asked her. "Of course," she said. And smiled. "It will be our special Father's Day outing." Yeah right. Fun...

I'm sure some of you have already figured out what my problem was. But at the time, I didn't have a clue. And for the next few days neither did the doctors. First they stuffed me full of antibiotics ('just in case,' they said), and then they started the diagnostic process. I got probed and poked and CT-scanned and X-Rayed and MRI'ed, and had countless vials of blood removed ('for more testing' they said).

Then came the verdict. I had deep vein thrombosis, my new doctors informed me. Say what? So they explained. For some reason –- they didn't know why or when or how –- some kind of trauma had triggered my body to create clots in my bloodstream. And those blood clots had been carried to my body's far extremities and somehow had lodged in the veins there. Hence the swelling.

What we didn't know yet –- but would soon find out –- was that my lungs were also awash in clots. A lot of them, showed the CT scan. "They must have been there for a while," said my doctor. "Didn't you feel anything?" And she listed the symptoms: general fatigue, breathlessness, chest pains and over-active sweat glands. "Yeah," I replied sheepishly. And to think I'd been hard on myself for losing my breath...

Still, it wasn't exactly what I was hoping to hear. For venous thromboembolism (don't doctors have great names for bad stuff?) is no lightweight disease. And in one breath, all my summer plans went out the window.

And my mountain biking comeback? Well, all I can say now is that it's on hold. Given the heavy dose of anti-coagulants I'm now ingesting ('First job,' said the doc, 'is to break down the clots'), I've been strongly advised against indulging in so-called 'contact' sports. Why? Because if I puncture myself I won't be able to stop bleeding.

So no more Tunnel Vision for me this summer. No more Ride Don't Slide. But I'm not giving up on my pedal plans entirely, but it's not easy. So... if you see some big ol' guy riding the Valley Trail on a tricked-out new mountain bike this month -- going slow and looking pinched -- please don't laugh. That's me just trying to stay fit. Sigh.

Note: In last week's story on Pacific Ski Air, I failed to recognize Joe Csizmazia's leading role in the launch of Whistler's first heli-skiing venture. My apologies. A mountain mentor to many, 'Joe Csiz' deserves his own Alta States story. Stay tuned.