A History of DVT

As I arrived at casualty, a text message came through on my mobile phone. It was Mair:

“Tell them about your calf”

The thought had already occurred to me.

We had grown tired of the cold and dark of the past Winter. We needed to get away – anywhere there was Sun. My mother & step-father are the masters of the budget holiday and we delegated the search to them. That’s how we ended up in Lanzarote on Valentine’s Day, with the boys and parents for company. It was our first all-inclusive holiday, and to be fair it was bloody great. When I say great you must remember that I am ginger and spent every daylight hour sheltering from the searing heat. I mean, a redhead can go mad in 14 degrees.

It was only a four hour flight, but nonetheless I knew I’d have to be careful. I didn’t have anti-DVT socks, but I drank litres of water, and regularly exercised at my seat but also with regular strolls down the aisle. You see, I’d already suffered a deep vein thrombosis in 2000, and I knew that once you’ve had one, you’re at risk.

Just after my first son Gruff was born, I contracted chicken pox, aged 33. I can tell you now that it was the worst illness I’ve ever had. I was driving home along Manor Way in Cardiff when suddenly I was hit with a metaphorical hammer. Bang! I considered pulling over out of shock, worried that I was about to collapse, but I made it home, and slept like a dead man for about 16 hours. I woke feeling terrible, and then the spots started to appear. Big red terrible painful sores that covered my body. It’s not easy for me to show these photos publically, but you can see for yourself how bad it was in this picture and this picture. Sick huh? I went to bed, dehydrated and didn’t move for a week. I mean I literally didn’t move.

A week after recovery from the chicken pox, I was walking to work through Bute Park when I felt pain in my calf. I was cycling a lot at the time and my calves were the size of tree trunks. As any big bloke will tell you, Fat People & Exercise = Aches and Pains, so I didn’t think much of it. Mair was more concerned however. When the calf went red and started swelling, it reminded her of the DVT that she had suffered during her recent pregnancy. I went straight to casualty that night where a scan showed that I had a clot in a vein in my leg. The assumption remains that it was caused by dehydration and inactivity during the bout of chicken pox. I remember reading a tabloid in the waiting room at casualty about somebody who had died from a DVT brought on by a flight, which really set my mind at ease

It didn’t make sense. I was about 16 stone admittedly, but I was reasonably fit. I regularly commuted 20 miles a day on my bike, and rode the hills around Rudry on the weekends. Then why was I still fat? That’s a good question. Maybe it was down to the eight pints of cider I would drink after a ride. Cycling made me feel so good, that I would celebrate life with a few drinks. I always remember that at one point in that period I got fit enough to ride out with the Cardiff JIF cycle club, which counted international cyclists among its members. The feeling I got at the back of that whirring group of twenty bikes as we span out of the busy Cardiff streets on that Monday rush hour will stay with me for ever. Two-abreast, at 25 mph, we dominated the road, and simply cruised across Gabalfa Roundabout, in a rare expression of two-wheeled authority. So many times I had been intimidated, threatened and abused while trying to traverse Cardiff’s most dangerous intersection, and for that short, thrilling moment, we owned it.

I struggled to keep up with the back of the group, as they spun out towards the Wenallt, a small hillside park in North Cardiff, where they were heading for their regular Monday mountain bike fun. Only one rider stayed with me. His name was Matt Beckett, and he represented Wales in the Commonwealth Games. I’d never met Matt, but he was friendly and generous, when other top class cyclists I’d met seemed to be a bit introverted and self-centred. That’s the nature of a long distance individual sport I suppose -classical pianists are the same. Anyway, I couldn’t chat – my heart rate monitor showed that I was approaching 200bpm. I glanced over at his watch where he was registering less than 100. He was using me as a pacer to slow himself down for recovery after his weekend of racing. He was barely peddling. I mentioned to another rider called Stu that I had drink a dozen bottles of Stella at a barbeque the previous evening and he could barely comprehend it. Four beers would hit those serious cyclists hard. It was a different world.

But despite all of this cycling activity, I had developed a clot, through simple bad luck, an under-estimated obesity, or maybe there was a blood condition which always existed. Who knows? The clot was treated with injections of an emergency blood thinning agent called Clexane and then I was joined Mair on a 3-month course of Warfarin, which was the first time I had gone more than 4 weeks without a drink since I was fourteen. We were a warfarin family.

Since that episode, I’ve reported with suspect clots about four times. The first time was after flying back from Moscow where I had watched Wales in the 2003 World Cup play-offs. The other times were after flights to the Canaries. Each time, blood tests have been positive, but scans have either been negative or show minor clots not worthy of treating. And that’s why when we got home from Lanzarote last month, I reported a week of calf pain to my GP. “Probably just a touch of phelibitis, an inflammation of a vein, he advised, prescribing Diclofenac, an anti-inflamatory. He was wrong. It was evidence of a thrombosis that was making its way up to my lungs.

About 2clots

47-year old Welsh cyclist. I suffered a dual pulmonary embolism in March 2011, following an attack of transverse myelinitis in 1994. Apart from that, I'm fine. Author of Red Dragons: The Story of Welsh Football.
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