On Tuesday, I visited with my sports medicine doc to be tested for chronic exercise-induced compartment syndrome. I have had pain in my left calf and subsequent foot numbness since August of 2011, when I was training for Chesapeakeman/sometimes known as Economan/now known as IM Maryland. My doctor, we will call him Dr. Sports, suspected that it was compartment syndrome. I agreed with his suspicion, based on my vast knowledge of left legs, compartments, and all things medical. Also, based on my intimate relationship with Dr. Google.
I showed up to Dr. Sports’ office on Tuesday with my 12 year-old daughter in tow, who is out of school with a mild concussion. She was my TMT photographer for the day.
Plaids with stripes. Oy.
It was her job to take photos of the procedure for posterity, for my talks on the sports medicine lecturing circuit, but mostly for you guys. The doctor saw her with my phone and said, “Are you taking pictures? Oh, okay. You know you can’t post those, right?” And I said, “Uh. Oh. Sure. Yeah I knew that.” I didn’t know that. So instead of posting the actual photographs, I just sketched them, free-hand, and I can share those drawings with you. They are pretty good, if I do say so myself.
In a nutshell:
- Dr. Sports numbs three spots on my lower leg.
- Once I’m good and numb, Dr. Sports gives my leg three “nicks” with a scalpel.
- Dr. Sports plunges a rather large gauge needle in the three spots, twice in one spot, to test the pressure in the four compartments of my lower leg. The compartments are made of fascia, and contain stuff like muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. My compartments also contained Kohler’s cream donut filling. Yum.
- Once the four pressures are recorded, I hop on the treadmill and run until it really hurts.
- The pressures are checked again immediately. If the pressure rises dramatically, then compartment syndrome is confirmed.
So here’s what it looked like for me. First, I’m laying on the table, surrounded by Dr. Sports, another sports medicine fellow, and a few medical assistants. I’m getting numb, and nicked by a scalpel. Then, I am stabbed in my calf by an enormous needle. I didn’t cry at all.
Next, I hop on the treadmill. And I’m all, I could totally knock out a couple 5:15 miles, but I might burn the machine up. Besides, that’s so braggy. So I set the treadmill to 6.0 mph and up the incline a bit. By 7 minutes, I’m hurting. By 10 minutes, I’m hollering, “Can I please get off now???”
Finally, Dr. Sports checks the pressure again.
My post-run pressures were not significantly higher than my pre-run pressures. (P-values will be included in my published case study.) So, it’s not compartment syndrome. We were all very surprised, because the symptoms matched up so perfectly. Even Dr. Google said so. I was disappointed because I was hoping to have an answer. But at least I don’t require a surgical procedure that is only about 50% effective.
So it’s back to the drawing board, although no more drawings from me, I promise. I tortured you enough with those. An x-ray and MRI next week. I’ll schedule a massage and maybe think about altering my running style. I’ve even considered sacrificing a live chicken. Mediocrity is not something that comes to those who just hang around, waiting for it. You gotta work hard for it. Sorta hard. On alternating days. With donuts on rest days.
At least I’m better off than this guy.