My Afternoon at the ER

Long time, no blog. Can’t blame it on work: two humongous editing jobs just arrived, but for the last couple of weeks “work” has been a less-than-arduous proofread.

I’m blaming it on my left leg.

A month ago my left leg looked and behaved just like my right leg. It bent and flexed in all the same places. It walked upstairs and down, climbed in and out of the car, strode vigorously down the trail and occasionally even sprinted.

Over the course of July that changed. My left knee swelled up. It screeched at unexpected times. A charleyhorse took up permanent residence in my left calf. The swelling spread down my leg to my foot. The last time my foot got that big was when I sprained my ankle wicked bad about 20 years ago.

My #1 workspace, aka the blue chair

My #1 workspace, aka the blue chair

I’d got into some sloppy habits during my extremely busy June. I work in my blue chair. The laptop sits on the lapdesk, but because the chair’s arms aren’t quite long enough to support the lapdesk, the lapdesk occasionally winds up resting on my left knee. Left knee put up with this for a while but then started to protest by feeling sore and starting to swell.

Uh-oh. Nothing like a little pain to cure a girl of sloppy, so I started being more careful. I rarely sit in the same position for more than an hour, but now I stood up more often, massaged the knee, used an ice pad, and (of course) kept the lapdesk off my knee.

The blue chair came into my life as the result of a similar sequence of events last winter. Its predecessor, the comfy purple chair, had broken. Sitting in it for several hours a day, day in, day out, threw my back out of whack. It got so bad that I could barely get out of bed in the morning. It took almost 10 minutes to put on one sock. So I stopped sitting in the chair. I discovered Advil. I got some back-strengthening exercises and did them religiously.

A month later I could barely remember what the back pain felt like.

Note especially the difference between left knee and right, and left foot and right.

Note especially the difference between left knee and right, and left foot and right.

This trusty protocol — stop the stupid thing you’re doing and take steps to heal the damage — didn’t work this time. The leg got more swollen. By the middle of the past week, Travvy’s and my usually three- to four-mile brisk morning walk was down to one very slow mile. I had no idea what was going on, my left leg was so swollen that my right leg looked scrawny (trust me, it isn’t), and it wasn’t getting better.

On Friday I called Island Health Care, my primary care provider — which I hadn’t visited since 2008, when I needed to have a complete physical before the Cape Cod Eye Surgery & Laser Center would agree to get rid of my cataract. I got an appointment for 10:30 Saturday morning.

A little after 10 yesterday morning, I headed for the Triangle in Edgartown. I told Travvy I’d be home soon. He probably thought, Yeah, right — do you have any idea what “soon” means? In this case I definitely lied: I didn’t get home till almost 6:30.

The nurse practitioner at the clinic took my vital signs, looked at my leg, felt it here and there, and said she couldn’t tell what was going on but that it might be a blood clot and I should go to the ER. Off I went.

Long story short: Ultrasounding a whole leg takes a while, then the results have to be sent to Boston to be read. What-ifs wandered through my mind: What if it is a blood clot? Do I have to have surgery? Will they let me go home? What about Travvy? Maybe I should get a cell phone?

I managed to push all of the above to the very edge of my mind because I was reading Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention on my Nooky. All the same, it was a big relief when Dr. Stedman arrived with the good news that I did not have a blood clot. I did have a Baker’s cyst — a pocket of synovial fluid behind the knee, which may have been caused by my sloppy work habits — and the Baker’s cyst seemed to have ruptured, spilling out synovial fluid (whose purpose is to keep the knee joints lubricated) and causing the swelling in my lower leg and foot.

She thought, however, that something else was going on. She extracted some vile yellow-green fluid from my knee. Had I ever had Lyme? No, I said. I’m one of the few people I know who hasn’t had it. She drew blood for a Lyme test.

Tick tick tick

Tick tick tick

Guess what? I’ve got it. According to the test, it was a recent exposure. I get bitten by ticks fairly often, both dog ticks and the Lyme-bearing deer ticks, but I usually feel them biting me and so get them off promptly. Maybe I missed one. Maybe I got the body but left the head behind. Either way, I didn’t notice a rash anywhere; on the other hand, I have poison ivy here and there and maybe one of those rashes was Lyme-related. I knew from the experience of many friends and acquaintances that Lyme is a trickster and can manifest in myriad ways. While I was watching for flu-ish symptoms and general achiness, the damn thing manifested in my swollen knee. Yes, indeed: Lyme can take up residence in a particular joint and leave you feeling generally OK except in that particular joint.

Around 5:30 I was discharged, along with two tabs of doxycycline, a prescription for 20 more, and detailed instructions about Lyme disease, Baker’s cysts, and doxy. I stopped by Cumby’s for milk on the way home. Travvy got his supper very late, but he doesn’t seem to hold it against me.

General musings: The waiting was long, but I didn’t mind it until the charge on my Nooky ran out and I couldn’t read. Next time take a hardcopy book or magazine for backup.

Good diagnosing by Dr. Stedman. The combination of Lyme symptoms and ruptured-Baker’s-cyst symptoms could easily have thrown her off the track. Living on Martha’s Vineyard makes me more susceptible to Lyme, but it also increases my chances of encountering medical professionals who know Lyme’s trickster qualities well enough to keep an open mind.

Thank heavens for Commonwealth Care. For almost 25 years, until 2008, I had “major medical” insurance (useless for preventive care and for anything short of a major medical emergency) or no insurance at all. If I hadn’t had it, I would have waited even longer before getting checked out. The possibility of a blood clot wouldn’t have occurred to me. Lyme might have taken up permanent residence in my body. With the co-pays and the drugs, this episode is going to put a little dent in the checking account — but the $100 co-pay for the ER is a whole lot less than the cost of ultrasounding and blood-testing.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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8 Responses to My Afternoon at the ER

  1. Hal Davis says:

    “Thank heavens for Commonwealth Care.” This is the Mass. version of the Affordable Care Act that Romney tried to disown? Glad it worked for you. And can you get a longer lap table?


    • Yep, Commonwealth Care is Romney’s baby, one of the models for the ACA. I’m told ACA has some of the same liabilities, like above a certain income level (ca. $31K for a single person in Mass.), you’re SOL: you don’t qualify any more but you can’t afford commercial insurance. I think the ACA limit is higher, closer to $40K.

      What I need is arm extenders for my chair so the lapdesk will rest entirely on them and not need my knee to support it. I’ve got another lapdesk with a padded bottom, but it’s not long enough to accommodate both my laptop and my wireless mouse (I hate touchpads).


  2. Juleann says:

    Wow! What a story. Thanks for sharing it — it is simply a good example of what we all need to be aware of when it comes to Lyme. Sneaky bastards!


  3. wendy s. palmer says:

    Yikes, Susanna! Hope meds work fast. I’ve never had Lyme but Alex had it twice, got over it pretty fast. Thinking of you all singing into the sunset (at least the colors of it) tonight. We miss it. Take care of yourself! See you late August.



    • Doxy worked fine for Rhodry and Travvy; here’s hoping it works for me. 🙂 Weather at the lighthouse was like last year, overcast, but like last year the rain held off. We sounded good, even though the strongest altos weren’t there. The soprano section this year is unbelievable. Come back soon!


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