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Simon MacDonald
Human Goodreads

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A funny thing happened on my way up the stairs

April 22, 2024

On Thursday April 18th around 11 am I was walking up the stairs from our basement when I felt a sharp stab in my left glute. It was so odd that I remarked upon it to my spouse. Laughing it off saying, “boy, when you turn 50 it even hurts to walk upstairs.” I didn’t really think anything more of it. I went about my day and I even ran a few errands outside the house.

Then at 2:45 pm I told the guys at work that my leg was quite swollen and I was going to be away from my computer to try and RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) it. I watched a couple of episodes of Babylon 5 to distract myself and BBQ’d some sausages for supper. If figured it would be okay as I just need more RICE.

At 8 pm I started to worry, my leg was continuing to ballon and it was getting painful. I didn’t want to be a baby and I also didn’t want to waste the emergency room personnels time but something told me I should go to the emergency room.

When I dragged myself into the emergency room the pain had grown to excruciating levels. The triage nurse took a look at me and quickly diagnosed me.

“I have a healthy 50 year old male with no pulse in his leg and he looks like crap.”

Yikes, I thought that doesn’t sound good but also very accurate as Amanda confirmed I did indeed “look like crap.” The next thing I knew was being whisked into a part of the hospital I’d never been in before. “Uh oh” I thought, “this is where they take the really sick people.” Then I was being undressed rapidly, while nurses put sensors all over my chest and an IV into each arm.

The next few minutes were a real blur, the doctors and nurses asked me many questions and quickly came to the diagnosis that I probably had a blood clot. They would need to do further tests to verify but would immediately start me on heparin, an anticoagulant, i.e. a blood thinner.

I’m not going to lie to you when I heard the words “blood clot” I was terrified. My Mom passed away at 53 of a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism can be caused when a blood clot in your leg travels to your lungs where it can block an artery. Now I’m hearing that I have a blood clot in my leg.

Well, fuck.

Obviously since you are reading this I didn’t die. Instead, the heparin kicked in and thinned my blood enough to reestablish a pulse in my leg. This meant my leg was downgraded from zombie extra in The Walking Dead to merely extremely swollen. It seems like my leg was so swollen that the arteries were compressed and that is why I didn’t have a pulse.

Now that I was out of any immediate danger I was transferred from the hospital closest to my house to one where the vascular surgeons hang out. Time gets a bit fuzzy at this point as my Apple Watch had died but sometime between 1 and 2 am on Friday I was visited by not one but three vascular surgeons.


They wanted to keep me in the hospital overnight on a heparin drip where I could be monitored as well as ordering a CT scan, an ultrasound and a bunch of blood tests to verify that 1. I had a blood clot and 2. where it was located. Believe me I was totally cool with this as I wanted to be as close as possible to medical professionals if the clot broke loose and traveled somewhere else in my body.

This is where my years of doing developer relations really helped. I can sleep anywhere at anytime. When you are constantly on the road you need to learn this skill or you will be continuously sleep deprived. Mind you sleeping in a hospital bed with two IV’s, a blood pressure cuff and heart rate monitors may have been my crowning achievement.

As an aside, hospitals overnight are incredibly sad places. During my stay I was in a room with two other patients. One of which was given a terminal cancer diagnosis. I felt like I was intruding on an incredibly personal moment but there was nothing I could do.

On Friday morning, I got my CT and Ultrasound tests done where the Doctors were able to verify that it was indeed a blood clot (bad) but in a vein (good). That meant they could send me home. Yay, no surgery. As there was no danger that the clot could move. They gave me another shot of a blood thinner and I was home by 2 pm.

I spent most of the next 19 hours asleep either due to relief or exhaustion. The next morning I was off to hospital number three to see the Thrombosis doctors. They explained that my recovery would be measured in weeks, not days and sent me home with more blood thinners I need to take.

The doctors don’t actually know what caused the blood clot. In fact, in 50% of the cases they never find out. I don’t have any of the risk factors that would make me more susceptible to blood clotting so I guess I need to learn to embrace the ambiguity.

All in all I feel very lucky. I’m still alive, I still have a leg and most importantly I have an incredible family who were with me every step of the way. I’m pretty sure we were all staying brave for each other but that was some scary shit.

The Good

During my brief stay in hospital I was seen by at least 6 different doctors as well as an army of nurses and porters plus two paramedics. All of the staff were incredibly kind, efficient, knowledgeable and professional. I couldn’t have asked for better care.

Also, and I hope an American readers are sitting down, as a Canadian I wasn’t charged for the overnight stay, the drugs, the scans, tests, etc. I wasn’t even handed a bill on my way out. Socialized medicine for the win!

The Bad

I want to stress, at no point did any of the staff ever complain to me nor did I overhear them complaining but they are stretched incredibly thin. You can see the stress in their faces as they are criminally understaffed.

Also, two of the three hospitals I visited appeared to be held together with tape. Literal tape. There were many parts of the hospital that needed repairs but the staff had jury rigged fixes using surgical tape. I admire the MacGyver like ingenuity but it is not exactly reassuring to notice that there are not enough funds to fix a ceiling tile.

The Ugly

While waiting around for tests I got an email from my family Doctor. Due to the chronic lack of funding from the Ontario government they are instituting fees in order to make up for the shortage in order to be able to continue running their clinic. On top of that they are limiting all appointments to 15 minutes in order to be able to serve the most number of patients.

This is not a one off occurrence, in a recent Toronto Life article a Doctor recounts the reason why her clinic of 20 years is closing down.

Unfortunately, this is a feature of the Ontario Conservative Government and not a bug. The Ford government seems to be hell bent in destroying the public health care system to replace it with a privatized for profit system. A 2023 report shows the government pays private clinics more money than public clinics for the same surgeries.

I’m not sure what I can do personally but I’m not going to take it lying down. Which is ironic since my recovery requires a lot of actual lying down. I’m looking at organizations like Ontario Health Coalition to see what I can do to help and also plan on contacting my local MPP and MP.