Pressing the gas pedal while driving was excruciating. Bending over? Impossible. Climbing the stairs at a Mariners game? Whoa. Last winter during Cheryl’s snowbird stay in California, she developed so much pain in her lower back and numbness in her leg that even unloading the dishwasher and vacuuming were insurmountable chores. Massage provided only temporary, minor relief. A trip to an emergency room for severe pain netted an x-ray that hinted at an old disc injury and a referral to an orthopedic physician. After months of tests, a growing stack of inconclusive results and injections in her back for what appeared to be a sciatic nerve problem, Cheryl was no closer to relieving her debilitating pain.
Cheryl sat on the edge of her bed to swing her legs to ease the pain and numbness that woke her periodically during the night—she was exhausted and frequently in tears. “Mentally, the pain just wears you down,” says Cheryl. “My butt felt like it was on fire and the numbness was everywhere in my legs.” Cheryl returned to Washington state needing wheelchair assistance at the airport.
A Weak Pulse Provides a Helpful Clue
Upon her return, she followed up with an orthopedic physician who noticed a weak pulse in her foot and ordered a Doppler ultra sound to test her vascular system. After nearly nine months of frustration, this test, which included an injectable dye component, revealed vascular blockage. Cheryl was diagnosed with peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and was referred to Valley’s Vascular Surgery Clinic and vascular surgeon, Sherene Shalhub, MD.
Vascular Surgeon Provides Options
Cheryl appreciated Dr. Shalhub’s honest and clear explanation of her treatment options, leaving the decision entirely up to Cheryl. While the blockages were not life threatening, much could be cleared through surgery and would likely relieve some of her pain. Or Cheryl could try a walking program to encourage building collateral circulation as a more moderate approach to pain relief. Cheryl briefly tried the walking program, then opted for surgery because the pain was too much. Cheryl thought at the time, “I’ve got to do something because this is not living. I’m an invalid.”
A Life Reclaimed
Now a month after surgery, Cheryl is walking comfortably around the block and back to enjoying time with her 10 year old granddaughter. The two are anticipating their annual school shopping trip. While Cheryl has a bit of lingering tingling and numbness, she is hopeful it will diminish and says it doesn’t slow her down. “I can’t say enough about the people at Valley Medical Center and Dr. Shalhub, who is a wonderful doctor and person. My experience was great. It’s only been a month and I have my life back,” Cheryl says with a smile. Suffering from leg pain or numbness and you’re not sure why? Be sure to talk to your doctor. Looking for a doctor? Visit valleymed.org.
Read more about Peripheral Arterial Disease in this post from Sherene Shalhub, MD.