It was Thanksgiving day. Cindy and I were preparing to have friends over for dinner. My right arm had been swollen since the previous evening. It looked slightly purple when compared with my left arm, and it reminded Cindy of Popeye’s arms. It was inflated and taut like a balloon, and unexplainably ripped.
This was what I thought a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) might look like. A DVT is a clot in a deep and major vein of a limb. I remembered hearing stories of people getting DVTs from long-haul flights, and then later dying when the clot migrated to the heart, lungs, or brain during exercise.
We went to a local emergency room (ER). They prioritized my case and I was seen by a doctor very quickly. It turned out that I did have a DVT. I had a massive blood clot in the main vein of my arm, starting in my chest, under my collar bone, and extending all the way down my arm to my wrist. The doctor told me that it was an unusually large clot. We cancelled Thanksgiving dinner.
I was diagnosed with veinous thoracic outlet syndrome (VTOS). Only about 1% of the population ever develops thoracic outlet syndrome, and of those, only about 3% suffer from the veinous type. That means that only about 3 in 10,000 people ever get this. That’s about 0.03% of the population!
Below is a detailed and technical explanation of the fourteen days I spent in hospital, followed by a more flowing list of experiences and learnings. If you would like to skip straight to the experiences and learnings, then scroll down to the subtitle I’m grateful for everything.
In VTOS, the subclavian vein that drains blood from the arm becomes blocked where it passes through the passageway from the armpit to the lower neck (see diagram). For some people, the passageway becomes blocked due to congenital abnormalities. In many cases, including mine, the blockage is caused by highly developed muscles inside the shoulder, which press the vein down against the first rib. This is why many athletes who use their upper-bodies and shoulders extensively, such as professional swimmers and baseball pitchers, tend to get it.