I stared at my feet in horror. The ends of my legs had turned into balloons or something, either that or I’d donned a pair of clown shoes as I slept. My feet were huge, really big. Their normal shape was disguised to the point I couldn’t make out my usually prominent ankle bones. ”What the heck?” I said aloud, not using the word ‘heck.’ I turned in the bed and lowered my feet to the floor. When I stood, it felt like my feet would explode. I could literally feel the skin stretching and it hurt. For a second I envisioned a scary movie scene where my feet would tear open and creatures would come skittering out, then put it out of my mind. I took one of my usual hobbled steps and winced from the pain of bending my foot, and the pressure of my weight on it.
The first time I heard the word edema I thought it was a woman’s name. Like, “I saw Edema after the prayer meeting, said her husband Ezra had passed.” But now I was meeting edema, and it was up close and personal. Of course, I went to the computer and typed the word into the Google search box right away. I was greeted with a rush of information about bad kidneys and livers, and some talk about water retention. Still a bit woozy from having just wakened, I figured I’d call the VA and ask a nurse what to do. The phone just rang and went to voice mail for my primary care doctor so I called oncology. The nurse was pleasant and cheerful, asking me how she could help. I told her about my feet and she got serious and told me to hang on a minute. I did.
She came back on a minute later and said that the doctor could see me in a couple of hours, but to head on over right away if I could, so I could stop by the lab early enough that by the time my appointment came, the doctor would have the lab results. Whoa. What? I told her I didn’t really mean to disturb the doctor, I was just wondering if I should soak my feet or something. She said that edema was nothing to mess with, and that seeing a doctor when your feet suddenly swelled up was the best course. I told her I’d be in and hung up.
Getting dressed turned out to be a disorienting task. There was no way I could button my pants, try as hard as I could. I sucked in my gut and still came up a couple inches short of matching the button to its hole. It was like someone had played a cruel joke and swapped my pants for a pair a few sizes smaller. I ended up leaving them undone, using a wide belt to hold them up and wearing a long tee shirt untucked to hide the embarrassing gap. I then went through three pairs of shoes trying to find a pair that my feet would fit into. Not even my loose and floppy moccasins would accept my giant feet. I ended up settling for my slippers.
There were only a couple of people waiting in the oncology office when my wife wheeled me in. The nurse took my vitals and had me stand on the scale. According to the display, I’d just gained 12 pounds in the two days since I was last in the office. I tapped the scale, stepped off of it and got back on. It repeated its lying insult and I expected it to start singing “Fatty, fatty, two by four, couldn’t get through the bathroom door…”
They wheeled me into the doctor’s cubicle and he asked me a number of questions and then took a look at one of my feet. “Gosh.” he said. “It’s really swollen up!” I thought to myself that I didn’t think he needed his multiple degrees and fifteen years as a hematologist to ferret that one out. But then he asked about my breathing and had me get on his exam table. He prodded my gut, noting that I looked like I was in my ninth month. He told me that I was holding water and explained that a number of things could cause ones feet to swell up. Among them were the organ failures I read about, but he also told me that heart problems could be at the root. When he asked about my heart, I told him that I’d been checked three ways from Sunday last spring and they said I was fine, heart wise. Then he said it might be either a prostate or bladder problem, or both. He made a phone call and then sent me up to have an ultrasound done to see if my bladder was distended.
This story could get even longer (and a lot more boring) so I’ll sum it up. They concluded that I had an infection of the bladder, or maybe prostatitis, possibly both. So I was handed a bunch of antibiotics, some potassium tablets and some water pills called Furosemide. The object was to get my body to get rid of the excess fluid it was storing, allowing my feet to shrink back to their sedate size 9 D and reduce my gut to where I could fasten my pants again. But I was also given an appointment to see a urologist. This was just sane follow up for a guy my age with an enlarged prostate. Gee. I can hardly wait for that parade of terror.
But I learned that when your feet swell up, the worst thing you can do is shrug it off. Edema cane be pretty dangerous stuff. Even if there’s nothing wrong more than you consumed way too much salt, the expansion of the feet can do serious damage to the blood vessels and nerves in the feet. Since I already have neuropathy in my feet, a hangover from chemotherapy, I felt less discomfort than I might have otherwise. I’m used to my feet being painful. But no matter, swelling of the feet is something you should report to your doctor, and right away.