For many years, amma did not even know she had varicose veins.
Appa’s knowledge of health was based on that of his friends, whose knowledge was also hearsay. But appa had been amma’s long-term expert health advisor for her leg pain, suggesting all kinds of stuff he heard from here and there. I’m actually surprised that a really smart guy like appa is quite gullible when it comes to quackery, but that’s the way things are with him.
Sometime in 2005, a few months after I was back from London and started working from home, I saw that the appa-recommended balms and lotions amma used on her legs were not working. It was fairly obvious that recommendation from real medical experts was needed.
I sat with amma for a couple of days and understood her symptoms in some depth and did a bit of online research. Based on these, I shortlisted three types of doctors amma had to visit – an orthopedic expert, a neurologist and a vascular surgeon.
Just two weeks later, amma had started wearing tight stockings on both legs for varicose veins control, based on a recommendation from a prominent vascular surgeon. These stockings were a fairly effective solution – they are easily available, not too expensive and have almost no side effects (except for some minor skin irritation).
They are quite ingenious too. Using a specialized fabric weave that creates pressure on the muscles in the legs, ankles and feet, they force the blood out of the varicose veins in the legs and send it up on its way to the heart. Designed to be intentionally tightest at the ankles, the tightness of the stockings gradually decreases as you move up the leg and so does the compression effect. 113
In the beginning, amma found wearing these stockings a bit annoying. For someone from an orthodox Brahmin family, they seemed inappropriate. But finding significant relief from pain, she soon acquiesced to wearing them regularly.
These stockings, which started from her toes and extended up all the way to the knee, were quite tight. Putting them on could be difficult unless you used a simple but intricate process – brute force will not work as I discovered to my chagrin before I learnt the trick. As Amma could not wear them on her own, I had to help her wear them everyday.
Fig 36: Amma’s varicose veins stockings
I have helped her put on her varicose veins stockings for over 10 years. While I considered this a chore in the beginning, over time I tried to learn something from the process. During her final few months, every time I put on her stockings I took a few seconds to observe her legs – a part that had been giving her immense trouble for decades – hoping to find some clues. I didn’t really discover much, except that her calves and feet looked really healthy from outside. 114 It was also obvious from these observations that the varicosity in her veins had decreased significantly in their intensity compared to what they were about ten years earlier – and so had her pains from this ailment.
But there was an unexpected benefit from closely observing her feet and legs every day while putting on the stockings. Many with weak hearts can have fluid build up in their bodies because their hearts might not be able to pump blood around the body properly – if such fluid retention happens in the lungs it can become life-threatening.
Ankles and feet are some of the common parts of the body where such fluid build up happens in the early stages. Sometimes, it could take a couple of days for the feet to swell large enough for anyone to realize that there was a fluid buildup. But as I was observing her feet closely while putting on the tight stockings, I was able to identify the swellings quite early a couple of times and ensured that amma took the relevant pills properly. 115
113. There are different types of these stockings, varying from mild compression to high compression, those that reach only until the knee and those that extend beyond, and made from different materials such as cotton, nylon, spandex etc. Depending on the specific condition and user profile, it is necessary to customise the appropriate type of stocking.
114. This was not fully true during nights when I took off her stocking. Many nights, I would discover some bulging, bluish veins especially in her feet. These would temporarily disappear when I massaged her calves by pushing up the blood towards the knees.
115. A class of medicines called diuretics is used to prevent fluid build ups. They do this getting rid of sodium and water from the body. Most of them work by making the kidneys release more sodium into your urine. The sodium takes with it water from the blood, decreasing the overall amount of fluid flowing through your veins and arteries.
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