I noticed a few of them in my 20s, just one or two feathery red patches that enlarged gradually over the years, probably from wearing high heels every day. My 30s brought a decade of pregnancies and chasing kids, constantly on my feet. Suddenly, my 40s hit and whenever I rubbed lotion into my skin I wondered WHAT was crawling up my legs? Appearing as splotches from a distance, closer inspection revealed purple streaks entwined into webs along my shins, ankles, thighs, and behind my knees. Slowly but surely, those webs would connect, resulting in a dilemma faced by my mother — who, despite her adorable figure, has not gone out bare-legged since the Reagan administration. No, no, no… not me. Spider veins could not sentence me to a life of capri pants and nylons. As I sought advice from friends who’d also dealt with this problem, St. Joseph’s Vein Center came highly-recommended, so I called to arrange my initial consultation.
At my first appointment, I was directed from the waiting area, along with a few other women, into a small conference room. There, a nurse conducted an educational session about overall vein health, treatment solutions and prevention tips. (Oh snap! My grandmother was right about support hose … though the jury’s not in on the whole “cross legs at ankles not knees” myth.) She explained the difference between spider and varicose veins, both the result of blood pooling excessively causing dilation. Spider veins develop from dilation of the threadlike vessels within the skin and varicose from the larger ones underneath the surface. Regardless of the treatment proposed, all required medical-grade compression stockings worn during recovery. Joy of joys. She showed us samples of those available for purchase through the office, but told us we could find some in drugstores or online. Thankfully, the color selections offered more than nude, beige, or white, calming my fear that I’d be forced to shuffle about for weeks looking one of the Golden Girls.
After the group session, we went back to the waiting area until our individual appointments with a physician. Soon, I met Dr. Rheudasil, the warrior equipped to combat my personal arachnid invasion. He diagnosed me with a mild case of spider veins and did not feel I needed any further diagnostics to check for varicose veins. His knowledgeable, yet casual demeanor set me immediately at ease and I appreciated his conservative approach. He pronounced me an excellent candidate for schlerotherapy–a minimally-invasive procedure whereby a solution is injected into the affected vein–and was able to get me scheduled within two weeks.
The day of the procedure I made sure to follow the instructions, dressing comfortably with no lotions or perfumes, and bringing along a pair of opaque black compression tights. Once back in the exam room, instead of the funky gown usually offered as stylish attire, the nurse presented me with a delightful little pair of paper boxers. These super-sassy shorts allow me to keep my clothes on from the waist up, while still providing full range of access to all the veins on my legs. Excellent look. Hawt.
Next to the window stood a cart of FULL of teeny-tiny needles, smaller than the flu shot I’d received the week before. As I climbed up on the table, the nurse asked if I’d like numbing gel applied to my legs. Suddenly, the fetching bloomers made perfect sense as a potential protective barrier for the thick solution she offered. Hmmm. “Well, what does it do and how badly do I need it?” She clarified that there’s no extra charge for the gel, it’s purely a matter of preference, took about 20 to 25 minutes to work, and she’d seen just as many patients decide to forego the option. At that point, I didn’t want to wait another half hour in my crunchy blue diaper to get started, so I decided to skip it. She promised me that if I couldn’t handle the pain, she’ll stop and slather up.
She evaluated my legs closely, stretching them this way and that, assessing her ability to reach all areas requiring injection. Then she picked up a needle and I clenched my eyes shut, waiting for the sting … and waiting … and waiting. I popped one eye open to see if she’d started, only to discover that she’d already completed one entire area. Whoa. I’ve had bikini waxes that induced a searing shriek not heard outside a mountain lion habitat, yet this woman stuck dozens of needles in my legs and I barely felt it. Some of my friends had reported painful experiences, as well as swelling, so I asked about the difference in responses. She said that it’s almost a 50/50 ratio of those who feel pain, and those who don’t, and that the larger the vein treated the more painful for the patient. Patients who know they are very sensitive (or those fearing needles) request the numbing solution. The entire procedure, both legs, took less than 30 minutes. My legs were covered in red bumps, but the nurse assured me those would subside in a few days. She cleaned up and stepped out, leaving me to get dressed and ponder whether to sneak a tube of that numbing gel in my bag for my next waxing appointment.
I crumpled up my regulation skivvies and squeezed into my compression stockings, an effort akin to pulling up skinny jeans on a humid summer day. By the time the nurse returned, I was presentably clad, though slightly out of breath and a bit sweaty from pantyhose cardio. She reviewed post-procedure instructions for the next few days:
- Wear compression stockings (okay, okay, sheesh, I hear you!)
- Avoid heavy exercise or sunbathing
- Skip hot baths or saunas
- Postpone any long airplane flights (Pity … Paris must wait.)
After my debriefing, the nurse walked me to the desk and wished me luck until next time. That’s right, next time. The veins treated have begun to fade and will dissolve away completely within 12-16 weeks, but others will likely develop. The fact that I had these at all means my body naturally generates them. Genetics. Lucky me. SpiderGirl.
Note: Spider veins are merely a cosmetic bother, though they do indicate a propensity for this entire category of circulation issues. Most of the time varicose veins don’t cause major problems, but some severe cases can eventually lead to serious concerns. If you have questions about what’s climbing up your legs, get them checked out!