Quick: Name the most dangerous part of deer hunting.
The list of hazards adds up pretty quickly, doesn’t it? Most of you probably will mention things like hunting from tree stands; razor sharp broadheads or, heaven forbid, accidental firearm discharges.
By Daniel E. Schmidt
All can be deadly, no doubt, but not as deadly as what I just encountered last Friday.
The day started like any other here at Deer & Deer Hunting: Me at work, sitting at my desk and daydreaming about getting out to the tree stand. I was just a week removed from an incredible mule deer hunt in northeast Oregon, and my thoughts had shifted to the rut here in the Midwest, which had already shown signs of increased intensity.
One of my coworkers sent up the first red flag when he saw me in the hallway that morning.
“You’re moving kind of slow today, Dan.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I replied. “I must have pulled something in my calf muscle while hiking all of those peaks in Oregon last week. We put on 40-plus miles those four days.”
The morning wore on, and the pain in my calf got worse. It got so tight that I knew something wasn’t right, but I still hesitated to take any action. Then, at the urging of my wife, I called the clinic to make an appointment.
“You best get in here today,” the nurse said after hearing me describe my symptoms for less than a minute. “It could be a blood clot, and we don’t want to take any chances with that.”
It took the ultrasound technician fewer than 5 minutes to confirm my worst fears: blood clots. Yes, plural.
The technical term for the condition is deep vein thrombosis, and it can happen when the wall of a blood vessel is damaged. It can also happen when the blood clots more easily than normal, usually a genetic predisposition. I don’t know exactly how mine formed, but I do know that when it happened I was so stiff that I could barely walk.
I also know that afternoon in the hospital was a blur.
“How could that possibly happen?” I asked the doctor.
“It just happens,” he said. “Could be from a long plane flight. Could be from sitting in one spot without moving for too long. These just don’t happen to ‘old’ folks, you know.”
As he was talking, my mind was racing. Could it have happened on that cramped flight from Boise to Minneapolis? Or could it … Bingo, I had my answer. It had to have happened on Monday when I sat in a tree stand with my crossbow across my lap for four-plus hours.
It was cold that afternoon, and I immediately realized how awkward it was to sit in a tree stand while holding on to a crossbow. I really had no place to hang it, so I just held on to it. As that afternoon wore on, I was quite uncomfortable, but I rationalized “no pain, no gain.” After all, should a deer show up, I didn’t want to be sitting there without my crossbow at the ready.
Blood clots. Scary stuff, right? Well, something else the doctor said was far scarier: “Good thing you brought yourself in. There’s only one of three ways those clots will go once they break up: to your lungs; to your heart; or to your brain.”
I later learned that somewhere between 60,000 to 100,000 people die in the United States every year from untreated DVTs, usually in the form of a heart attack, stroke or pulmonary embolism.
I went home that evening with two prescriptions for blood thinners — warfarin (Coumadin) which is pill form; and Enoxaparin (Lovenox), which comes in needles that require self-injection in the side of the belly.
There is no quick fix. I will have to jab myself twice a day for maybe a month, plus take the oral blood thinners for six months. The thinners will help keep me alive should a clot break free, or another one form in the short term.
The outpouring of support of my friends in the hunting community has helped ease my fears. In fact, two of my high-profile industry friends have told me they have undergone the exact same thing in recent years. Both spend an enormous amount of time hunting from tree stands each fall.
Their best advice: Stay positive and listen to the doctors. I’ll definitely be doing that, and I’m not about to let this throw a wet blanket on my deer hunting plans. I’ve just got to take it slow and realize that there are a lot more important things in life than killing myself trying to stay still in a tree stand.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the health threats of blood clots and DVTs, check out these resources from Cleveland Clinic.
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