Veins are an embarrassing beauty problem that, at least for me, led to low self-esteem from a young age. Bulging leg veins are just plain unsightly—if we’re being blunt—and there’s an association between them and the elderly which was confusing for a 13-year-old in middle school to navigate when wanting to showcase bare legs—like an un-self-conscious kid (or anyone) should be able to do.
However, the happy ending to this story is that I eventually had my varicose vein literally removed—not lasered or shrunk, but surgically extracted from my body, through an amazing procedure called a phlebectomy, and it was the best decision I have ever made. If you have varicose veins that you’ve considered treating but aren’t sure how to go about it, or what it’s really like to get them removed, read on for my personal experience with the process!
I will never forget the first time I noticed that a vein in my leg had seemingly popped out overnight. I was walking down the hall in seventh grade, on the way to class, and someone made a comment regarding there being something wrong with my leg. I turned around to see what they meant, and sure enough, I had a giant vein running from above the back of my mid-thigh, all the way down to my ankle. It seemed as though the vein had literally sprouted life overnight. It bulged millimeters out of my leg—you could see it from a mile away and feel the dramatically raised texture. Until I got it removed, I would obsessively run my fingers along the length of it, somewhat shocked that something so grotesque-feeling was living on my leg. It was hideous, and made me feel like a 70-year-old in a seventh grader’s body. I had barely gone through puberty and had veins bigger than my boobs.
From that point onward, for the next 11 years, having a massive varicose vein—in just one leg—was an incredibly aggravating, and if I’m being honest, depressing part of my life. I received constant commentary on its existence and unsightliness being so surprising for someone of my age.
My level of embarrassment graduated as I grew up. In high school, I would strategically drape sweaters and purses behind my leg to cover it, so as to prevent anyone walking behind me from seeing it. In college, I stopped wanting to wear dresses and skirts altogether. I would go out of my way to walk next to or behind someone so they couldn’t see it.
All of my friends would be frolicking on the beach in bikinis and wearing miniskirts and shorts in the summer, and I felt like I had to wear a towel around my legs 24/7 to protect myself. All that I wanted was to have normal legs like everyone else and be free of the burden of this alien-like vein.
I don’t think you can judge me, or think this is vain (pun intended), until you have walked a mile in my shoes. My embarrassment didn’t primarily come from within; I was responding to how others reacted to it over the years, especially while forming self-confidence in the tough times that middle school, high school, and college already are. Of course there is also the indisputable fact that veins are ugly—ugly-feeling, ugly-looking, just plain ugly.
Two years after college, I finally decided I’d had enough of this vein getting in the way of me wanting to wear shorts and look and feel like a normal person. I saw my primary care doctor, who referred me to a dermatologic surgeon who performs procedures called phlebectomies wherein the varicose vein in question is removed from your body. I didn’t know all that it entailed, but it sounded like my dream: I wanted this thing removed, not just treated.
At my consultation, the surgeon told me he had never seen such a “bad” vein (I wasn’t at all surprised), and one quite so extensive. He informed me that the issue is hereditary, and that veins that bulge are actually collapsed veins and best removed for health circulation reasons. As it turned out, the procedure was covered by my health insurance. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t looked into this sooner, and was kicking myself that I hadn’t investigated having it removed years earlier. It was also comforting and validating to know that my issue with the vein wasn’t just cosmetic, but that on a medical level it was something recognized and covered as problematic.
In laymen’s terms, the phlebectomy involves tiny one-millimeter incisions via needle puncture and threading the vein out of the leg with a hook. I only received local anesthesia in the leg area and was fully alert and conscious for the procedure, where I laid on my stomach so the surgeon could work on the back of the leg where the vein was. I felt absolutely no pain, only a strange pulling sensation that felt like pressure. Since I was curious and am unphased by medical curiosities, I had to see what it looked like when it was out of my leg, and asked the doctor if I could. (If you can handle it, surprisingly, it looked like nothing but a rice noodle—white and thin.)
After the procedure, I only had to wear a compression stocking for three to five days afterwards while not doing anything strenuous with my legs. When I would change the compression stocking, I was surprised by the intense blue, red, and yellow bruising, but after about five days the color was gone and I just had a few tiny red dots from the incision marks, which eventually went away. I felt no pain at any point in the process.
After so many years of hiding behind it, I could not believe that within almost a week, it was as though my nasty varicose vein had never existed. Four years after having the phlebectomy performed, I have had no residual vein issues in the affected leg and no new varicose veins sprouting up (thankfully). Freely wearing skirts, shorts, and bathing suits, not to mention just living with my body myself, still feels like a luxury I don’t take for granted and the phlebectomy remains the best decision I have ever made. As I experienced no complications and it was fully covered by health insurance due to the risk of collapsed veins, there wasn’t a single downside to undergoing the procedure and I am happier than I have ever been sans vein.
Do you have varicose veins and if so, do you relate to my experience? Have you ever considered or had a phlebectomy? Would you ever get a vein removed? Sound off in the comments!