Ex-Marine risked ‘bleeding out’ due to embarrassment over varicose veins
An ex-Royal Marine who served in Afghanistan and Somalia risked ‘bleeding out’ from his varicose veins for seven years – because he was ‘too embarrassed’ to have them treated.
Roderic Yapp, 37, from Amberley, Stroud, knew that catching the inside of his leg while on duty could result in him becoming a casualty – but he said he couldn’t justify taking time off from his troops "for a cosmetic treatment".
Not only that but the married father-of-two thought the condition was something "old people and pregnant women" suffered with.
So, as a ‘young, fit male’, he ‘stuck his head in the sand’, despite being warned the ‘thick, protruding’ veins could ulcerate and become painful.
When Mr Yapp finally underwent private treatment at the Veincentre in London last year he fainted at the sight of his own blood – despite witnessing ‘plenty of bloodshed’ on the battlefield.
He said: "I’ve never passed out before so it was quite a shock. At 6ft tall and weighing 16 stone, I’m a large bloke too, so it was a surprise for everyone in the room."
Mr Yapp, who now runs specialist leadership development company Leadership Forces, first noticed the veins on his left leg while he was at university but they didn’t hurt so he ignored them "like most 20-year-olds would".
Then, in 2005 aged 23, Rod joined the Royal Marines as an officer where he had to step-up his training in order to be selected for a commission – embarking on the "hardest 15-month period of my life".
He said: "The veins in my leg got larger and more “angry”.
"I could feel that they started up by my groin and were now starting to bulge out of the inside of my calf.
"I guess it’s not surprising when you’re carrying up to 100lbs on exercise across Dartmoor; there is an enormous amount of pressure on your cardiovascular system."
Rod’s first job was as a Troop Commander and he deployed to Afghanistan in 2007, during which the veins ‘continued to worsen’.
He said: "I remember being concerned that a relatively minor injury to the inside of my leg could result in a significant loss of blood but not deploying with my troop was an even bigger concern.
"Afghanistan provided me with an opportunity, a chance to test myself in combat against an adversary that had made fighting into a way of life.
"There was no way that I was going to risk being medically downgraded for a couple of months whilst they were stripped out, only to run the risk of them returning later on.
"It comes down to risk. Even something that significant, like cutting one of those veins – the guys’ first aid training is good, and you are never that far from a paramedic.
"So I just stuck my head in the sand and ignored it."
But Rod also admits, that because he considered the treatment to be cosmetic, he also felt ‘too embarrassed’ to take time out for it.
He said: "It would have been a hard one to justify. If you were to say to someone, “I’m going in to have surgery on a kidney stone or a hernia” then it is fair enough, you have to have it done.
"With varicose veins, the reality is that many people think you don’t have to have it done, so why are you taking time off?"
Towards the end of Rod’s career with the marines, he specialised in counter-piracy operations and completed two tours off the coast of Somalia – resulting in pirates being imprisoned in Italy and the Seychelles.
He said: "Once again I found myself concerned about the veins on the inside of my leg.
"At the base of my leg, by the ankle, there was a significant amount of blood pooling in one place.
"It felt hot to touch so I knew things were getting worse. I worried about catching the inside of my leg whilst fast-roping and landing on the deck of a target ship as a casualty.
"When you’re up to 800 miles from the nearest land-based hospital, cutting a vein can be a life-threatening injury."
In 2012, Rod left the marines and has since started his own business.
After being warned by doctors that his veins could ulcerate and would become more uncomfortable, Rod decided to opt for private treatment at the Veincentre in London.
However, he was left surprised when before his first treatment, he fainted inside the clinic.
He said: "I’d seen a fair bit of bloodshed while I was a marine, and never really had a problem with it when it’s other people’s, but I’m really not comfortable with my own blood.
"I’m uncomfortable around veins and very sterile, clinical environments, so I tend to stay away from hospitals and doctors.
"When I went in to have the treatment, I had to stand on a stool while Dr West scanned my legs and I started to feel quite sick and lighthearted at which point, I just passed out, fell flat on my back.
"Dr West was very understanding and had to adapt my treatment."
Mr Yapp was booked another appointment and he was given a diazepam to prevent him from fainting again.
Mr Yapp said: "The treatment was only around 40 minutes and although my leg hurt a bit afterwards, maybe a day or two later, that was it. And my body started to recover.
"I’ve noticed since I had the procedure that my legs feel a lot lighter and I feel lighter on my feet. I definitely feel a noticeable difference afterwards.
"I didn’t particularly like the look of the veins but it didn’t significantly limit my confidence because that isn’t the sort of person I am – but I can see how it would for other people.
"That’s why I think it’s important as a man to speak out about having the treatment, so that others realise it’s not just older women who suffer with varicose veins, but that men do too."
Dr David West, Consultant Interventional Radiologist at the Veincentre, said: "Passing out is due to blood pressure and it happens more in young, fit men, so we had to modify his treatment.
"If the veins are really big, we would tend to favour something called avulsions, which is where we take a tiny little incision to open the veins and pull them out with a crow-shaped needle.
"So I decided to modify my plan to inject the varicose veins rather than to pull them out.
‘In his case, he had a fantastic response to the injections, when he came for a follow up, unlike most people that would require another set of injections at follow up, he in fact didn’t, because the veins had virtually disappeared and they were big ones before.
"If he had injured himself in battle, he could have bled out quite easily from one of the very large varicose veins, because they are on the surface so if they get traumatised from a tear from a bit of shrapnel or something, there is no tissue around them to contain the bleeding."
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