Friday, May 4, 2012


Getting an epidural in the top of your spine is about as fun as a root canal. This week I had the pleasure of having my second one in four weeks. Am I special or what?

Now the procedure itself is frightening - at least to me. I am lying on a table face down completely covered with a sterile drape, in room with two doctors, two residents, monitors, and cameras. The procedure is recorded by a camera and monitored live on the screen (so the doctor is not just fishing around in there blind - thank God for modern medicine). The commentary goes like this, "Should we use 1% or 2% lidocaine?" "Are you in position?" (Says one doctor to another.)

Then the procedure starts. All the time I am aware that they are going to stick a long needle down my spine to inject some solid mystery medication that should give me some pain relief  - if they get it in the precise spot. Keeping in mind that one small misstep can pierce the spinal cord, hit some vital nerve, and the higher on the neck the more critical that part of the nervous system is in my spine. Of course they are constantly reassuring me that they do this procure all the time. Hey, I drive 80 miles an hour up and down the interstate all the time, that doesn't mean some unexpected "little issue" isn't going to occur.

"Steady, steady. Now, careful as you enter that part." All I can think of is high school biology - what part? Then the doctor tells me, "You should only feel pressure. If you feel a sharp pain, let us know immediately." About that time, what felt like a bolt of lightening went through me. "I think I just felt that pain." "Give her another injection." I found myself constantly making sure I still had feeling in my arms and legs. The pain happened two more times, followed by more injections. After hearing more, "Easy's, more to the left's, remember where you are's, not there's, and slowly's", they finally completed the procedure.

In the recovery area, the nurse appeared and started taking my temperature, my blood pressure, and my pulse. She was not as calm, cool, and collected as the doctors. Although she was friendly, I found her not really tuned in on me as a patient.  She had my chart in front of her the entire time I was there, however, she constantly forgot that this was my second epidural. I would find her launching off onto an explanation of what happened during the procedure and what I could expect in the next few days. I would politely remind her that I just went through this three weeks ago. "Oh, that's right. What am I thinking?" You're not. 

When she returned to my bedside, her first words were, "Now you realize it will take 5 to 7 days before you begin to feel any effects." The look on my face must have reminded her. "Oh, that's right you've been through this." Then she proceeded to give me a list of everything I was prohibited from doing for the next 48 hours. (Nothing had changed on the list in four weeks.)

Her lack of attention aside, I did not want to think about the consequences of veering from the list. Come to think of it, I felt in much better in the hands (literally) with the team of doctors even under those circumstances. At least they remembered I had been there.  

Finally, I was released, very thankful for modern medicine that affords me pain relief. I have great faith in these doctors. However, next time I go through this (and there will be a next time) I imagine I will be no less frightened.

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