Days 183-189: Christmas and a Spinal Tap

I was so happy to see my cat, Cali, who was staying at my parent’s house. I was able to snuggle with her and enjoy being “home.” It was Christmas Eve and I had Christmas shopping I needed to do. My mom and I went to a few stores and I picked out the last few presents that I needed for the following day.

As we were shopping, I noticed I had an email from Josh. I had given him a letter before I left Whistler and included my email address. His email was sweet and he told me that he appreciated the letter and it gives him hope that romance is still alive in the world. He told me that if I’m in Whistler again to let him know and we’ll catch up over a drink.

I was happy to hear from him and happy to know that he didn’t think I was a stalker. He thought it was romantic. It reminded me that my instincts are usually pretty good. Even though my friends thought I was crazy, he appreciated it.

After shopping, I went to a Christmas Eve church service with my parents and three of my nephews. After service, we wanted to go out for dinner. After driving to several locations that were closed, we settled on IMO’s pizza. I love their St. Louis style pizza (think crust), but we thought it was funny that we were eating at a pizza shop on Christmas Eve. My nephews are a blast to hang out with, so we had a good time.

On Christmas Day, we opened presents with my sister, her husband, and three boys. It was a great day filled with lots of food, presents, and family. Relatives were coming and going all day, so there was always someone to talk to and celebrate with.

I spent the next few days joining Planet Fitness, working on my blog, and hanging out with family. It was nice having my car with me so I could come and go as I pleased. Normally, I fly to Missouri and am at the mercy of getting rides from people or borrowing my mom’s minivan.

It was the end of the year, which meant my medical insurance would be starting over on January 1st. In June, my eye doctor found a hole in my retina after I complained of having some blurry vision. An ophthalmologist lasered around the hole and said he also saw signs of pressure coming from behind my eyes in the scans. My optical nerves in both eyes were fuzzy when they should be defined circles.

I was told back in June to follow up with a neurologist because the pressure didn’t seem to be coming from my eyes and could be coming from my brain. I tried to get an appointment with a neurologist in Portland, Los Angeles, and again in Missouri while traveling. However, it was a nightmare trying to get my scans faxed to the correct place and they wouldn’t make an appointment without the scans.

One doctor said I should go to the emergency room if my vision is blurry so they can do a spinal tap to check the pressure in my brain. I knew this would be expensive and the year was almost over. I had already paid my maximum out of pocket cost for the year, so I decided to go to the hospital and get the spinal tap.

It was around 3:30 pm when they took me back to the room. After an exam, the doctor said the person who does the spinal tap with a guiding X-ray machine was about to leave and would be gone for the weekend. Instead, they’d try and do the spinal tap manually.

If you’re not familiar with a spinal tap, it entails a very long needle going into your spine. They use this technique when giving an epidural during childbirth. For my purposes, they were putting the long, large needle into my spine and removing fluid to measure the pressure. The best way to get the pressure is for me to lay on my side.

I went into another room, put on the gown and laid on my side. Another doctor came in and the huge needle was alarming. She asked me to get into a fetal position as much as I could. She first poked me with a needle to numb the area, which was painful as the medicine worked its way around.

Then the doctor put the huge needle into my spine. She told me to let her know if I felt pain down my leg. I felt pressure, and then as she continued to push the needle in, I felt pain down my leg and told her. She quickly pulled the needle out. She kept pressing her fingers on my spine, trying to gauge the best opening in my lower back.

The doctor ended up sticking me with the large needle four times and couldn’t seem to get the correct spot. Each time, she would give me another shot of numbing medicine, which also hurt. The pain from the needle was becoming too much and I was starting to shake and sweat. Laying in a tight fetal position and trying not to move was very difficult. On the doctor’s fourth try, she asked another doctor to come in and gauge the spot to see if he had any better ideas. He pressed around and agreed with where she was trying to put the needle.

The nurse was super sweet and was holding my hand and kept telling me I could squeeze her hand harder. I tried to close my eyes because when I would look at her face, I could see the terror on her face as she watched the needle go into my spine.

Unfortunately, the doctor could not get the needle in the correct spot to get the spinal fluid. The original doctor that I had seen came back in and said, “You’re going to have to stay the night so we can try again in the morning with the X-ray guiding machine.” I was upset and almost started to cry. I didn’t want to stay the night in the hospital and I had no idea how much this would end up costing – hopefully nothing.

I begged her to try again. She said they already tried four times and she knows it’s extremely painful and didn’t want to keep putting me through that. The machine would guide them to a spot that would work. I asked if I could just come back the next morning. She said they had to call someone in to use the machine because nobody is there on weekends who knows how to operate it. They couldn’t call someone in without a patient there waiting. I told her I needed to think about it, so she left the room. I laid in the bed crying at the thought of staying in the hospital. I wasn’t prepared for that and for some reason it really bothered me.

I texted my parents and sister and told them what was happening. Then the nurse came in and told me, “I’m going to try one more thing. Hold on.” About five minutes later, she came in the room and said she convinced an anesthesiologist to come downstairs to try. He does epidurals all day, so surely he could get it right away.

My parents and sister showed up and it was so nice to have them there. Normally, I’m in Los Angeles, where I don’t have family. I’ve had to deal with most of my health issues alone. Sometimes my ex-husband was there, or friends were there, but this was the first time since I was 23 that my family was able to be there, and I needed them.

The anesthesiologist came into the room and was very confident he could get the spinal tap completed. I thanked the nurse for getting him to try. The doctor was talking to the nurse about how he was going to try above my tattoo. She asked him if it’s because the ink could get inside. He confirmed that the needle can indeed push the ink from a tattoo inside the bloodstream. He said he never does a spinal tap over a tattoo. The nurse asked what he’d do if a patient was covered in tattoos. He responded, “That would be a conversation with the patient.” Then they got quiet because he could see that the previous doctor had indeed put the needles through the tattoo on my lower back.

My family left the room and I curled into a fetal position again. The doctor numbed me with a needle, which hurt almost as bad as the large spinal tap needle. He pressed his fingers around and then stuck the needle in. I kept feeling a strange pressure sensation. He said pressure was ok, but I needed to let him know if it was painful. Once the needle was inside and he was attempting to get it in the right spot to get the fluid, I started to feel pain.

The doctor took the needle out and seemed frustrated that he didn’t get it. He told the nurse he usually has patients on their stomach so they can open up their back, but he agreed the best way to measure pressure is to be on your side.

The doctor tried again and failed. At this point, he said he would only try one more time because I had been stabbed too many times. He said, “I don’t know how you’re handling this. I would not be able to sit through this many attempts.” I REALLY didn’t want to spend the night there. I also didn’t want this to all be for nothing.

The doctor was called on the radio because they had a pregnant patient who needed an epidural. He told them he was in the emergency room and would be there shortly. The doctor numbed me again and tried really hard to get the needle this time, but to no avail.

He said he was done and I’d have to wait until the morning when they can use the guiding machine. He said, “You don’t look like you’d be a difficult patient.” I explained that I have extremely bad arthritis and I’ve already been told that the discs in my lower back have deteriorated from it.

He agreed to try one more time, only if I was ok with it. The sweet nurse held my hand as I sweat and slightly shook through the pain. Frustrated, he was unable to get it on a fourth try. He cleaned up and said I would have to stay the night. I appreciated his efforts and was thankful that he tried. The nurse told me he can normally get them just fine.

I was transferred to an upstairs room and my back was extremely sore. They told me to lay flat and rest. My parents showed up with some dinner, clothes, my toothbrush, and glasses. They kept me company for a little bit. It was already late so they left and I turned on the tv. I couldn’t sleep because I wasn’t in my bed, the door was slightly open and letting the light from the hallway inside, and the nurse would come in from time to time.

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The soreness of my back made it difficult for me to move side to side. I regretted not taking the nurse up on some pain medicine. Early in the morning, the nurses came in and out a few times and I felt very groggy. Finally, around 8:00 am, they wheeled in another bed and told me to slide on to it. They wheeled me down to the floor with the X-ray machine.

There was a large machine hanging over a table. The doctor asked me to lay on my side under the machine. She said, “I heard you were prodded over and over yesterday.” I replied, “Yes, I think eight times.” She said, “Well, we have the machine so we’ll get it right away.”

I curled up again, the doctor stuck a needle with numbing medicine into my back, and said she could see the holes where they kept sticking me the day prior. She used the machine to help guide her and found the spot. She stuck the needle in my spine. It didn’t work. Shocked and frustrated, the doctor said, “I’m putting you on your stomach. I know gauging pressure is best done on the side, but you have been stabbed way too many times.”

I turned onto my stomach and arched my back a little. The doctor used the machine and was able to get the needle into the spinal fluid. It took several minutes for her to collect all the fluid. The whole time, the needle was painfully inside my spine. Finally she got what she needed and sent me back to my room.

They told me to keep my head and back absolutely flat for at least one hour, preferably two hours. If not, there is a common headache that develops once fluid is removed from the spine. Sometimes the hole that was created by the needle continues to slowly leak spinal fluid. Without the right amount of spinal fluid, once you sit up, it will cause excruciating pain instantly in your head. The only way to fix it is to have a blood patch put over the hole. This involves sticking another needle with your blood back inside so the blood will clot over the hole.

I laid flat on my back for two hours. The neurologist showed up and told me my spinal pressure was normal. So good news, bad news. Good news that there wasn’t evidence of pressure in my brain. Bad news, I was back to square one and was told to follow up with a neurologist outside of the hospital.

I went home and rested on the couch because my back was extremely sore. I also would get a slight headache if I stood up. I was taking Excedrin and figured it wasn’t “the” headache that is known to accompany the spinal tap because it wasn’t excruciating. I thought I was in the clear. I had New Years Eve plans in Nashville in two days and wasn’t going to miss it. Unfortunately, I was wrong about that headache.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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2 thoughts on “Days 183-189: Christmas and a Spinal Tap

  1. I cannot imagine being jabbed 8 times! I got jabbed maybe 4-5 (maybe more I feel like I lost count and no one was counting for me!) before my c-section and it had me shaking and crying. I think the hardest part of giving birth was that darned spinal block! The guy kept going off to the side and it would shoot pain down my whole right side. And they don’t get to use an X-ray machine when you are giving birth.

    Way to leave us with a cliffhanger! Cannot wait to read the rest! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know they missed so many times with you too! That’s so many and I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s had that difficulty and was shaking/crying. The pain down the side was painful and always scary. It’s the strangest sensation!

      Liked by 1 person

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