Thursday, August 2, 2012

On Epidurals, Fear, and Pain

If you're one of my friends, family, or half-dozen Livejournal readers from my pregnancy days, you may remember that part of my motivation for a natural birth in a birth center involved fear. Maybe terror. I had been physically sick entering hospitals for a while after Mom died. I got pretty desensitized because my Grandma and Aunt had several injuries in the years that followed, but the idea of having the most amazing event in my life happen in that setting was abhorrent. (But I did, and thank you Molly for signalling me. I needed the interventions badly.) 

My other motivation was OH HELL NO: There shall be no needles anywhere near my SPINAL CORD. No thank you. Needles wielding pretty inks, bring it. Needles bringing adrenaline when my lungs seize, sure. But the epidural sounded so much more scary than contractions, which I imagined as the worst possible menstrual cramps plus a charlie horse in my uterus. (They feel nothing like that, FYI, and mine were worse due to the pitocin drip that my scarred up cervix demanded.) Things ended well... ish, and I had a happily virginal epidural space.

And then about a year ago my neurologist and pain management team prescribed an epidural with anaesthetic and steroids as a last resort before surgery. I was terrified, but was ready to beg the surgeon to slice and dice, so the fear was mitigated with a desperate wanting not to hurt. So I showed up, shaking. The nurses babied me, and assured me this was routine, that the local anaesthetic would make it totally painless. I  plopped ass-up on the table. The nurses tucked sterile sheeting around my bottom, cleaned my low back, and the doctor entered. The nurse whispered something to him. Probably: "The silly woman with a tattoo right where you are going to give her a shot is... terrified of  the shot. Go figure." The doctor was one from the practice I hadn't met, and he did his best to calm me. He asked about the tattoo, and was fascinated by my rambly story of a Wiccan-Hindu design on a mostly-atheist. I was still shaky with nerves, but he was patient, and asked me to breathe deeply a few times. Finally I was still enough, and the painless, perfectly placed needle was in and I felt like a silly idiot. I was giddy with relief. It obviously didn't work, though, and the surgeon finally agreed to chop me up and cyborg me.

So now we're back to rest and waiting and trying the epidural again. When the surgeon suggested it, I felt the panic stir, but it's quieter. My regular pain doctor will be doing the injection on Monday, and he's familiar and kind and warm. He's gorgeous, which is irrelevant but so strikingly factual it bears writing. I have Valium for my anxiety, and my scheduling form even explicitly tells me I can take it.

This time the shots will go in both sides of the epidural space, and I'm hopeful- last time they only did the right side, my worst leg. Also, having been upgraded, perhaps it will take better. If it helps we'll repeat every few months until I'm completely healed from the fusion. If not, we'll talk about a spinal cord stimulator.

I'm trying to rally warrior thoughts, to summon the fierce will to believe that this will be over. Meanwhile, I'm looking into disability filing and whatever options I can. Today I can sit for a while, so I'll be getting some art business done too. I should have the new pieces in my Etsy shop this week. (It's on vacation mode until then.)

Cheers, and sincere thanks for showing up to read. I can't tell you how much it means to see your comments and 'Likes' on Facebook and Retweets. Knowing I'm not writing into the void makes my hermit-ish life bearable and creative and mine.

Image credit: Journal of Lancaster General Hospital, with an informative article about the mechanics of why my hips-butt-legs hurt.


  1. Dude, I think it's normal and likely healthy to fear a giant needle in the back! I'm SOOOO glad that the one time I had one I couldn't feel it. I can't imagine doing it when not racked with distracting contractions. You my dear, are one brave chica :)

    1. Thanks for the encouragement and for commenting so that I discovered your blog- I'm really enjoying it. The title is perfect, and the designer in me is very happy. I'm off to read & subscribe...

      [Comment deleted & re-posted 100 times because Neurontin makes me an idiot. -hre]

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