I missed a week on the blog, but I have a good excuse. Thursday, July 31st, I went into the city for a Lumbar Puncture (AKA Spinal Tap). My neurologist wanted the LP to rule out all kinds of scary diseases he doesn’t think I have. I had to run around (or slowly traipse around) this huge hospital for blood tests and nurse visits, with aides walking me from one place to another. Hospitals should seriously consider Golden Retriever guides instead of humans – much more comforting, and just as capable of answering any questions I might have.
For the test itself I was placed face down on a table, with a pile of pillows under my stomach. The Novocain shot in my back hurt the way it hurts at the dentist (meaning, a lot, but over pretty soon), but then I was tapped like a keg. I felt like a maple tree with a spout hammered into my back. Then the table tilted until I was almost standing up, and the cerebrospinal fluid started to drip out. Then the table was flipped forward, like a see saw, to check the pressure of the fluid. Then back for more dripping and forward for another pressure, then finally flat, tap removed, and transferred to a stretcher to be wheeled to recovery to lay flat for an hour.
The explanation for the hour on my back was that it would help avoid a leak of spinal fluid that would lead to a bad headache. I assumed the headache would come on soon, if it was going to come at all, so when the hour passed I began to think that (for once!) I’d fallen on the good side of the percentages and wouldn’t have a bad reaction to the spinal tap.
All day Friday I rested with my puppies at my side, because the doctor had told me to avoid too much activity and because I was exhausted. I felt a bit dizzy, but I was still congratulating myself for not getting the terrible headache.
Saturday morning, Cricket woke me at five AM I felt a bit odd, but I usually do at five AM. I tried to go back to sleep, but with each hour my head started to hurt more, until I tried to stand up again and the world exploded.
I couldn’t walk much further than the living room without extreme pain, but I still thought that if I took Tylenol and drank caffeine, as recommended, the headache would pass.
When I woke up on Sunday morning, I tried to stand up and the pain was crushing. That’s when I started to panic. It felt like an alien creature was crawling through my skull and sticking its rhinoceros-tough fingers through my eyes and ears and down my throat. I took pain pills and Pepto Bismal and drank caffeinated tea and tried not to listen when Mom mentioned the emergency room.
At some point, I don’t know when, I started to throw up, a lot. There was a pink puddle on the tile floor of the bathroom, with little islands of white pain pills floating in it. I went back to my room to lie down and the puppies piled on top of me, but I had to move them to get to the bathroom and throw up again, and again.
Mom called my neurologist and his colleague said to call an ambulance and go to the emergency room, for a procedure called a blood patch, where my own blood would be taken from my arm and put into the epidural space, to stop the leak of spinal fluid. Somehow they had forgotten to warn me that the headache would come on after a few days, and that it would be a positional headache, meaning that any time I lifted my head, bombs went off.
The paramedic came with two police officers, and I could barely get out of bed and into the wheel chair, where the vomiting continued as they carried me down the stairs and out to the ambulance. Everything was blurry because I couldn’t wear my glasses, but Mom told me later that the towel that magically appeared in my hands came from our very kind downstairs neighbor.
There’s something about extraordinary pain that makes you lose all vanity. You do not care that vomit is dripping from your face, or that you’re still in your sweaty pajamas and you never brushed your hair. Who gives a fuck, just help me!
At the hospital, eventually, something was injected into the IV in my arm that calmed the nausea, and Fioricet and constant fluids were prescribed for the headache. Then the pain management specialist/anesthesiologist came over to tell me that the OR was closed on Sundays, so I would have to stay over night for observation until he could get me scheduled for the blood patch on Monday. Bye.
The ER doctor explained, in the aftermath, that I was better off staying in the hospital because if I tried to go home I was very likely to destabilize and end up back in the ER.
Mom went home to walk the girls and to bring me some things, and by the time she came back I was much more coherent. She brought me a picture of Butterfly with a sock in her mouth, because Butterfly had run into my room, picked up one of my dirty socks from its home next to the laundry basket and then ran to the front door with it. Because she missed me.
One thing I noticed about being in the hospital: no matter why you are there, every nurse, doctor, aide, and PA asks about bowel movements. Some of them press a stethoscope to the belly to listen for interesting noises. I had to apologize to them for my quiet belly, and explain about the amount of vomiting I’d done, without much subsequent eating. I felt like an underachiever; though I was peeing constantly from the fluids, so I wasn’t a complete disappointment.
My neurologist called from the city on Monday to tell me that the results from the LP had come in, all clear. So, sorry, but you seem to be going through all of this for nothing.
More blood was taken, for some unexplained reason, and a surprise CT scan, and blood pressure checks every five minutes, so I was kept busy until it was time for my procedure in the afternoon.
The anesthesiologist came by before the blood patch to explain that this would be more painful than the original LP, but hopefully successful at patching the leak, and ending the headache. Hopefully. For this procedure there was a pre-op nurse, two OR nurses, a post-op nurse and a few other people who didn’t introduce themselves. The head operating room nurse had pictures of Butterflies on her cap and Mom took that as a good sign, that my puppies were with me in spirit.
The operating room was very bright, and huge, and intimidating, especially with my face down and half my butt sticking out. One of the nurses held my hand and patted my head, while the doctor shot me with Novocain and started to dig into my back with a needle. Then he was taking blood from my arm to insert into the epidural space, and decided to tell his colleagues about the guys who first discovered that shooting cocaine into the spinal column could cause such pain relief that you could hit each other in the legs with baseball bats, and squeeze your gonads with pliers, and not feel a thing.
Then he went back to sticking needles in my back and hitting them with hammers and squeezing lemon juice and razor blades under my skin, or whatever it was he was doing back there.
When it was finally over, I still felt like there was an axe embedded in my lower back, but after the required hour of lying flat I was eager to sit up and prove that the headache was gone and I was ready to go home. I felt like a pin cushion and didn’t want to spend another night in the hospital and risk more surprise procedures. It took until 9:45 PM for the discharge papers to come through, but I finally got to go home to my puppies and my own bed.
I was proud of myself for managing well, for communicating clearly and talking to a million people and doing everything I needed to do, but having Mom with me made all the difference. Everyone should have a Mommy like mine. But I still think there should have been puppies at the hospital. I don’t know what they’re thinking not having puppies on staff.