Monday, May 25, 2009

This Is Spinal Tap

Most of you know that I've had horrid migraines for three months solid.
After I'd tried what seems like every pain killer known to man, it was obvious that enough was enough, and Rick found a neurologist who specialized in headaches. I had a month and a half wait, but that's ok -- there was at least an end in sight.

The day finally rolled around, and after an examination and a lot of "hmmms" and "huh"s and one "that's interesting", he said I had an excess of spinal fluid, and it was pressing against the discs in my eyes. He prescribed medicine to help relieve the pressure (and hopefully the headaches) and scheduled a spinal tap.

(This is the point where most readers are cringing. I have since discovered that a study was made of people to see what medical procedure they feared the most, and it was -- yup, you guessed it -- a spinal tap.)

No big deal, thought I. I've had a spinal tap before, when I was sixteen, and while it wasn't anything I'd recommend, it wasn't all that bad. To me, the worst part was the Lidocaine to numb my back, because it always burns. After that, the tap was just uncomfortable pressure.
This, however, was not going to be the same experience by a long shot.

Now is the time that I need to say, if you're squeamish, don't read any more. AND, this is most definitely NOT the norm, so if you ever have to have one, this is not what you'll get.
I show up at the doctor's office with Rick, zoning on Valium, and we go back. I curl up in the fetal position on he table like I'm supposed to and the doctor starts pushing around with his fingers on my back to find a good spot to stick the needle. He has to get between the discs and into the spinal fluid and it's pretty much by feel.

Problem #1 -- He touched one spot and I jerked like he'd burned me.
At this point I explained that I had seven bad discs back there and he proceeded with caution (and probably an "oh *%&$" in his mind).

He finally found a spot and hit me up with Lidocaine. It wasn't that bad at all, since I knew what to expect, and I relaxed, thinking the worst was over. Then he slowly started adding more numbing goodies to the deeper parts of my back.

Problem #2 -- The needle hit a nerve that shouldn't have been there and I about hit the ceiling.

The doctor said, "What did you feel? What was that?" and I told him it felt, basically, not good, like a huge big sting. It was at this point that I started to hyperventilate and my vasovagal response to unexpected pain kicked in and I said, "Guys, I'm going to pass out." Needle out of the back, cold cloth, deep breathing, ok, I'm fine, let's try this again.
So we're still in the numbing phase, and I get through that much better. Now we start the tap part.

Everything STARTS fine -- I feel pressure, a thump as it gets through whatever it needs to gets through, then -- someone shrieks. Oh yeah, that would be ME. Shooting, searing pain down my leg and across my abdomen. Who the hell knifed me? I think.
Enter a freak out. (That would be me again). The doctor asks what I felt and where, and the pain stops when he moves the needle. And then it starts again. And again. He finally takes out the needle – but no pay dirt. No fluid. He says that's because I have so much calcification and arthritis in my back, it's making it really hard to get in between any of the discs, and he adds more numbing medicine and waits for me to be ready again.

So on to spinal tap #2.

Same thing happens. Shriek, tears, doctor blanches, out comes the needle, yada yada. Still no fluid.

At this point he asks Rick to pull me as tightly into a ball as he can to open up my spine as much as possible. I try to make a joke about bungee cording me together. I keep saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm trying" and the doctor and nurse keep reassuring me that I'm doing fine, please don't apologize, I just have a difficult back which they normally don't see.
It's at this point that the doctor asks just what I did to have so much trauma in my back -- was I in a car accident? I reply no, I trained for in 1999 for the National Aerobics Competition, which involved a lot of hurling yourself at a wood floor at 90 miles an hour. I most certainly didn't win, and didn't place, even, because by that time my body was just wrecked, but here's a video from the year I competed to show you what kinds of things I did (and my push-up compulsories are indentical to hers)....

Time for spinal tap #3. I weakly joke that three's the charm.

This time, he adds Lidocaine the entire time he's poking around (said Rick, I obviously can't see a damned thing and don't WANT to). I get that sharp seering pain and am shrieking, "OW OW OW" quickly followed by "KEEP GOING KEEP GOING" because I know they are about to give up and they CAN'T give up or I'm screwed.

Just as the doctor says, "I think for your sake we should stop," spinal fluid starts up the vial. There is cheering in the room like you normally hear when your team wins the Super Bowl.

I hear the doctor go "Wow" and he says the pressure in there is incredible, and that it's a good thing I was taking the eye medication or who knows how high it would have been. They drain four vials off in no time.

What should have taken 20 minutes has taken us an hour and a half.

All done. Or so I think. The doctor says he'll be right back with a prescription.
He comes back and asks if we're able to go to the hospital for blood work. I look at him like he's out of his mind. He looks at me like he's afraid I'll throw something at him.

He says there's a test they can run in conjunction with the spinal fluid, but it's "technically" not mandatory. I look at him and say, "I think I've had enough today". He nods like he knows the feeling, yup, he absolutely does.

Three spinal taps. Rick quit counting how many Lidocaine needles went in around five or six. Oh, you can BET I'm flipping done with needles.

The good things:

-- I didn't get a spinal headache, a common side effect, which could have required MORE needles
-- My daily headaches went away immediately.
-- My left leg immediately quit hurting (the spinal nerves were getting pinched from the arthritis and I had gotten to where I couldn't cross my leg and was limping).
-- AND, I got to read three books while lying in bed (Her Last Death, One Fifth Avenue, and I Was Told There'd Be Cake).

So. There is my story. I'm grateful to all of you who have commented, emailed, called, and sent cards wishing me well. I'm anxious to get back to decent work, and hopeful that this treatment will hold for a while. I still have to get an MRI, see an opthamologist, and follow up with the neurologist (I'm sure he's REALLY looking forward to seeing ME again) but the hard work is done. I can see, I can work, I can read, and I know I'm loved.

When Lori isn't being poked by needles, she's making jewelry. You can see her work at


  1. OMG!!! I think I would live with the migraines. Well, I've only had one in my life, so that probably explains my quick conclusion to that one. Poor YOU! OMG. Yes, I'm cringing and feeling sickly now. That is my worst experience ever--NOT EVEN close to what you had to endure. I've had three epidurals and they have done me in for good when it comes to the back. They always make me sick to my stomach (learned from the first one quite well enough to know to have something in my IV to counteract it. The entire procedure is horrid. I now sleep with a pillow on my back to keep the hub from even coming close to my back while I sleep. Talk about a sissy. Well, phew. I sure hope that helps with your migraines! Glad it's over!

  2. Such a horrible thing to go through. But I understand from the one migraine I had that you must go through anything to get rid of those TERRIBLE headaches.

    It just shows how these athletes push themselves too far and what the results can ultimately be. So glad I've always been lazy and uncoordinated.

  3. Damn! Hang in there, kid... you can do it. I can sympathize with you, I haven't had the needles in the spine but I've had em elsewhere... you feel like you can leave fingerprints in those steel bed rails you're grabbing!

  4. OMG!

    Honey, i am so sorry, but i am glad you found some relief!

    i was worried about you all weekend :(

    I;m so glad your loony bun is fine ;)

  5. Oh my god Lori you poor thing, that just sounds horrifying! But my god you are so strong, I don't know how you do it. I am just SO GLAD it actually worked and your headaches are gone. I hope it is a permanent solution and you don't have to go through that again.
    Sending all my love & good thoughts!

  6. Oh, my dear one - what a complete nightmare for you! I am SO relieved that you finally got to "wake up" from it! What a hero(ine) you are!

  7. Thoughts and prayers going out your way Lori..hope the pain is over for good... you are such a good descriptive writer..I think you could write your own books along with the wonderful jewelry... Take care, K.

  8. Oh my stars... you poor thing! I am so glad to hear it has helped though. An hour of pain to kick those headaches in the butt is well worth it.

  9. I'm happy to hear that your headaches went away after that ordeal.

  10. The hubby suffers from chronic migraines too. Even with what you had to go through to get there--- it's amazing and encouraging to know that a prescribed migraine treatment actually has given some real relief!
    And good for you for taking advantage of the some the 'silver lining' during recovery in the way of reading time, too. ;)

  11. Oh, Lori, I'm so glad it's over!

    That aerobics stuff is pretty scary too.

  12. PS.
    On the knitting with unraveled yarn: you might try knitting with a smaller needle than you originally used to help smooth out the kinks in the yarn. I've done this with a baby sweater and got good results without having to soak the yarn!

  13. Hi Lori, As a fellow migraine sufferer and someone who had a spinal last year, I can relate...Do they know why you had extra fluid? And if it will return?

  14. Hi Kim! They have no idea yet why the fluid builds up. I don't know if any of the tests they are going to run will tell them that. They also can't guarantee it won't come back, although they said the norm is YEARS from now.

  15. Oh {{hugs}} and hurray for the relief when it was over!! And hurray for reading good books to heal!! I can only imagine the pain, but after having two c-sections (with the first being unmedicated on one side) I cringe when doctors and needles and pain (oh my!) are mentioned. Forget lidocaine, vicodin, morphine, whatever... its always horrible!!!

    You are sooo brave and I'm glad it worked for you in the end!!

  16. Hi Lori!
    I read until the spinal tap, and by then I had goose bumps all over and skipped down to the bottom... THANK GOODNESS your feeling better and it's all over with!!!
    I wanted to thank you for visiting my new blog, and for your very sweet comments!!!
    I think your jewelry is really beautiful!!!
    Happy smiles to you, Paulette :o)

  17. Lori, after all of that, I am soooo glad that you're feeling better. What an aweful ordeal to have to go through. Take care of yourself.

  18. Damn, I'm really sorry it was such a nightmare -- it sounded awful! But after living with migraines for that long I know why you were happy to do it and get it over with. So glad your headaches have been relieved! Rest up!

  19. wow . . .Wow . . WOW! I'm glad you hung in there for the "3rd time's a charm" part. I can't imagine having to stop and come back another day and start all over.

    And I'm happy to hear that the headaches are gone, left leg quit hurting and you got some downtime to read several books! *smiles*

  20. What an intense experience, but thankfully you were strong enough to hold up and continue and you had a doctor that was not going to panic and quit.
    It paid off and I am glad to hear that you are rid of most of the pain and suffering.
    I bet you feel like a new person with a new start. . .
    Great video of your routines!

  21. Oh, how awful for you. I'm so glad it has helped you. I remember once when the dentist hit a nerve in my mouth and I thought I was going to fall out of the chair... I can't imagine how this experience must have been for you. Best wishes for a resolution to your health issues.

  22. I was relieved to read this.
    Thank you for sharing.
    I am hoping all goes better for you now!

  23. Wow, I'm sorry you had to go through that-thank goodness it has had the desired end result. Even though he was trying his best, I think that neuro owes you dinner!

  24. Oh geez - you poor thing! I'm sorry you had to go through such an ordeal. I hope it proves to be a permanant fix to your migraine troubles.

  25. My stomach is in knots from reading this...Yikes, you are tough!

  26. Oh you poor thing, I suffer constant pain daily with arthritis and fibromyalgia. In the beginning of the year I had a facet joint injection - not like you had - but into my spine all the same. I was numb for a while after. It was so scary as you have to sign a waiver form. This for basically says you might die as a result of the procedure!! How do they think anyone would 'relax' after that!!
    I'm glad your pain went away. I recently started (two) nights on ENDEP tablets - but I was scared of them. So I halved them but felt weird (but yes less pain) today I awoke with my usual pain (no ENDEP) last night.... sigh to endep or not???
    Thanks for visiting my blog, I really appreciate it.
    Wishing you all the best for your health xoxoxox

  27. Wow, what an ordeal...I'm sorry to hear it was so difficult to go through, but if this gets the darn migraines to stop then it will be worth it.

  28. Wow Lori. I hope this only needs to happen every 100 years. I feel for you. I have migraines but my worst has only lasted a week.

  29. Lorie8:09 PM

    -Came across this page while looking for info related to spinal taps. I go for mine on Thursday-different reason though. It made me feel better to know that I'm not the only one freaking out about having one done. I'm being checked for neuromuscular disease, and I swear my doctor thinks I'm nuts,because I asked if I could just skip right to the muscle/nerve biopsy (that's actual surgery done as a last resort to diagnosis). I would seriously rather do that than get a damned spinal tap! No such luck though. So, I went onto the internet to help calm my fears a little-uh..WRONG thing to do! Now, I've read all about sudden death from brain herniation that can occur hours after a spinal tap, and I've scared myself really good. I'm just glad to hear you survived it, and hopefully I will too! :) By the way I'm also a lori but spelled Lorie - Good Lord, maybe it's something with the name that makes doctors needle happy?!

  30. Oh gosh, Lorie! I wish I could contact you privately -- I hope you are reading this again!

    The GOOD thing about the spinal tap was the instant relief. I will likely have to have more in my lifetime as the diagnosis I now have is idiopathic intracranial hypertension (Wikipedia has a great article on it) and I can say that the spinal is worth the pain for the relief it brings.

    Also -- unless you have a really messed up back, this is NOT the norm.

    I am so sorry that my post upset you! Good luck with yours, and I hope you drop in again and let me know how you are.


I appreciate comments! Thank you for contributing to the conversation.