I woke in observation Friday morning very worried that I would miss the appointment for my spinal injection. It would have meant delaying important diagnostic information to the surgeon and another trip, or delaying our departure for home. I began haranguing every nurse I saw about getting me released in time. And it worked.
I washed my face with a paper towel, and Bryan drove by and picked me up outside the ER doors. I changed into a clean shirt in the car. Miraculously, we even made it to the 9:45 appointment at the hand clinic. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted and nervous about the upcoming injection that I didn’t conduct myself very well. I hurried the doctor through the appointment. I’ve since written him an apology. I think that he had more to say to me about the fluctuating inflammation and the strange build up of scar tissue. Hopefully, I’ll get more information on that later.
Checking in for the CT guided spinal injection was at the same desk. The admin asked me where I lived in Colorado, and when I told her Kersey, she said her cousin lives in Kersey. It never occurred to me to ask her who her cousin was, and only later did my daughter remind me that my next door neighbor is actually FROM Minnesota. Our town is tiny, but my mind was not focusing on what was in front of me. All my resources were being taken up by the idea that I was about to lay on a table and let someone insert a needle, though the side of my neck, into my spine.
They brought a locker on wheels and gave me a gown. I got to keep my pants on. There are levels of vulnerability and I think this is an important one. When they take my pants I start to get worried. I feel exposed. If I can keep a layer, even better if it’s denim, between me and the world, I feel like still have some autonomy. Even with a needle in my spine. When my belongings were safely tucked away, they clipped a bungee around my wrist with the key and rolled the locker away. I quickly noted the number 40 etched in a brass oval. There was no corresponding number on the key.
When the doctor came I was seated in a wheel chair. They’ve taken over. I don’t get to walk anymore. His skin is dark, his energy is high and bright, and he isn’t much taller than I am seated. Everything about him puts me at ease, and I think that this is how I imagined Willy Wonka as a child. Small and spry and full of energy. They made him a little more mad in the movies, and that’s not at all the Mr. Wonka I remember from the book.
We breeze by the recovery room where my rolling locker is waiting. Phyllis, my nurse, and the doctor are moving at quite the speed, and in a unison that tells me they are partners here often. Recovery is on the 15th floor. The CT machine is on the 2nd floor. I note in my mind that my family has no idea how far away I’ll be.
I’m chatting and joking with the staff. They’ve brought me some orange juice as I’ve had nothing since lunch the day before. I tell the doctor it’s the best juice I’ve ever had in my life. Everyone laughs. Don’t drink too much though, the doc asks. He doesn’t want me getting queasy during the procedure.
Once I lay down on the CT bed the banter stops. Everyone in the room focuses like the laser they are using to line up the pictures of my spine with the two red dots the doctor has drawn on my neck. My eyes are closed and begin to focus on my breathing. It’s what I always do for the scans and the procedures. There are monitors where I could see them if I opened my eyes, but I don’t want to. I want to breathe. I want to be still. The price of a flinch today could be very very high.
Phyllis has another job. She’s on the other side of the CT. The long heavy canvas covered vest she was wearing starts to make sense. She must be laying on her side to put her arm in there with me. She takes my hand.
I’m scared to even swallow. He tells me that I must answer some yes or no questions, but I must never shake my head. I’m breathing and telling myself that I will not move. I will not flinch. Not even if there is pain. I will not move away.
The Doctor talks me through every part of the procedure in a soft and comforting voice. First comes the lidocaine. They say that it will feel like a hard bee sting. It doesn’t. I feel almost nothing. Sensory loss is working for me.
They go deeper and deeper with the lidocaine. The sensation isn’t pain, but it isn’t pleasant either. I don’t move. Neither does Phyllis. Her hand is there in mine, warm and relaxed. She is holding my hand, but not squeezing it. She is letting me do all the squeezing. I am quiet, and still, and my breathing is slow and measured. All of my worry is in that one hand now and I know that Phyllis can feel it. That’s ok though, because she feels like my anchor. She’s my tether to peace. I will not flinch.
The doctor tells me that I will feel a little popping sensation as they move through each layer of muscle. I feel them. He calls frequently for a new picture. The CT scanner hums. Now, some level of discomfort when he touches the bone. It is most important now that I be very very still. There was a deep ache, but not sharp pain. Nothing that made me jump. But everything that is me was afraid. He asked me several times as he adjusted the position of the needle to wiggle my fingers and toes, and confirm that there had been no change in sensation. I wiggled them all without moving my head. Phyllis and I adjusted our grip. I tried to stop strangling her fingers.
The injection took only a moment and he removed the needle. Phyllis let go and the bed slid out of the CT scanner. The world seemed to spin back up to speed. Like we had stepped out of time for a minute. We had been running between the raindrops. The doctor told me I had done a great job. I told him he had, too. Everyone laughed.
My balance was off. And my face felt really weird. They waited a moment before they transferred me to the wheelchair. Phyllis had me speeding back toward the elevators. Upstairs, she handed me to the recovery nurses and disappeared. I was sad. However short a time it had been felt like an eternity in that scanner, and her hand had been like the hand of God. Did she know that? It leaves me feeling like a “missed connection.” I’ll never forget you, Phyllis.
Still, my face feels weird. I look in the mirror and my left eye is drooping and bloodshot. “Is that normal?” I asked the recovery nurse. She said, “You’ll have to ask the doctor. He’ll be here soon.” If you’ve ever been in the hospital you know that’s not the answer you want.
Soon, the doctor arrived and he didn’t seem happy with my eye. It’s ok though, he told me. It’s just a very unusual reaction to the local anesthetic. I’ve only ever had this happen twice. Your face will return to normal when it wears off later today. (Ever the outlier.)
I texted Bryan to warn him that I would be in a wheel chair and that the left side of my face looked like I’d had a stroke, but that I was ok so he shouldn’t panic when he saw me. We got out of there and headed back to the AirBnb. Our work in Minnesota was finished and we were back on track to depart on Saturday.
After spending the night in the ER I was exhausted. We all were. I took a long nap and when I woke up my face was thankfully normal again, though Bryan assures me that he would have loved me either way. I had been warned of possible steroid mania. The doctor said I might not be able to sleep Friday night. The exhaustion of everything balanced that perfectly. We got a good night of sleep and had plenty of energy to pack ourselves up and get on the road the next day.
Now, I’m keeping a detailed pain/sensation diary for the neurosurgeon. The effects of the lidocaine were what he was most interested in though, and it did knock out all the pain on my left side. My right side is compensating now, though. There’s a burning pain that just won’t stop. And my neck gets tired of holding my head up fairly quickly. Typing isn’t helping any of it, but if I don’t write all of this now I’ll lose half of it to the brain fog.
Time to go lay down for a bit and give my neck a break. I have some things to say about the word anxiety. That’s coming up this week. Thank you for listening.
Love and Gratitude.