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Friday, March 27, 2015

Mixed Blessing in the Crisis

From the first rays of Friday morning, I’d been trying to work out what kind of surprise Julie* cooked up for me. The teenage volunteer at the hospital had come to my room on her own right after school that week. Her Candy Striper assignment had to do with manning the Snack Bar, not personal Braille lessons for me.

Yesterday’s announcement that she’d planned a surprise to reward my progress, added a bit of joyful excitement to Friday. Little had I known how much I’d need that diversion to get me through the day.

When Dr. Roberts* arrived early for his morning rounds, I knew it wouldn’t be a routine day. Normally, I studied Braille; or if someone had time to help me, I worked on hospital administration business. He told me he wanted to do a spinal tap to check how the many medications had been working.

I’d shared with him that my head did feel some better; now, he wanted numbers to confirm I’d been improving.

The nurse reached to roll me to my left side. “Pull your knees up as tightly as you can,” she said, moving the sheet to keep my legs from getting tangled. “Okay, that’s good. Tuck your chin to your chest. Now, grab on to the back of your thighs near your knees and pull yourself into a ball.” I heard the doctor getting the equipment needed for the spinal tap ready behind me. “Pull as tightly as you can. Picture yourself like a basketball.” I pulled as hard as I could.

“Okay, that’ll be fine. Just relax now,” Dr. Roberts* said. “I’m about ready here; I’ll tell you what I’m doing and when you need to pretend to be a basketball.”

I released my hold, taking a few deep breaths. I’d never had a spinal tap; but I’d seen enough of them done to know that, while it bore no resemblance to the agonizing cerebroarteriogram, it hurt like crazy, too.

“I’m going to paint your back over the area where I’ll be introducing the needle,” the neurologist said. I felt the cold liquid being spread over the lower part of my back near the spine. When the circles of cold stopped, I felt a tiny prick. “That’s the numbing agent you’re feeling now. The same thing that a dentist does before he works on your teeth. You know about that, don’t you?” I nodded my agreement. “Good. That’s the same principle. It hurts, but not that bad, right?” Again, I nodded, hoping that the numbing would be as thorough in my back as it had usually been in my jaw.

The doctor pulled his hands back, sounding like he’d moved in his chair. “I’ll wait for the deadening to take,” Dr. Roberts said to the nurse. “It shouldn’t take too long.”

I felt the pressure of his two fingertips a few times before he spoke to me again. “Okay, young lady, I think it’s numb enough now. You didn’t feel my fingers that time, did you?” I shook my head, though my attention had been drawn to the nurse who had begun to pull my legs up closer to my body.

“Get as tight as you can,” the nurse said. “You know the tightest basketball gives you the best bounce, don’t you? Well, try to be the best ball you can and hold it there until the doctor says to relax.”

I didn’t feel the needle go in, but I certainly felt the lightning bolt of pain that shot down my right leg. “You felt that? Where?” the doctor said.

“Down my right leg.” I let go of the breath I’d been holding.

“How far down your right leg?”

“To my knee.”

“Hmm? Okay, so I’ll move the needle’s target a little. Try to tell me if you feel it this time. Tell me which leg and exactly how far down.”

Again, I never felt the entry of the large-bore needle, but a white-hot bolt of electricity pulsed down my left leg. “Left leg, to my ankle,” I gasped as I spoke.

“Try to pull tighter,” the nurse said, grabbing onto my shoulders and the back of my knees to help me tuck my torso in a tighter ball.

The third try with the spinal needle launched sharp pain down both my legs to my knees. The doctor pulled back; I heard his deep sigh.

During each brief respite between jabs, I focused on the Braille letters I’d tried to learn. I reviewed the location of each raised dot in each letter. Sadly, the duration of pause provided review of no more than three or four letters before the painful jolt. My memory couldn’t retain where I’d left off, so I just began at the beginning of the alphabet each time. I really got a, b, c, and even d down well.

At last, I felt a slight popping sensation inside, rejoicing in the doctor’s exclamation. “We’re in! Okay, hand me the tube,” the doctor said to the nurse, no doubt holding his hand out to receive the test-tube that would collect a tiny bit of spinal fluid for analysis.

“Hold still. Don’t move,” the doctor said to me. “You’re doing fine. I’m going to hook the manometer onto the spinal needle to measure the pressure.” I felt the pressure of this change, so I knew the sensation to my skin would return relatively soon now.

“I can feel that, doctor,” I said. Focus on the surprise Julie’s bringing you, I told myself, since the doctor said nothing.

Seconds later, I felt the cold, wet gauze cleaning the disinfectant off my bare back. The fumes of rubbing alcohol wafted around to my nostrils.

“Are you done, Dr. Roberts?” The snap of the latex gloves leaving his hands answered my question. The nurse moved around to dry the area and apply a Band-Aid, while the water running in the sink clued me to the location of the neurologist.

Drying his hands on a paper towel, he stood at my bedside. I’d already been returned to the ordered position--flat on my back. I drew the sheet up to my armpits, waiting for his findings.

“The pressure isn’t where I’d like it, but it’s dropping. I think we can increase the steroid a little and see if that helps. Your headache should get better.”

“And, what about my vision?”

“It’s too early to tell; you may have lost it permanently.”

“I think I’m seeing fewer chains of those colored pyramids, but I’m not sure. I’ll pay attention to that.”

Dr. Roberts squeezed my hand, “Hang in there, girl,” he said and out the door he went.

I commanded myself to concentrate on Julie’s surprise, not to linger on what the doctor had said. Not only had he suggested that my eyesight might not return, the implication of the medication increase let me know I’d be experiencing another spinal tap to check the pressure somewhere down the line.

I’d just not think about that; I had a surprise to look forward to that very evening. What in the world had this teenage friend planned for me? I could hardly wait.

*Name changed.

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