Yesterday, I underwent my Epidural Steroid Injections at Lumbar 3, 4 & 5. I was more frightened of this procedure than any previous medical procedures since being diagnosed with breast cancer. Honestly. Why? Because, this procedure was going to invade my spinal cord and if something went wrong, the consequences could be life altering.
I arrived at St. Anthony’s Pain Management Department. Approaching the clerk, she slid open the privacy window, asked my name and told me to “Come right in, I’ll get your vitals and show you to your room.” Wow! This was an experience I never knew before! Usually, I, as a patient would be seated in the reception waiting room for at least half an hour before anyone would call my name.
I sat in the receptionist’s office where she immediately took my BP, pulse and temperature then walked me to waiting room #4. “Remove your top, put on the gown with the opening at the back and have a seat. The nurse will come in to get more information and answer any of your questions.”
“Should I take off my bra? It’s just a pull-on sports bra.”
“You should be ok with it on, they’ll let you know if you need to take it off.”
She left the room, I removed my sweatshirt jacket, t-shirt and before I had my gown on, the receptionist came in and handed me the blood pressure cuff she had used, “Sorry, I forgot to leave this with you. They’ll be using this in the operating room for you.”
I thought that was another new and different procedure, she left the room and I sat in the overstuffed, most comfortable recliner I have ever sat in! I could have fallen asleep in that recliner.
After about fifteen to twenty minutes, the door opened and a nurse entered the room with a most pleasant smile and an aura that lighted up the room. No kidding. I am not a psychic, but this nurse’s spirit was bright, caring, positive, so much so that I just had to tell her, “You have the absolute nicest presence of any of the medical staff I have encountered, and believe me, this year, I have been through many, many procedures. You are a delight. Your spirit is wonderfully, contagiously, positive!”
She thanked me and then went about sticking my hand with the butterfly gadget which would be used to administer a relaxant during the procedure. Somehow, we talked about breast cancer. Oh, I remember how that came up. I told her that there were to be no sticks, pricks or pressure on my right arm for fear of lymphedema because I had breast cancer and mastectomies. That opened a door for further conversation. It seems as though breast cancer is so common anymore that anyone I talk with has a story to share of themselves or a close relative.
I told the nurse how unhappy I was with my ugly reconstruction. She told me she went through a similar situation. It began when her sister was twenty-four and diagnosed with breast cancer, she went through chemo, radiation, mastectomies and ended up dying four years later. She was only twenty-nine.
My nurse went through the genetic testing and had her breasts removed prophylactically before breast cancer could take hold. She told me that her reconstruction was horrendous, they were “ugly, lumpy, disproportionate mounds” which her plastic surgeon told her was the best that she could expect. She did not accept that diagnosis and went to another plastic surgeon who has a phenomenal reputation for his work on reconstruction for breast cancer patients. She said he was outstanding and she is happy with her “breasts.” The doctor’s name is Dr. Derek Shadid.
Another nurse entered the room and began inputting information into the computer, asking questions to verify the information was correct. She jumped into the breast conversation, saying that she had used Dr. Tim Love for her breast reconstruction needs. I told her that I have an appointment with him upcoming in November.
Nurse #1, bright aura nurse, was finished with me and left the room, wishing me good luck. Nurse #2 spoke about her experience with Dr. Love, “He is extremely arrogant. Some people are put off by him, but, I guess because I am in the medical profession, I see so much of attitudes that he didn’t bother me. He is good at what he does and can afford his arrogance. He’s earned it.”
“Thank you for that information, it really will help and actually I want someone who will be informative and serious. I don’t want to go to someone who will keep me entertained while they hack up my body.”
“No. He will assess your situation and give you his professional opinion and a variety of options, if there are any. If there aren’t, he will tell you. So just don’t be expecting a warm bedside manner, he doesn’t have one.”
“Thanks again, that really helps with knowing this before meeting him.”
The door swung open and a tall, dark and handsome man stood before me, “Are you ready?” It was my doctor, Dr. Patrick Prevo.
“Oh, don’t be scared, this is just my first time doing this kind of procedure.”
“Your first time?”
He chuckled and his dimples grew even bigger. Oh my gosh, when I was a young woman I never was so attentive at young men’s looks and now that I’m an old grandma I am running into some of the best looking men I have ever seen in my entire life. And, they are all doctors, MY doctors!
“I’m joking” He bent and twitched at my knee, “Ok, we’ll be seeing you in just a few minutes. Do you have any questions?”
“Well, yeah. After today, I’ll be back in two weeks for another shot, then I see you for a visit after that and then what?”
“Well, we will see how these injections helped, if they helped, and go from there.”
“You mean there’s a possibility that after the second shot I might be ok for up to a year or more?”
“That could happen.” He smiled and left the room.
I don’t know how long it was until another nurse came to walk me to the procedure room. It seemed like a small room, busy people were in there. A guy stood at the head of the table where I would lay with my head toward him, he was doing something with two monitors, one with a picture of my lumbar from the MRI. To the left of the monitor guy sat another fellow, he would be hooking up my iv and monitor my pulse. Behind me were three nurses, one was changing the pillow cases on the table, another was instructing me to lie face- down on the table, as soon as the pillows were in place. And before I knew it, one of them pulled my pants down below my butt, washed my back with antibacterial stuff and iodine then began placing towels to the sides of me and above and below my butt cheeks.
Meanwhile, as I lay on my stomach, my head was not cushioned and I asked for a pillow for my head. One of the nurses said she would bring me the “pink” pillow. When she showed up with it, it was actually a foam contraption like I could have used to support my face during the post-op face-down healing after my macular hole surgery.
Things were moving fast, but I did not think the “relaxant” was working when the doctor entered the room, “We’re ready for you doctor,” one of the nurses said.
I know I was conscious. I could hear everything that was happening. I felt something going on in my lower back but could not identify what was going on. Then I was told, “One more.” And I felt that “one more,” I swear I could feel it going into my back DEEPLY. But, it wasn’t really painful, it was just an awareness. Next thing I knew, it was over.
“Ok, you can stand up now.” I rolled off the table and stood on my two legs. For the first time in … in I don’t know how long, I stood up STRAIGHT! My hips were balanced! I wasn’t leaning forward to compensate for the pain I had been in constantly.
The funny thing about chronic pain is how we learn to accommodate it. It becomes a part of our everyday life and we forget what life was like without it.
I was wheeled back to my waiting room #4 where I dressed and waited for someone to wheel me out to the pick-up area in front of the hospital where my husband was waiting for me in our Jeep. As I climbed into my seat, I looked at him and gave him a kiss, “Thank you! I can stand straight! I am not in any pain!”
We went to our favorite hamburger joint but I asked Harry if we could just eat in the car because I was “high” from the relaxant which I had thought was ineffective – I was wrong, it was very effective.
When we arrived home and I walked into the house from the garage, stepped up from the garage to the level of our home, there was no pain. Of course, I knew that the area was numb and I had wished that this level of non-pain would last forever. I became greedy. I want it to be like this for the rest of my life. I don’t want to know that pain anymore!
I walked from one end of the house to the other, changed my clothes to comfy pull-on lounging pants, pulled off my bra and threw on an over-sized t-shirt, grabbed a duvet and squishy pillow, the phone, the remotes and plopped in my recliner where I would spend the rest of the afternoon watching t.v. and dozing.
This morning, there is a little pain returning, it’s not at my back, the discs, it’s the damn muscles which chronically spasm to protect the spine. My face cheeks were turning red this morning. They are still red. I need to watch for any indications of infection, and watch my temperature.
I think it’s time to throw on my lounging pants again and go relax in my recliner. One of my dogs woke me up last night and I had another interrupted night, a night of sleeplessness. Bad doggy!