Monday, June 16, 2014


The past week has been ripe with dread and eager anticipation.

Yeah, I've been torn in two: One part of me fearing that my monday morning meeting with a specialist would result in him telling me that I need to get a steroid injection in the disc that is herniated. The other part of me hoping that I would get to have the injection.

My needle-phobia self was at war with my I-need-to-get-better-please-god-let-me-get-better self.

This morning (Monday morning) I met with the specialist.

After sitting uncomfortably (read: crying) in the waiting room well past my appointment time, I slowly followed the nurse back to the examination room. Very slowly. He rushed ahead of me. I take my time these days.

He saw the look on my face and my pathetic shuffling gait and told me I could lie down, and then he fetched me a pillow to put between my knees. "Ah," I thought, "these are my people."

Keith came in a few minutes later, arm extended with the cliff bar I had requested that he go buy. I was feeling anxious in the waiting room and had worked my stomach into a tizzy.

When the doctor came in, it was like a light was turned on. The guy had charisma. And he was really listening to me. I told him the long history of my back ailments (dating back to the February snow shoveling stupidity) and then he did a brief examination--checking my reflexes (yep, the right foot doesn't respond); resistance (hmm, surprising strength); walk on toes (no can do, sir).

Then he said it: I can give you a steroid injection. It doesn't cure it. Nothing can do that--not even surgery--but this will help with the pain.

I learned that I'm always going to have a damaged disc in there. And that lots of people have damaged discs. It's just that they don't become aware of it because the fluid isn't oozing out in the direction of the spinal canal, pushing against nerves.

"No, I don't want the injection, but I have to do it. I have to get better. I need to get better." My two selves were at war. The doctor knew it.

I was escorted to the sterile room for the injection just about 20 minutes later. I had swallowed an anxiety pill just before Keith helped me put on the hospital gown. That was a novelty... I've never been in one of those gowns before. I thought of that Jack Nicholson movie where his ass is showing at the back of his gown. And I realized how it is that a person could just not care about their ass showing.

I lied down on my belly atop the operating table. At one end it looked like a massage table, complete with the pillow that has a face hole. But at the other end it sloped upward and then downward again with the high point situated so that my lower back and butt would be elevated.

There was a big white can-shaped x-ray machine hanging from a bending arm--like those lights that dentists throw around wildly when trying to see what's growing behind my back teeth.

The doctor situated the can over my lower back and an image flashed onto a screen. He could see exactly where the disc was. Using a metal pointer, he touched my back at the point where he needed to make the injection, watching the xray screen to make sure he was in the right spot, then with an X, he marked it with a pen.

I was freaking out this whole time. He was telling me exactly what he was doing, but my mind was going crazy. I realized that the anxiety medication hadn't kicked in yet. That medicine blocks my ability to get really worked up, so I knew that it wasn't doing its magic.

After a whole lot of fussing and crying and letting my two selves battle it out in front of this poor doctor and his assistant, the doc said, "It will only be two minutes."


A two minute long injection?

In that moment, I couldn't have received worse news. How could I lie there, petrified as I am of needles, with a damn needle sticking in my back for two fucking minutes? How?

So the doctor suggested numbing me. How does that work? "With another shot," he said.

I don't think I even have to say what I felt at that point.

I let him numb me. My other option was to call it off and schedule an appointment to do the injection at his New York office, where he could sedate me. That involved an IV, though. So, hell, if I'm gonna take two needles no matter what, I'll just take this one while I've already bared my ass to these dudes instead of letting this be for naught and simply repeating it later in the week.

The needle stung. I held the assistant's hand. And, in a last ditch effort to distract myself, I tried to start a conversation that would make me feel better...

"Have either of you ever run a marathon?"

And then we all laughed about the doctor quitting his marathon training because his running buddy got a stress fracture and, truth told, he was running the marathon just to support that buddy anyway. And we all cringed when the assistant said he had to quit training because he broke his ankle when he stepped in a hole during a mid-mileage training run. And they congratulated me when I told them that I ran the Marine Corps Marathon.

"I've heard that that last .2 miles at the memorial is the worst part of the race. How was it for you?"

And then it was over. I had survived the epidural. They were packing up and directing me to roll onto my side and then sit up very slowly.

I did not feel pain during the epidural. The doc warned me that I might feel pain shoot down to my foot because the nerve would be affected by the injection. I did not feel any such pain. I didn't even really feel any pressure from the needle being inserted. The numbing shot really did it's job.

It's now 8 hours since I got the injection and I have been basking in the glory of painlessness all day. I have to rest today, and I have some soreness and fatigue (I think partly because I got myself so worked up), but I feel wonderful relative to how I felt this morning sitting in the doctor's office, relative to how I've felt for three weeks.

If anyone reads this who happens to be nervous about getting an injection and is scared about a herniated disc, I hope that this story is helpful. I've tried to describe the procedure as well as possible, and from the perspective of someone who is very anxious about these kinds of things. Maybe it will be calming to know (1) what the experience is like and (2) that you aren't alone in being afraid. Don't be embarrassed and certainly don't let fear get in the way of doing what can really help.

I wish I could say that my big take away from the experience is that I have a new-found bravery in the face of medical stuff. Nope. I'm a coward, probably always will be.

But there is a small take away... If talking about running marathons has the power to calm me when I'm in a fit of fear and anxiety (okay, the anxiety meds might have kicked in at the moment too), then my love of running must run really deep.

I'm more excited than ever to run the Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon. I ran MCM for my dad. The next one is for me.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you did GREAT. I hope it's helpful & gives you some relief!