What it feels like to get a steroid injection into the epidural space surrounding your spine:
First, you beg the doctor to cut you open and rip your spine out like a fish.
Then you show him your hairy legs because you haven’t been able to bend down long enough to shave them in weeks, and he looks at you pityingly but understandingly.
Then he suggests a spinal steroid injection first and you agree because you would agree to chop off a leg if it meant less pain.
So you get an MRI so the doctor can get an idea of where the shot needs to be and he tells you you have facet arthropathy and spinal stenosis, and the scoliosis that runs in your family seems to have progressed along with the disc degeneration. Then you realize you’re only 33 years old and go into a deep depression.
You arrive at the hospital for the procedure and they make you sign a waiver that talks about paralysis and spinal headaches that can result from injections like the one you’re about to have in your spine.
The orderly takes your blood pressure and it’s only a little above normal and you wonder if you’re a CIA agent with blood pressure and heart beat normalizing powers because you’re freaked out.
They call you in and you change and plop down on the table on your stomach. Then they bare your ass to the world, i.e. the three people in the room other than the doctor. I feel like I should send them all a muffin basket for having to witness the badonkadonk.
They adjust the live X-ray – the machine they use so they can watch the needle, guide the medication to the right place, and reduce the risk that they’ll paralyze me on the table. The doctor injects me with numbing stuff all up in mah butt cheekal area. I whimper like a baby and she injects more until I’m comfortably numb. #floyd
The needle for the epidural steroid goes in and the numbing agent works up until a point. Then the needle is dripping liquid onto my spinal cord and down my sciatic nerve. My whole leg feels like it’s on pins and needles, tensing up and I have no control. I feel the searing feeling of the medication literally pulsing down my nerve all the way from my lower back to my toes. I’m white-knuckling the pillow and staining it with involuntary tears, realizing that I’m in this place alone. It’s par for the course because my family is limited and scattered, and I don’t want to bother my friends. You fear that you will end up one of those people on government assistance and unable to care for yourself some day because of the extent of the back issues. You hear people tell you if you lost weight it would resolve itself, though your doctor tells you it would not matter and the combination of genetics and six years of lab stools during college and grad school were the perfect storm.
You replay this in your head while you’re on the table and you continue to cry as the steroids drip, drip, drip down your spine.
Finally it’s over and the doctor squeezes your hand and gives you a tissue. After a while, the orderly helps you roll to your side and then sit up, like an old person in a home. He guides you into the wheelchair they make you ride around in to the recovery area, and then takes your blood pressure and pulse again for the “after” numbers. Somehow, you are still hovering right around normal and now you feel you’d hold up well under torture.
You lay around for a while until the feeling returns to your leg and foot. They help you get dressed and usher you out the door. You drive home and immediately put on pajamas and get into bed to rest your back and your body from the trauma you just put it through. The daily pain you learn to live with is common and expected. The night after night of barely achieving sleep because no position is comfortable and you wake up constantly in pain. The trauma of trying to right the wrongs your body experiences is jarring and needs its own recovery. You watch friends go hiking and climbing and jogging and wonder if you’ll ever be able to do that again like you used to before your back decided to give up like a loser and degenerate. You look at the pool in your complex and pine for Memorial Day so you can do some pressure-less back work since you are basically a fish and feel at home in the water. You snuggle with your dogs and eat beef lo mein and watch Gilmore Girls and look forward to the medication beginning to take effect, hoping to stave off another, more invasive surgery. You realize that life is short and you shouldn’t spend any of it doing things that bring you pain, emotional or otherwise.