Lumbar puncture


Well, it happened again.  In March 2009, I wrote a post called Fragile in which I talked about facing the world bravely, accepting the fact that “at any moment Grace and Whit could meet with danger.”  That same day, Whit wound up in an ambulance and at the ER being treated for his second anaphylactic reaction to nuts.  And in May 2012, I wrote  10 Things I Want My 10 Year Old Daughter to Know, which included, as #2, “don’t lose your physical fearlessness.”  Two weeks later I was back at the same ER, this time with Grace because she had broken her collarbone.

This time it was my turn.  I was being smug about my own health.  The evening of New Year’s Day, at a lovely dinner with Grace and Whit and my parents, I spouted off about how I hadn’t been sick in years, how the green juice I drink every day was keeping me healthy.  I leaned back in my chair, pleased with myself.  That was Tuesday night.

By Thursday, I had swollen glands and felt tired.  By Friday, I had a fever of 101 and a crushing headache.  I woke up Saturday morning and could barely move my head because of severe neck pain.  We called my doctor’s office.  They said to go immediately to the ER.  When we got there, it didn’t take long for them to decided I needed a lumbar puncture to rule out bacterial meningitis.

A spinal tap.  I started to cry.

Matt left the room as instructed and I curled up on my side as I was told.  They tried for 20 minutes to find spinal fluid, poking a needle around in my spine.  I swear I cried and yelled as much during those 20 minutes as I did during labor.  It was painful but, even more, it was a foreign and frightening sensation.  I felt as though icy fish were swimming up and down my spine.  I felt flashes of sharp pain down my legs.  I felt a needle scraping against the bones of my vertebrae.  To say I have new respect for the spine and for the power of nerves, and for the fact that the spinal cord is in fact a cord is an understatement.

Finally they withdrew the needle and told me they had to try again.  I cried some more.   They started over.  This second time was quicker, and they found the fluid.  In 75 minutes we knew that I don’t have meningitis.  I still feel lousy, as of this writing (Sunday night), but I’m hugely relieved, of course.   My back hurts a lot at the site of the puncture.  I asked Grace to take the picture above because it seems so extraordinary that all that is left from a long needle in my spine (twice) is this little band-aid.

I can’t forget the searing pain of that first attempted lumbar puncture, though.  I don’t think I ever will.  And I am reminded, yet again, never, ever to take anything for granted, and never to be so self-satisfied as I was on Tuesday night.  I am still drinking my green juice, though.

Have you ever had a lumbar puncture?  How was it?



35 thoughts on “Lumbar puncture”

  1. Oh lady… I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I had that done once, a few years back when I had a migraine that lasted for weeks. It ended with an even worse spinal headache because the doctor said I could get up and moving right after the procedure instead of laying flat for however long the general consensus is. It was just terrible. But, better safe than sorry. It was definitely a bizarre feeling though, especially since I refused epidurals with both labors because I just couldn’t handle a needle in my spine!
    Glad you’re feeling better… much love to you.

  2. This sounds absolutely awful. Hope you are feeling better now!
    And Grace has a future as a blog photographer. 🙂

  3. Ouch!! I was squirming just reading this. I’m so sorry you had to go through it, and I’m very glad you don’t have meningitis. I raise a glass of coffee to your green juice, and wish you a speedy recovery to health.

  4. I’m squirming around in my chair as I read your description. I wasn’t even too thrilled with the idea of an epidural, so I can’t really imagine a lumbar puncture!
    I’m glad you’re okay and I hope you feel better soon.

  5. Oh Linds, that is terrible. I’ve had several (and done many) and they shouldn’t be that awful. If possible (I guess this is advice to your readers since it’s too late for you) ask for a neurologist to do it (they tend to be more experienced than ER docs) or ask for them to do it in the radiology department. (I know it’s almost impossible to ask for things like this when you’re super sick, but sometimes it’s doable). How terrible! And also v glad you didn’t have meningitis of any sort. My sympathies!

  6. Lindsay: I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I had a similar illness in December, although I had neck pain, it sounds like it was not quite as severe. It was the flu, which is running wild in Boston this year. Worst illness I’ve ever had. It ended up turning into pneumonia, and I’m still not 100% recovered. I got sick on Dec 2nd. Take care of yourself and get as much rest as you can! I hope you feel better soon. Anne

  7. Oh no!!! I am so sorry but so glad that at least it was not meningitis. I do hope you are better quickly! Sending all kinds of positive thoughts!

  8. Oh Lindsey, I’m so sorry to hear about what you’ve been through. This sounds right up there with the worst physical medical intervention I can imagine. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

  9. Oh ouch! I hope you feel much better soon! I have never had a puncture but this reminds me in a lot of ways of when I was pregnant and H was breech. I had to have a version a week before her due date and the anesthesiologist could not get the needle in my back. I ended up with 3 holes from all the attempts and by that time was so stressed out I was at the point of passing out.

  10. Yes, I have had many – unfortunately. And because of too many experiences such as yours, I now DEMAND that they be done by a specialist and under an imaging machine. This way they can watch where they are as they put the needle in instead of the typical “shot in the dark”! Either way, they are never comfortable and I usually get light headed and pass out. It’s not only painful, but as you mentioned, extremely “uncomfortable” – sensations hard to explain, for sure.

  11. And I thought my New Year’s Day was unlucky because my coffee maker broke. So glad you’re OK, but what an awful experience for you!

    On the very bright side, I notice you don’t have love handles.

  12. I’ve had FIVE of those suckers. I’ve learned that the pain level really does depend on the skill of the person behind the needle. I also learned to ask for an ultrasound-guided puncture; with the guide of the ultrasound, they can find the exact spot where the needle needs to go in, eliminating those pesky “second attempts.” Ouch! I’ll bet your back is sore after two sticks!

    Hope you feel better soon!

  13. You poor thing. Agree with the comment above that it does not have to be that painful, so sorry you went through this!
    Also makes me think you might have the flu, since influenza season is in full swing.
    Hope you feel better soon and are getting lots of TLC

  14. Oh, Linds. Quadruple yuck. I have only had an epidural and it sounds like a walk in the park compared to your experience. I’m glad you got a favorable prognosis but doesn’t it piss you off when it ends up nothing major after going a crappy test like that.

    Hope you are feeling like your “old” self again and no more jinxing yourself!

  15. So very sorry to hear of your ordeal at the ER. Grateful that it is not meningitis, and hope you are feeling much better very soon. (I hope I never have to have a needle in my back. If I do, I will keep reminding myself that you made it through the worst of it and that it is okay to cry!)

  16. Oh sweet friend. No! I’m so sorry you’ve had such a rough go. Just today, interestingly, just I was thinking about a conversation about being sick that you and I had about a year ago. And now, here I am reading that you’ve been really sick.

    Now I can add “A Sometimes Clairvoyant” to my resume. 🙂

    (PS: Your waist is enviable. I’ll add this to my list of green-with-envy things about you, right after your amazing hair.)

    So much love to you,

  17. Reading your description of a spinal tap brings back vivid memories of mine from over ten years ago. Electric pain radiating out to the tips of my fingers and toes as the doctor poked and poked at my spine for what felt like forever. I couldn’t say how long for sure since I was hallucinating by that point, too; in my case, it WAS meningitis. Ugh. I feel your (literal) pain!!

  18. I’m so sorry you are so unwell, and that you had to go through that! I feel for you so much – that must have been so traumatic. Late last year I had to have a breast biopsy. I sobbed the whole way through it – and it didn’t even hurt. It was just knowing they were cutting into me with a scalpel. While I was awake.

    I haven’t had a lumbar puncture, but I have had a spinal block when I had my son. So they inserted a needle into my spine. I was lucky though that they gave me a local anaesthetic first. So although it was uncomfortable, it wasn’t painful.

    Much love to you xoxo

  19. Oh this brought chills to me… I’ve never had one done thankfully but when my second daughter was six weeks old, she woke up one morning turning blue and was sort of limp… My pediatrician told me he’d meet me at the hospital…. And he whisked her into a room and they did lots of tests… one was a spinal tap for meningitis, I just remember standing outside the room listening to my wee baby crying, screaming, and I couldn’t be there! I was helpless…. much like you…. and anyone who is truly sick and in the hands of the system… It is good we have a system, otherwise we might lose more people but it doesn’t help at the time. Anyway she luckily had only aspirated some milk… is now 29 years old and it is my traumatic memory more than hers…. but I wouldn’t wish that test on anyone…. except if there was no alternative! Take care and recover…. a little bandaid is the least of our worries.

  20. I am so sorry you had to go through such a frightening time, Lindsey! I hope you are feeling better. Of course your writing on this topic got me thinking. My dear friend sat with an IV in her arm all day yesterday, getting her first chemo treatment for breast cancer. I woke up this morning thanking my body for being strong enough to fight off the flu I’ve had all week. Your always strong, sensitive writing is a perfect way for me to remember and acknowledge that we are all both fragile and powerful humans. You are a beautiful one!

  21. Hi, I am a longtime fan who got to know your blog through Chris Yeh’s. I always meant to compliment your sensitivity and overwhelming candor by writing an equally sensitive and candid email. I delayed it because I just didn’t know how to tell you how much I look forward to your writing everyday. However, I’m going to start by saying inelegantly, WTF??? Was it absolutely necessary to put you through such a painful procedure? I know why your physician wanted to rule out meningitis asap, but I am sincerely wincing at the whole thing. Could they have not waited a few hours to see if your neck pain was an ear or headache? Yes, meningitis is always a possibility, but you are not at a particularly vulnerable target age…I just can’t help wincing and thinking, jesus, did they HAVE to put her through that??

    Anyways, since just reading about your experience makes me lose my appetite, please treat yourself to a foaming latte and a nice juicy burger or something….

  22. So sorry Lindsey. I’m glad the test was negative, and sorry you had to go through it. I hope you can treat yourself to something soul-healing very soon.

  23. Lindsey, dear love, first…soooo soooo sorry. I hope that you are resting and nurturing yourself. After 32 hours of labor w/ my first child, we had to do a spinal (whatever the word is)…the dude poked around on my spine for TWENTY MINUTES! He couldn’t find the “right spot” where there was fluid. He asked me as I was in pain (duh, contractions) if I had some spinal issue…even in that moment, I told HIM, “It’ll be ok! You’ll find it!” That was quite painful! Soooo, i hear you. I hear you. Hope you are feeling better soon, dear love. Love, Lisa

  24. I read this post while on vacation and didn’t have an opportunity to respond. Because misery loves company, I came back this many days later to commiserate. When I was going through the thick of my sexual harrassment/ discrimination lawsuit, I contracted viral meningitus. I was so stressed, so overwhelmed, so knocked sideways by life that my immune system broke down. I had a lumbar puncture which was just as awful as you describe. It resulted in a subsequent spinal fluid leak that cause major headaches while standing which then required a second awful procedure called a “blood patch.” It is every bit as gruesome as it sounds. They had to take blood from my arm in a sterile procedure and then reinsert it into my spinal sac to “patch” the tiny hole created from the LP from which fluid had been leaking. All of this is to say that I know E.X.A.C.T.L.Y. what you were feeling at those several attempts and icy fish. Thanks for bringing back the memories. 😉

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