An Epidural Complication Story
Getting an epidural during labor was always a no-brainer for me, but after a frightening experience with the epidural during the birth of my daughter, it's not such a straight-forward decision anymore.
When I gave birth to my son 11 years ago, I did it under the gentle, loving numbness of an epidural. Whether or not I would receive one was never a question going into it. Why feel mind-boggling pain if you don’t have to? was my reasoning. It’s not that I didn’t understand or appreciate the reasons that women opted out of getting the epidural. I had respect for all those reasons and for those women. I had been known to love a challenge, but not in this situation. In the end, it was simple—I wasn’t pushing a watermelon out of a buttonhole without drugs. Oh no. Oh HELL no.
With my son’s birth, getting the epidural was more complicated than I had expected. Because my scoliosis (curve in my spine) made it difficult to access the sweet spot, the anesthesiology team ended up poking me 3 times in total, and I ultimately ended up with a spinal block and couldn’t feel anything from my waist down. Even so, I was happy I had received the anesthesia. Giving birth, pain-free got a big thumbs-up from me.
When I checked into Labor and Delivery last fall to give birth to my daughter, I was feeling hyped and ready. My doctor knew about my scoliosis, and I was confident that all would go well. I was feeling excited about the labor and delivery experience, and knowing that I would be getting an epidural, I was maybe even feeling a little bit cocky. On the outside I was looking like a hot mess—face bloated, hair ratted, upper lip in need of a serious wax. But on the inside I was feeling like Vin Diesel from all 27 Fast and Furious movies—wearing a tight tank top, and a smirk, and saying things like, “Let’s do this”.
My doctor broke my water and things started to crack-a-lack. Contractions started coming on super hard. My daughter was so low I could feel her skull grinding against my pelvic bones. My inner Vin Diesel was starting to lose his cool. He was losing his smirk and his raspy, forced low voice. He was becoming my inner Rick Moranis.
The head of anesthesiology and another anesthesiologist arrived after what felt like an eternity, like an episode of that Jennifer Love Hewitt show. My OB/GYN spoke to them briefly, informing them about my scoliosis, and they started prepping my back. The contractions were so painful. Give me the damn epidural! I felt the needle go in, heard some worried whispering behind me, and then BAM! It felt like shards of glass were traveling up my spine, into my neck and down my arms. “Something is not right,” I blurted worriedly. And then I got a piercing headache.
Worried whispers behind my back turned into “Oh Sh**” whispers behind my back. The anesthesiologists had punctured the dura mater, which surrounds the spinal cord and causes spinal fluid leakage, which was the cause of the headache.
The headache was so severe I would rather have taken back the labor pains. I started to freak out. What the hell just happened? I think I’m going to throw up. Vin Diesel where are you?
It dawned on me that not only was the entire lower half of my body numb, but my arms, hands and chest were going numb, as well. I was slurring my speech. I was having a hard time swallowing. I was in panic mode. The anesthesiologist stopped the epidural drip, altogether. I had received too much epidural medicine and was experiencing a nearly total spinal block. The anesthesiologist told me that I’d just have to wait and let it wear off. I tried to say something like, “Are you ******* kidding me?”, but it came out as a series of drools.
I was on the verge of a major panic attack, but then my blood pressure dropped significantly, and I felt very sleepy. My doctor was upset about the epidural. He actually looked pissed… But then, he started to look like Snoop Dogg. And then Snoop Dogg was like, “Yeah, dawg. Get ready to push.”
Because I was administered so much epidural and was so numb, the doctor ended up having to deliver using forceps. Being that it was a teaching hospital, the room immediately filled up with residents wanting to witness a forceps delivery. I felt high. Am I having a baby? Or are all these people here for the drum circle? I didn’t know. But I was somehow able to push despite not having feeling, and the baby came out on push #3.
My beautiful baby girl was here. I felt overjoyed and so thankful. I looked up at my doctor after he laid Baby Stella on my chest. “Thank you, Dr. Snoop Dizzle.”
The epidural slowly wore off in the next few hours, and my post dural headache (which returned that evening) went away the next day. It had been both a traumatic and bizarre labor and delivery, but I couldn’t have been more thankful that my daughter was born healthy.
The epidural has become an issue for me now. When considering whether my husband and I will have another child, I find myself feeling anxiety about getting the epidural. It’s not so straight-forward like it used to be. Knowing that my spine presents a challenge for epidural administration, I have to know that this or something similar may happen again. I’ll have to decide whether or not I’ll be ok with a potential total block again, not able to feel anything. Whether I’ll be ok with feeling that I ate an entire tray of pot brownies in the delivery room. Hmm. Worse things could happen. ’Til the next episode…;
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