Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Medical Marathon, and a Spinal Tap Gone Wrong

I knew when the neurosurgeon scheduled Naomi's spinal tap on the day in between an ultrasound for me and an MRI for Emma it was going to be a long week. Thankfully, friends from church have lined up to watch the other kids for me each day and even to bring me an evening meal. I don't know what I would do without their help.

The ultrasound yesterday confirmed that our next baby still looks completely healthy, and is growing a little above average on the charts. This was wonderful news which was unfortunately eclipsed by the phone call I received not five minutes later. I had planned Naomi's spinal tap today for a 9am arrival at the children's hospital, which would've required that we leave home at the reasonable hour of 5am. But the nurse on the phone informed me rather abruptly that the surgeon had had a schedule change and they would now need Naomi to arrive at 5:45am! Since leaving at 2:00am and driving nearly four hours through the night when I am six months pregnant was not an option, I spent the afternoon yesterday finding and booking a hotel for Naomi and I to stay at. When I had ironed out the details of childcare for today and Matt arrived home to watch the other kids, Naomi and I headed out on the long drive, arriving at our hotel by 10:30pm.

I gave Naomi about 10 minutes to savor the new experience of sleeping in a hotel and then we turned out the lights with two alarms set for 4:45am. We checked out at 5:15am and arrived at Day Surgery Registration promptly at 5:45am only to wait nearly a half hour for our turn to check in. The rest of the hospital was dark and deserted but Day Surgery was alive and writhing with hungry, tired, fearful, and cranky children. A toddler girl wrapped in a towel clung to her mother like a baby chimpanzee. A baby with a cleft palate and a tracheotomy fussed in his car seat. Another girl with wandering, unseeing eyes cried for her bottle and refused her mother's calm explanation of "nothing by mouth for six hours prior to check-in." Naomi didn't complain of hunger or thirst, though I am sure she felt it as well. She is used to this routine.

When we were finally given our child-friendly cubicle we again sat for nearly an hour until a nurse came to check Naomi's vital signs. I slumped in my chair and tried to rest and imagined how much I would have liked to sleep that extra hour and a half. Finally, I had answered the long list of usual questions, signed all the consent forms, and shaken hands with the anesthesiologist. Naomi calmly followed the nurse back to the OR, and I headed straight to the hospital's in-house McDonald's for a dollar-menu breakfast. Forty-five minutes later the surgeon met me in the waiting area and told me the tap had gone without incident and that we'd have results in a few more days. I then joined Naomi for two hours of lying flat in the recovery area in order to prevent a spinal headache while the pressure in her cerebrospinal fluid equalized again. I read her a book, we watched some cartoons, and I tried again to doze upright in a hard chair. Finally, Naomi was allowed to sit up and dress. Her IV and monitors were removed, and we were on our way home by 10:30am.

I was thinking about how smoothly everything had gone with the procedure and how early we would be arriving home, and how I might even steal a little nap before Toby woke up. Silly me. An hour and a half into our drive home I pulled off at a gas station and told Naomi to hop out of the car for a potty stop. She was tired but otherwise pain-free, until she tried to stand up. She winced in pain and cried, "Mommy! It hurts to stand up. I can't stand up, my back hurts too much!" Her lower back and rear end were obviously in intense pain and she refused to straighten her back at all. I asked her to try walking, hoping her back just needed to loosen up a bit. She hobbled into the gas station bent over at almost a 90 degree angle with tears running down her face and painfully completed the bathroom break. Once she was back in her car seat she was again completely pain free. As I continued driving I called the hospital, who paged the neurosurgeon. He was surprised and a bit perplexed by Naomi's unusual complaint, but he was reassured that she hadn't lost any ability to move her legs or use the bathroom. He told us to push to make it home, and have her rest there, but to take her to an ER if she began to actually lose the use of her lower limbs.

While I knew paralysis was an extremely remote possibility, I nervously glanced back at Naomi every few minutes as I pushed the speed-limit on our way home. She sat calmly reading her Highlights magazine and swinging her legs, kicking them together every now and then, and this reassured me as I drove. We had to make one more rest stop an hour later and Naomi again cried and hobbled all hunched-over through the crowd at the gas station. I have no clue what the staring people thought of my hunch-backed sobbing child, I don't know what I would have thought. I tried to crack jokes to Naomi about how silly she looked, but she was in no mood to be consoled today. I smiled confidently at the cashier who looked like he was ready to call an ambulance for us, and we finally made it back to the car. One more hour and we were home.

Naomi hobbled inside, but found she could not lay down at all. Instead she sat, half-propped sideways at the end of the couch. Awhile later she could not find any position at all which would relieve her pain. I called the hospital again and wearily waited another hour for the doctor to call back. He was still perplexed, but after reviewing her symptoms he was confident that Naomi was suffering from muscle soreness and not nerve damage. He phoned a prescription in for Tylenol with Codeine and told me to call tomorrow if she wasn't at all improved.

It has been a long, weary night for us. Naomi's back only seems to hurt worse and worse. The Tylenol with Codeine has not helped one bit. Matt gave her a massage and I warmed up a heat-pack for her and these seemed to help some. This seems to support the theory that we're dealing with some seriously cramping or spasming muscles. Naomi cannot stand, cannot lie down, cannot use the bathroom without two people's assistance. Her eyes are puffy and bloodshot from crying and from fatigue. I just tucked her in bed, propped on an enormous pile of pillows that keep her almost sitting upright, and I believe she is finally asleep.

Tomorrow I wake up early to take Emma for a brain MRI. This means neither Matt nor I will be able to be with Naomi if she is still in pain. Thankfully, the friend who is coming to watch the kids is a Certified Nurses Assistant, so she should be as qualified to help Naomi as anyone until I can return. If things do not improve we may end up taking Naomi to the local ER for evaluation tomorrow. The surgeon even mentioned transferring her to the children's hospital if needed. This is very unlikely, but still, these scary possibilities tend to haunt me as I watch her cry hour after hour.

Please pray for Naomi's back to heal quickly. Pray for Emma's MRI to go without incident tomorrow. Pray for rest for my family. Thank you.


  1. Dear Katherine and sweet Naomi, I pray for your health and happiness, may the lord be with you through these difficult hours. I can totally relate because I just had my spinal tap on Friday, it is now Tuesday, I wouldn't wish this on anyone I've been going through the same thing. I pray for a speedy recovery for Naomi. I know this is very difficult but try and keep her on her back as much as possible and tons of fluids caffeine helps alot. Big hugs and god bless. Tania

  2. Tania, thank you so much for your love and prayers. This post is actually from last September, so Naomi is fully recoverd now, but it was a long road for her, including two hospitalizations (you can see some of my other posts from September for the full story). I pray your back heals soon as well and that you find full recovery.