Thursday, October 05, 2006

One year later

Do you know where you were last year at this time, this week? I know exactly where I was all week in 2005. I was parked, lying down, on my gushy green couch, experiencing what is known as a spinal headache. I know a lot about headaches. I'm familiar with migraines, SUNCT, tension and cluster headaches; I am versed in describing the what, how and where of head pain. Spinal headaches, it turns out, made my whole head and neck hurt. Apparently, my stomach felt left out, so I threw up too. Not a great time. But I had to marvel at one of its defining traits-- I could find relief by laying down. This was great news when the kids were at school, but a real bummer during carpool.

This is also the only headache I know of with a distinct cause and possible cure. The headache came at the hands of an inexperienced doctor, performing their first spinal tap in the ER. I signed a release form, and consented to being his guinea pig because I was ill and didn't know any better. Of course, I watch enough Grey's Anatomy to know all doctors have to start somewhere, but I've done my duty and will be much more selective about who pokes needles into my spine. When things go well, there's one stab and the patient lies on their back to allow a clot to form around the hole in the spinal cord, so you don't leak spinal fluid. In my case, several holes were made by the intern before the doctor in charge took over and got the sample they needed. I didn't find out why my arms were too weak to hold a blow dryer, or why it hurt to breathe that day, but at least the doctors that day were confident I didn't have GB or MS.

So I spent the next few days on my couch. I read compulsively, so I wasn't bored, just worried about taking care of my family. I waited for the headache to resolve. It didn't.

When I saw my new neurologist later that week, I explained to him I would have to lay down during my appointment. It was my strategy for that week. I would walk as fast as I could to the bathroom or to feed the kids before laying down, wherever I could. I realized this was getting ridiculous. I watched my son's first soccer game laying down on the bleachers. I reclined my seat at red lights. Clearly, I needed help-- I just had enough experience with other headaches to know that sometimes there isn't much you can do to fix it. Of course, the neuro knew better.

'Would you like me to fix that?'

'Yes, please.'

A headache that can be fixed, well imagine that. That's when I heard of a blood patch. It's exactly what it sounds like. The doctor pumped blood right into the area where the LP took place. For the next 24 hours, I had to remain flat on my back, while it took. But the relief was immediate. And I haven't looked as rested before or since.

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