Of all the medical-procedure horrors one can imagine, for me a spinal tap ranked up there with the sadist dentistry from Marathon Man, labor, and black market organ removal. Or plastic surgery.
Just the mere name of it is unnerving.
And then I was told I needed one. I was a little trepidatious about this final test I would endure in the hospital. I knew very little about spinal taps, other than they meant big needles inserted into places where needles of any size shouldn’t go.
So I did what I usually do in scary situations in which I don’t have all the facts: I Googled it.
Solid plan. I learn that in a lumbar puncture, the medical name for this procedure, a spinal needle is inserted between the lumbar vertebrae to collect cerebrospinal fluid.
The most common side effects are headaches and back discomfort. Serious (but not all that common) side effects include bleeding and brainstem herniation.
And to minimize these effects, it’s a good idea to not move for like 4 hours after the procedure.
To add to my, ahem, research, there were nurses with vague advice and a visitor who shared horror stories of people in the ER yelping in pain while getting a spinal tap.
Oh, is that all? Yes, fears allayed.
When the time came, I saw the mile-long needle and panicked. If my legs had been functioning at all, I would have booked it right out of that hospital wing, giving the staff a half-moon goodbye on my way out.
But conveniently enough for the doctor, I was already pretty much in the prescribed fetal position.
From this point on, I tried to enter the world of my imagination. I conjured up Christopher Guest in all of his Spinal Tap semi-mullet glory, informing me that this shot “goes to eleven.”
But first up is the numbing shot, which only goes to three if I had to rate it. Then the doctor brings out the big gun. Of course, I can’t see any of this, which is a good thing.
Don’t move, he says.
(Aside: Why is it when someone says to hold still or don’t blink, that’s all you can think of doing so of course you wiggle like a worm and bat your eyes like a flirt?)
And then pressure. I feel like a cartoon anvil is slowly being lowered onto me.
But … no pain.
And then it is over. Just like that.
The big scary spinal tap was nothing of the sort. But the side effects? Yeah. They mean business.
A headache like none I had ever felt lasted for most of the afternoon. I was going mad with pain. Which reminds me of another medical procedure/movie scene phobia: The lobotomy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Now there’s a procedure to truly fear.