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Monday, October 16, 2017

The Spinal Tap

by ZenGrrrl (writer), Los Angeles, November 25, 2006

I was still shaking from the spinal tap.

The medical term is “lumbar puncture.” Any combination of words that contains “spinal” and “puncture” was going to terrify me. It did.

From working in a law firm that handled injury cases, I had read grisly stories about spinal taps. Horror stories. The first insertion of the needle isn’t precise and they have to do it again. Terrible, agonizing pain. Days, weeks of headaches, nausea, blurred vision, speech impairment. All this was going through my mind as I lay on my side, waiting for hell to open up.

It didn’t. The procedure went smoothly. The physician was practiced. It took one try. It was over in about ten minutes.

My body was still shaking from the shock, the mental agony that I’d just survived. Body, mind — it’s all one and it was all a whirlwind of panic.

I was told to get dressed and wait while the results were assessed. My parents waited with me. Their comfort and support were immeasurable in that moment.

I was more scared than I’d ever been in my life. It was like standing in front of a firing squad.

Then my neurologist came back into the room. She explained that the results of the MRI and spinal tap led her to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

It wasn’t the first time that I’d considered that I might be dealing with MS. From the first tingling in my foot that spread upward to my hip, I started to think about what some of the lesser causes of the sensation might be and what some of the really nasty causes might be. What scared me most about MS was that it was DEGENERATIVE and it was UNCURABLE. A cut will heal. A broken leg can be set. MS doesn’t go away and it doesn’t ever get any better. It only gets worse.

The doctor’s words were still tumbling through my mind. I took a deep breath. It won’t kill me, it won’t kill me, it won’t kill me . . . I repeated the mantra. I’m not going to die from this. It isn’t a death sentence. It is treatable, if not curable.

I took another deep breath. I felt my throat closing up and knew that I was going to cry. Post-traumatic stress from just having a long needle inserted into my spinal column and being told that I have an incurable disease. My brain was trembling.

I asked, “So what do I have to do?”

We went over the options. At least there were options. The “ABC” drugs were available: Avonex, Betaseron, and Copaxone. Two were given weekly. One was given daily. All were delivered with a needle. I’d have to learn how to give myself shots. Fun.

Okay. Diabetics do it every day. If they can, I can.

I struggled to take it all in but still cried. My parents held me. Then they drove me home.

That evening, I blew up. Fell apart. Exploded. Sobbed for hours. A friend came to sit with me during the detonation.

I think of the weeks following that day and use the term “basket case.”

I set an appointment with a visiting nurse who would teach me how to give myself shots.

It’s been six years since the spinal tap. And contrary to all my worse nightmares about MS, I have been completely symptom free. I’m healthier than ever in my life. I exercise regularly, eat balanced meals, drink lots of water, get eight hours of sleep every night, and manage stress as best I can. I tried the Swank diet for a while and eventually decided to eat whatever I wanted in moderate portions. Alcohol and caffeine — no. Good chocolate — yes.

I may have had my spine punctured but my life is intact. I’m grateful for every wondrous day that I have on this planet and intend to live to be 100. Just watch and see.


About the Writer

ZenGrrrl is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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