Yesterday I was at the McMaster Pain Clinic to have a series of epidural steroid injections in my back. I have become accustom to them now…which sounds weird, given they hurt like hell. The staff at the hospital know me now. They know that I’ve been dealing with breast cancer and have worked with me to try to find ways for me to lie on the operating table in a manner that doesn’t aggravate the pain in my chest as much. It hasn’t been easy. They know me as the “pillow” lady, as I bring my own pillows and padding with me for the “event”. They have been very accommodating and patient with me. I know they are always on a tight schedule with dozens of patients prepped and ready for their time in the operating room; but they have never made me feel rushed or pressured. I’ve learned now to take anti-anxiety medicine before I go too, as just walking into an operating room causes me to feel panicky; never mind the knowledge of what my procedure entails.
The steroid injections take about 40 minutes from start to finish. A giant x-ray machine is positioned over my lower back so that the surgeon can see my herniated and deteriorating disks in order to guide the needles into my spine without hitting a nerve. Or at least that’s the plan. The process is VERY unpleasant. As the needles are inserted, the surgeon moves them around, injecting steroids to relieve my pain and reduce the inflammation. When he moves the needles he says “Now tell me if you feel any shooting pain in your legs, or if you lose feeling”. Usually I don’t have to “say” anything, because when he hits one of those spots I yell “FU#K!” He understands that, that means he “hit” the spot!
With all of these procedures, which are usually every three months, I try to engage in conversation with the nurses and the surgeon while I am being tortured. It helps to keep me calm and focused on something other than the pain. The conversation is very light as I certainly don’t want to distract them from their jobs. Yesterday they had great music playing in the OR, and I found myself singing along to Neil Young, Bob Dillon and some James Taylor. I’m pretty sure my surgeon was humming and at least one nurse. I was grooving pretty well in between my cursing, when it happened…he hit a nerve! I actually don’t know how I didn’t leap off the operating table but subconsciously I knew I wasn’t allowed to move while having large needles in my spine. The pain was overwhelming. It hit instantly and shot through my back, buttocks and right down my leg. I didn’t even swear as I was unable to formulate a word. All I heard was a loud scream…and then realized it was from me!
“I’m so sorry Patti. I was trying to get as close to the nerve as possible in order to inject the steroids, but everything is so inflammed that I couldn’t see the nerve. Take a deep breath and try to relax. I will finish as quickly as possible.”
Thank god I took that anti anxiety medication, or who knows what kind of mess I would have turned into, but I stayed calm…or at least as calm as I could and tried once again to listen to the music and not think about anticipating another hit to the nerve. Twenty minutes later, it was over and I was being helped to roll off the operating table onto a gurney. My chest was aching from lying face down, my back, butt and legs were throbbing from the injections and my face was covered in snot and smeared mascara from crying. Lord, what a sight I was.
“You did really well,” one of the nurses said. “You’re very brave with everything you’re going through…and you’ve got such a good attitude!”
I don’t think I am “brave” by any stretch. Brave people choose to face adversity. I didn’t choose any of this. I had no choice. So you face what’s ahead of you and do the best you can to get through it with as much grace and dignity as you can muster. It isn’t easy, I won’t lie. As far as the “attitude” goes, well, yes, I DO think I’ve had a good one. Yes there have been days, many in fact, where just the thought of getting out of bed was too much, but those have been few and far between. I have tried to maintain my sense of humour, as its seen me through many a hard time. And if I can laugh and make the people around me laugh too then even the darkest days become brighter. And who doesn’t want that!?
President of As You Like It Marketing & Communications Inc. Award winning speaker and author. Breast cancer fighter and blogger. I’m sharing my journey…the good, the bad and the ugly. Hoping to help anyone else that has been touched by breast cancer be it you or someone you know or love.