The Spinal Tap
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 personal injury cases, I had read all kinds of grisly stories about spinal taps. Horror stories. The first insertion of the needle wasn’t precise and they had 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 only 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 put myself through. 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. Thank god for their immeasurable comfort and support 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 doctor came back into the room. She explained that the results of the MRI and spinal tap led her to a diagnosis of MS.
It wasn’t the first time that I’d considered that I might be dealing with MS. From the first tingling feelings 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. But MS didn’t go away and it didn’t ever get any better. It only got 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 shock syndrome 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 standard and 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 week following that day and use the term “basketcase.”
I had to set an appointment with a visiting nurse who would teach me how to give myself shots.
It’s been five years since the diagnosis. And contrary to all my worse nightmares about MS, I have been completely symptom free. I’m healthier than ever in my life. I’m exercising regularly, eating balanced meals, getting eight hours of sleep every night, and managing stress as best I can. I tried the Swank diet for a while and eventually decided to eat whatever I wanted in moderate portions. No alcohol, very little caffeine. I do enjoy good chocolate and am not about to give that up!
I may have had my spine punctured but my life is intact. I’m grateful for every day that I have on this planet and intend to live to be 100. Just watch and see.