“I just need to tell you about the risks involved.”
The anaesthetist’s voice was like background music to the painful contraction that was rippling through my body. All I could do was grunt in response for her to continue.
I know health professionals don’t have a lot of time, but everyone had been talking to me like we were at a supermarket check out or taking my order at a restaurant. They all kept prattling on and asking me questions while contractions seized my body and my ability to listen and form words.
As I sat on the edge of the bed, naked except for a gown loosely covering my front and a huge pad in between my legs to catch the gushing blood from a suspected placenta abruption, I could barely hear the things she was telling me as wave after wave of pain took my breath away.
But, it was fine. I didn’t need to listen. Almost every pregnant woman has Googled the risks of having an epidural, right? I’d had an epidural with my first child. I’d already been consulted by an anaesthetist this pregnancy too. All I could focus on was making sure I sat completely still while the pain catapulting through my body was willing me to writhe around like a fish out of water.
But, it would be fine. Once that needle was in my back, I’d be able to feel the sweet, sweet relief of the drugs. As my boss once said, “Get the epidural. No one gives out prizes for child birth.”
In fact, the doctors had recommended the epidural. Twins, they’d told me, was a little trickier than a single birth. They recommended an epidural just in case the second twin decided to somersault into a breech position and they had to shove a hand up there and grab her by the leg to pull her out.
“It’s more pleasant for everyone involved,” I was told. I wasn’t going to argue with that.
Without getting into too much detail of my birth story, that was almost exactly what happened.
When I’d been sewn up and could feel my legs, Hubby helped me shower. My head was pounding, but at least I didn’t throw up like I did after my first child. He helped me into bed and then had to go home, leaving me in the care of the nurses at the hospital.
Three hours later, when the hospital was bustling again and breakfast trays were being passed out, an anaesthetist popped his head around my curtain and asked how I was doing. I sat up in bed, trying to concentrate on his questions, but my head was pounding. He told me it was common to have a headache after an epidural, but he would check back in tomorrow.
I spent the next few hours trying to catch up on sleep in between expressing. My twins were in the special care nursery and after one walk around the corner to visit them, I felt so sick that I had to come back. I felt like I was going to collapse at any moment. I put it down to the fact that I’d given birth and lost a lot of blood mere hours before, but by the end of the day, over the counter pain killers weren’t curbing the throbbing in my forehead and the back of my neck.
By the evening, I couldn’t sit up. Getting up to use the bathroom was excruciating. The pain in my neck made it feel paralysed and it felt like my head was sinking down my neck, making it even worse. The only thing that helped was laying on my back, which wasn’t exactly ideal for expressing.
The next day, the pain was worse. I could barely sit and there was no way I could stand without someone helping me. When I did stand to walk the few steps to the bathroom, the pain was so bad that I would vomit. I was put on a liquid diet because I couldn’t sit up to eat. I was told that I was suffering from a Post Dural Puncture Headache (PDPH) and that my brain was, in fact, sinking down my neck.
“It’s actually quite common,” one anaesthetist told me. “We had one in here last week.” Great, I thought as I stared up at the ceiling listening to him explain everything.
The anaesthetist who had performed my epidural had struggled to get the needle in. I sat there waiting for relief from the contractions, but it took so long that I thought she was going to tell me that it had failed. It hadn’t and it eventually kicked in. Unfortunately, she had pushed the needle in too far and punctured the dura leading to leaking of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The CSF leak was literally causing my brain to sag down my neck.
As the days passed and I tried a nasal analgesic and an epidural blood patch, which both failed, I felt useless and anxious. The experience of being debilitated and separated from my babies while trying my best to express for them left me feeling worthless. Couple that with COVID restrictions on hospital visits and needless to say it was a stressful and emotional time.
Most PDPHs resolve within two weeks, and so after refusing a second blood patch and being transferred to a different hospital for an emergency MRI, I tried to focus on that fact. I had to work very hard to keep a positive mindset, making small goals for myself each day. One day, I would aim to go to the bathroom by myself, the next, I would aim to do my teeth standing up.
After two weeks in hospital, I was cleared to go home. I was able to sit up and walk and do everything by myself again. I still wasn’t feeling one hundred percent, but I was capable of looking after the twins. It was an eye-opening experience, being that one percent risk and there is so much more to this story, but it would take much too long to read.
I’ve been asked so many times if this horrific experience has put me off having another child. This was the worst medical issue that I have ever experienced and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But to be perfectly honest, it hasn’t. It hasn’t even put me off another epidural. It’s just reminded me that there is always the chance that you will be the risk. In our advanced world, it can sometimes be easy to forget that not everything goes to plan, but having this experience gave me a reminder that life is precious and that we should be so thankful for what we have.