Tapping the Spine

In my mind I can not think of a spinal tap with out thinking of ouroboros. It not just that they are removing these primal fluids from your back, which I think of as akin to embryonic fluid, its that they make you curl up into the fetal position, as close to the way you laid in the womb to remove all of it. It is the closest I have ever felt to being back to that which we all came in my entire life.

And well then there is the pain, as I imagine eating one‘s own tail would smart quite greatly. The pain and fear they instill in you — “if you move when the needle is in you, you could be paralyzed.” “Don’t move now!” — joins hand in hand and pretty much jointly clotheslines you. A clothesline you just can not get up after.

There is nothing that can prepare you for a wide gauge needle, think 3-6 mm wide, that slides between two vertebrae and removes this life fluid from your back. Nothing. When they take your blood it is like a pin prick and it is over. Yet, I still wind up passing out three out of four times when they take mine. A spinal tap needle feels far more like a badger’s claw ripping, boring into your spine. And unlike when they draw blood, you feel it inside you the entire time as your body turns to brick, ever fearful of moving, of that possible paralysis. Your brick body registers this railroad spike like needle acting as a lightning rod absorbing a huge bolt that would make night appear as day for those seconds it hung in the air. Every second it is in you, you want desperately to pull away, flee to another room, another country, but you can only exist as a motionless fetal mass where your only movement are tears flowing from your eyes like it was high tide. You would wail too, but that fear of moving is too strong.

It lasts for just over a minute all told, but time seems ever so fluid with a needle the size of the western suburbs of Chicago stuck deep within your spine. This minute plus feels far more like 20-30 minutes of torture. The kind where there is no doubt: you would talk, tell them anything. You might not tell them the truth, but you will tell them anything to get them to stop. Anything to get them to stop….

This was not my first date with a spinal tap. In forth grade they thought I had meningitis. They did one then. I had never cried as much in all my previous nine years as I did that evening. And for the past few days, I spent a great deal of time reliving that experience. I tried not to. I couldn’t. I am simply amazed that something that occurred nearly twenty years ago could be recalled so vividly. I remember colors, smells, textures, the nurse’s name, the way the light shined of his badge…. Very little of that day has been erased from my memory. I wound up telling myself, convincing myself, that this time would not be as bad. It would be better.

It was not.

Whenever they stick a needle in your spine it simply does not get better. It can not. It is awful. And just like before they lorded over me that movement – Any Movement – could paralysis me. I guess they have to, but this is not what anyone in such a position needs to hear.

There is no position as defenseless as the fetal position.

When it was finally over, when they unplugged the needle, I was asked to roll over onto my back, a position I had to stay in for the next six hours. Only the brick I had turned into was not dissipating. I had solidified. I had cemented myself into the tightest ball of a fetal position I could manage. I could not let go.

You would think all my tears would have lubricated my joints. They did not. The staff had to help me extend my legs and roll me over. Thankfully, I could feel their hands, or I may have started to believe I had moved inappropriately and was paralyzed. Finally, I just lay there on my back on a flat, hard, thin mattress, breathing and crying. Still a bit too afraid to wail.

After I lay there motionless, for what seemed like an hour, I finally started to move again. I also noted I was quite hungry, as I had not eaten a thing in well over twelve hours. Only they would not bring me food, just tea. They said caffeine helps replace the missing spinal fluid. Yes, I gave them the same cockeyed look that you most likely just gave the logic in that sentence. But who am I to argue against tea consumption.

For the most part I spent those six hours flat on my back meditating and sleeping.

I know there was a chance I would have to stay over night. If the wound did not stop bleeding after six hours I would have been admitted for observation and my safety. Thankfully, when they changed the dressing in hour four or five it had scabbed over effectively. I really was not looking forward to spending all night on those thin, hard mattresses.

I remember when I was nine the results were ready within hours. I did not have meningitis. Am I remembering correctly though. That day was full of trauma, from puking up a small ocean in front on my class to being rushed to out of school on a stretcher and in an ambulance to the eventful spinal tap. And while I have crystal clear images of what happened in my head, how trusting should I be of twenty year old memories?

This time it seems it will be days till results are ready. I am to return on Friday to get either crushingly awful news or news full of relief — I can not even begin to tell you…

I can not lie. I was really hoping to know now. I was hoping to walk out knowing my fate.

But fate is the wrong word. I have decided to fight this no matter what. Even though the western doctors tell me that if it is in my spinal fluid, I am as good as dead. I am refusing to see this as my only option. They can view me as untreatable as they wish. I just am not going to go along with that reductive, limited thinking.

I can’t.

My view is while it may be hard to defeat, it may be impossible, and while I may not be successful in battling it, I am going to wage war against it with every ounce of vim, vigor, and vitriol I have.

My Tibetan doctor believes she has a treatment that may work, that I can enlist in this battle. And I think I would be the largest fool ever if I choose not to try it.

I refuse to give up.

On my long ride back to Bangkok from Laos, I was speaking to an Aussie, who made the whole eventful journey with me. When I told him the reason I was visiting a Thai hospital, why I had to get to Bangkok on Friday, he said, “that is really very heavy.” I agreed with him. How could I not? But I also told him “but it is not going to kill me tomorrow.”

And just like that, I have a new phrase I will say every morning when I wake up. And even if this cancer proves me a liar somewhere down the line, it eats me whole, like a snake eating its tail, so be it. I am pretty sure no one will write liar on my future nonexistent tombstone for this slight. I have no choice to believe this if I want to effectively fight this. If I want to win.

I am waiting to find out how bad this is tomorrow to plot out exactly how I will march off towards slaying this beast. I have it basically figured out, taking into account all the possibilities. Well, I have it all figured out in my head at least. But…. How will those words that I expect to hear really effect me?

That said, three weeks ago I was deep into denial about all this. Today I am preparing my armory to take it on. Quite a shift in a little more than twenty days. But I am now prepared and shall give it my all.

About Randy

I'm just a guy trying to out run his dying kidneys and live life as vibrantly as possible. Until I can't. I grew up in Tejas. Went to school in Vermont. And currently live in Brooklyn. But not for long....
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3 Responses to Tapping the Spine

  1. sez says:

    this is beautiful. sickly, vaguely, i guess i thought they *did* become easier. like all pain thresholds, we can tolerate more. i’m sorry, love. thank you for writing this.

  2. Keith dodd says:

    What a load this is.
    I have had this done three times and every time it was painless except for the prick to freeze the area. Then nothing! No pain no unpleasenat senesations nothing. Al I had to do is lie still for a few minutes.
    Some people are a bit melodramatic.

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