Botched: An Epidural Story

When I delivered Elinor and Juliet three weeks ago I opted to have an epidural. To many people it seems like an obvious choice, but because I’ve delivered single kids without the pain blocker I actually would have preferred to go drug free for babies #5 & 6…

…but, everyone – and I mean everyone! – encouraged me to get the epidural with a twin delivery. My crunchy doula friend, my enlightened midwife friend, my friends with twins, my friends without twins, my grandma, my OB, the nurses at my OB’s office, the nurses at the hospital, random advice-giver at the grocery store, etc. The risk of an emergency c-section is really high with twins, and without an epidural I’d have to be put under general anesthesia should the need arise. Plus, even if both babies are head down at the time of delivery, Baby B could “flip”, requiring the doctor to manually extract the baby, a supremely painful procedure. I do believe that getting an epidural is the right decision for a twin delivery.

But, in my instance, the epidural was an epic disaster. Before the procedure the anesthesiologist dryly ran through the list of risks, including the 1 in 100 chance that I could get a “bad headache.” After I signed the waiver, the anesthesiologist needed three tries to place the epidural, and on one of the tries he mistakenly passed the needle through the dura, causing a leak of cerebrospinal fluid. The anesthesiologist gave me a sheepish shrug and told me I had a 75% chance of getting the “bad headache.”

That night the “bad headache” hit. Over the course of the next 18 hours, it would get worse. And worse. And worse. Relief only came when I lay flat on my back; the second I sat or stood up the WORST HEADACHE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD would take over my body. Even nursing the babies was torture.

Here is how I would describe the “bad headache” I had only a 1% chance of getting:






suicide thought-creating


With the spinal headache, I was incapable of taking care of myself, let alone the infant twins I had just given birth to. I literally could not do anything but lay very flat and very still. It was awful.

That first night a secondĀ anesthesiologist gave me a pill that did absolutely nothing. The next day a thirdĀ anesthesiologist offered to perform a blood patch, a procedure where 16-20 cc’s of my own blood is pulled out of my arm and immediately injected into my back. The goal is that the blood seals the hole in the dura and stops the leak of fluid. The doctor assured me that a blood patch cures the headache in 90% of patients. I signed right up.

Except that the blood patch was terribly scary for me. Allowing a doctor to mess with my spine again took a giant leap of faith. And, dammit, the blood patch really hurt. My back was frozen and seized for days. But, the headache was gone almost immediately. Hooray…right?

Two days after leaving the hospital, my headache returned with a vengeance. The first blood patch failed. Desperate, I called the hospital. Apparently, I was an “outlier” – a rare percentage of the population that requires a second blood patch. I was admitted to the ER and given another blood patch that was just as scary and traumatic as the first.

I’ve been headache free since the second blood patch, but my anxiety is at an all-time high. The headache was just so awful and crippling, and the fear of it coming back overwhelms me at times. The whole ordeal disrupted what should have been a joyous time for me and my family. I sometimes cry just thinking about it.

While it is incredibly routine, an epidural is not a risk free procedure. For me, it completely changed the course of my first week with my twins, and now I am left wondering if it was really necessary for me. Of course hindsight is 20/20, so there really isn’t a point in beating myself up over this decision. But, a few hours of pain sure sounds better than many days with a “bad headache.”

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2 Comments for this entry

  1. Emily Chadwick says:

    So sorry Maureen. I’ll be praying for your healing. Your family is gorgeous and you are an inspiration to many. I’m sure your suffering is saving many!!!

  2. Jessie Jay says:

    Sounds terrible! My best friend got an epidural, which they botched the first time. When they said “Page Dr. Leed” as she was trying not to move with the needle in her spine, she knew something was wrong. They had also pierced the dura. So the 2nd doctor was able to get it to work. Then, somehow, the epidural “moved” the following day as she was still in labor, and she had to get a 3rd epidural before her c-section. What a scary experience. 10 days after delivery, she came down with massive, swell your face shut hives, all over her body. So she had to go on high doses of steroids, and could not nurse at all after that. šŸ™ Last, but not least, she had to go in for a hemorrhoidectomy about a month after delivery. Awful stuff. A year later she is still recovering from the tough tough delivery! Women are true warriors to bring babies into this world!

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