Having a needle inserted into your spinal cord and some cerebo-spinal fluid drained is never going to be an entirely trivial procedure, but rightly or wrongly, the doctor who successfully carried out my lumbar puncture on Thursday morning cheerfully set my expectation that I should be up and running - literally - by Friday. Less than an hour after that big needle had been removed from my spine, I was allowed to leave the hospital. As the local anesthetic wore off, I felt understandably sore around the small of my back, but I felt otherwise surprisingly good. I spent the rest of Thursday lying in bed as a precaution, but had no reason to think that I wasn't through the worst of it and that life might continue as normal from Friday onwards.
Yet here I am, four days later, still flat on my back in bed and facing up to the possibility that I may need to go back into hospital, be hooked up onto a drip and have the hole in my back surgically plugged up.
I got up on Friday morning, picked up a couple of colleagues and drove down to Milton Keynes for a meeting. As I drove, my head started to ache a little, but I wasn't too worried. Then I started to sweat. Hmmm. By the time we arrived and were having a coffee before our meeting, I was starting to think that I might be in trouble: my eyes were becoming sensitive to the light; I was shivering; I was sweating; my ears were blocking up; I felt nauseous and my head was pounding. As the meeting kicked off, I was soon unable to concentrate on anything and was realising the extent of my folly to venture this far from home so soon after the procedure. I felt very, very vulnerable. In the end, I had to excuse myself from the meeting and, after a quick telephone conversation with my father, left my car keys with my colleagues and got a taxi to the Accident & Emergency department of the local hospital. One of the risks of a lumbar puncture is the chance that you will introduce infection directly into your spinal cord. Any problems, you are advised, and you need to seek medical attention as soon as you can.
Luckily for me, my parents only live a few miles away from Milton Keynes, and soon they joined me in A&E as I waited to see a doctor. As I sat still with my head between my knees, I began to feel better, but even so, I've rarely been so pleased to see them. As I was registered by the hospital, the nurse carrying out the initial checks marvelled at how low my pulse was -- 45 bpm. Was this normal? Was I on betablockers? No, that's my usual heartrate, and yes, I always look this pale.... As we spoke, an earwig scuttled across the floor between my feet. A&E was as chaotic as always, and I was forced to wait something like two hours before I was seen by a doctor, watching the ants scurrying around my feet. About par for the course, I thought. I felt pretty lousy, but I'm always aware that, in this situation, there are usually people arriving in ambulances whose need for a doctor is greater than mine. Perhaps that's what having a doctor for a father does for you. Not everyone was quite so understanding though, and the waiting room seemed to be filled with various sprained ankles and coughs that might have been better served seeing their own doctors, but who seemed to have an expectation that they would be seen as quickly as possible, even as people were being wheeled past them on stretchers. Several stomped off in a rage when they weren't seen as quickly as they felt they deserved. If you can stomp off in a huff, then you can probably afford to wait, right?
The doctor who did eventually see me was brilliant. He checked my blood pressure, temperature and pulse again (yes, it is always that low....) and carried out various other checks. He didn't think I had an infection, but asked why I'd needed the lumbar puncture in the first place. It turns out that a lumbar puncture can sometimes exacerbate an underlying condition and that I would be best to do absolutely nothing for the next couple of days and to keep a sharp eye on my temperature. Any sign of a fever and I should seek medical attention immediately. I did wonder why the first doctor hadn't mentioned any of this, but I was still much relieved and I spent the rest of the afternoon at my parent's house, listening to the cricket and dozing on the sofa. My colleagues had long since taken my car back up to Nottingham, so the new plan was that C. would catch a train to Milton Keynes from London and then my dad would give us both a lift home. With hindsight, I may have been foolish to go to that meeting in the first place, but I was at least fortunate that it was so close to my parents. Anywhere else, and I would have been really stranded.
The rest of the weekend was spent largely in bed. I had originally been planning to exercise as normal: hill intervals on Saturday and a 75 minute run on Sunday, but it quickly became clear that this was out of the question. Every time I tried to get up to do something (whether it was a trip to the farmer's market, to pick up the car or to attempt to rescue a mouse from the cat), my head started to pound, I would start to tremble and would break out into a sweat... each time forcing me to lie down until the pounding subsided. Exercise, it was obvious, was completely off the agenda. I felt fine this morning too, and was fully planning to go to work, but by the time I was halfway to the office in the car, I was forced to turn around by a thumping head and the growing nausea.
By now I was a little more concerned and I rang the hospital to find out what I should do: a doctor there told me that it sounded like I was suffering from low pressure in my spinal cord - not surprising given all the fluid that was drained on Thursday, but a little worrying that it was still troubling me four days later. The advice he gave me was, frustratingly, more bedrest, with the caution that if I didn't feel a sharp improvement soon, then I was going to need to come back into the hospital to be put onto a drip and to possibly have the hole in my back surgically filled. He didn't think I should go to work at all this week. Doctor one thought 24 hours. Doctor two thought a couple of days. Doctor three thinks a week. I'm not keen on asking Doctor four what he thinks.....
So here I am, sat in bed with a sore back and a bit of a headache, knowing that if I get up and try to do anything, I will rapidly feel much worse, but not knowing if I'm going to need to go back to hospital in the next couple of days or not. Bed rest? How am I supposed to cope with that? There isn't even another Test Match on until Thursday, and I'm already chafing about the lack of exercise. I'd even rather be at work than this. It's all rather frustrating..... a frustration made all the worse by the knowledge that the results of this test are not going to change anything much at all.
6 weeks later
3 days ago