Braving the Bone Marrow Biopsy

The one missing piece to my story thus far is the impactful tale of my first (and only so far) bone marrow biopsy.

Experiencing a bone marrow biopsy

It was six years ago so some of it is fuzzy. My bone marrow biopsy took place the day after my first meeting with the chronic myeloid leukemia specialist. During the meeting, I was given a three-hour explanation about my condition. He then suggested he would just go ahead and do the biopsy then and there.

Hold the fort, buddy.

I didn’t say that but I’m sure I was thinking it. Instead, I told him no. I had a headache from information overload and stress and it was very late in the afternoon. I refused and declared, “my head’s going to explode.”

“Come back tomorrow then.”

Bone-crunching pain

“I don’t want to experience God awful, bone-crunching pain,” I told him after learning I would be awake, alert, and able to essentially feel my marrow being drilled.

He held up a vial and rather sarcastically replied, “I will numb the bone with lidocaine. I can fill this as much as necessary.”

“You’d better prepare yourself to fill it to the top then,” I snapped back. In retrospect, I was very dramatic at the time and using a lot of my English major words. Little did I know, they would be repeated.

The next day, the doctor returned wheeling a little cart of supplies and a laptop, I believe. He took a vial out and declared, “Look at me filling this vial to the very top with lidocaine so that you won’t feel as much God awful, bone-crunching pain.” Oh, a wise guy, I thought.

“What do I do if it really hurts anyway?” I asked. “You can scream,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Cut ahead to me laying on a cot facing a blank wall. He began the process of numbing the area with the shot, that to be frank, hurt like hell and then started giving me a play-by-play description of everything he was doing. I stared at the wall, my head resting on a pillow.

I wouldn't wish this pain on anyone

All I remember was the sensation of the drill going in and around and around and what a long time it seemed to be taking. The doctor asked me periodically how I was doing and I would say, “okay,” or “hurry up,” in response. At one point, he said, “you can scream if you want. I closed the door and your friends won’t hear you.”

Oh, so that was like a real-life option and not just a clap-back remark? “No, I’m okay,” I said. Then came the key moments. I believe he told me he was getting to the area that could not be numbed and that it would hurt.

What can I say? It hurt. A lot. I remember squeezing the pillow and staring at the wall and thinking that I wouldn’t wish this degree of pain on anyone, even my worst enemy.

I’m sure there are YouTube videos showing this procedure in living color so I will refrain from trying to put it into words. My hip/thigh where he was working was basically the surface and he drilled into it. Yuck.

I did it, I survived

Then, it was over. He told me I was doing fine and they let my friends back into the room. Unfortunately, the area was bleeding a lot so the doctor stayed there holding ice against it for 15-20 minutes until things settled down.

Before I was sent away, I asked him why there was no sedation or no anesthesia and he said that he had too many patients who didn’t come out of it easily and it caused more problems than benefits. He broke the news that I would probably have to have another one in six months. (It never happened, yay!) I survived. It was do-able. I know everyone’s experience is different. The pain is like no other I’ve felt before. I had to be brave.

A couple of years ago, my numbers were going south. My CML specialist said that if the trend continued, he would have to do a bone marrow biopsy again and possibly mutation analyses. I heard him mutter something on his way out about how he hoped my numbers would improve. “Me too,” I said. My numbers improved. “Does this mean I don’t have to have another biopsy?” “That’s what it means.”

Fingers crossed; my numbers hold on.

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