Monday, 31 October 2011

What would you do if your anaesthetic didn't work?

Rhetorical question surely?  Of course anaesthetics work.  That's the point.

Well no. They, specifically epidurals and spinal blocks, don't always.  And they didn't for my friend S when she was having her second baby by caesarian section.  She is not alone and she believes that this may be due, at least in part, to the protocol and questions used as standard in the NHS.  S's story, in her own words, is below, but suffice to say, she is taking an experience so horrendous it never occurred to me it could be possible, and campaigning to ensure it doesn't happen to any other woman again.

She's starting with an anonymous survey, to gauge women's experiences of epidurals and spinal blocks and please, please, if you had either, whether for a c-section or vaginal delivery and even if you read no more of this post, click here to complete the survey.  It'll only take two minutes.

And if you can spare another minute after that, please email the survey or this post on to more women.  Your responses really could help.

Thank you.


"I had to have a c-section for placenta praevia. I had a consultant anaesthetist who put the epidural in and was VERY confident it was in the right place. However, the anaesthetic worked on my motor nerves so I couldn't move, but did not work on my sensory nerves so I could feel. The test the anaesthetist was using to check what I could feel involved spraying alcohol onto my skin and saying 'Can you feel that as cold? You may be able to feel the sensation of fluid on your skin but can you feel it being cold?' I definitely could feel but found it really hard to distinguish between the sensation of the fluid on my skin and cold. I stalled and stalled but eventually the weight of expectation that it would be working and the number of people waiting got to me and so I said I supposed I must be only feeling fluid not cold... Which was a bad thing to do because the first incision felt like I was a bean bag being opened and it got worse from there. They stopped the operation 3 times, topped me up with seriously potent painkillers intravenously and gave me gas and air - the last was surprisingly effective but maybe that's because I was out of my mind with pain and just needed to be totally out of my mind. I stuck it out to see my baby boy born but then had to have a general because the pain was indescribable. 

In all it was a really traumatic experience and then it was compounded by nobody being told on the ward, and my GP and community midwife not even knowing I'd had a general anaesthetic - so I left an operating theatre after a horrific operation to zero support. Thankfully when, after 10 months, I told my GP that I was still having flashbacks and wondered whether I could have PTSD, she was brilliant - which was just as well because initially the hospital maintained that I had been 'conscious and comfortable' when my baby was born. But while I could push for more than an apology (which I did eventually get) it's only ever going to be a hollow victory because it doesn't change a thing. 

I started thinking about why I let it happen - and kept coming back to that one odd question. Talking to others I've realised that it wasn't me not knowing my own body and mind but that lots of people have found that same question very hard to answer - which made me wonder whether a better question could be used. I was put in touch with a very senior obstetric anaesthetist in the States who told me that he would never use cold and would only test using pin pricks - and that's what he teaches his students to do. 

So I've set up a survey (which respondents do anonymously) to gauge as much as I can in 10 questions about women's experiences of epidurals: whether they've felt under pressure, whether they could distinguish between sensations on their skin, whether they needed further pain relief after the epidural was administered , whether their GP was well informed and whether their experience put them off having more children. And now I need as many mothers as possible to complete the survey."


  1. Do you know I tried to answer the questionaire - having had 2 epidurals and 2 spinals in my various times giving birth. Could not remember a thing about them. Nothing. Couldn't remember what they asked, what they did, nothing. Quite worrying really.

    I hope she gets the responses needed - the whole experience sounds horrific.

  2. Pants - Nor could I really - I mean I could remember that it was cold I was supposed to feel (or not feel) and that it worked (because as S says, you'd probably notice that!) but at what stage and how I have no idea.... Weird isn't it?


I know. I'm sorry. I hate these word recognition, are you a robot, guff things too, but having just got rid of a large number of ungrammatical and poorly spelt adverts for all sorts of things I don't want, and especially don't want on my blog, I'm hoping that this will mean that only lovely people, of the actually a person variety, will comment.

So please do. Comments are great...