As if a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough to worry about, she may need to be concerned with getting an epidural – one of the things that’s supposed to help relieve pain and take the edge off an intense labor or prevent feeling during a C-section. And, epidurals are even given as pain management solutions for spinal and other chronic issues.
Although it’s extremely rare, it’s possible for epidurals to cause severe pain, spinal problems like arachnoiditis, and even temporary or lifelong paralysis. Unfortunately, many patients aren’t told about all of the possible complications before they opt for an epidural, making a devastating outcome even more surprising and difficult to cope with. According to ScienceDaily, less than 1 in 200,000 people given an epidural are permanently or severely harmed, but as these cases show, it can happen.
The women in this article have all had different types of paralysis – from temporary to severe and lifelong – from their epidurals. It’s incredibly scary to think that something so routine can cause such severe effects on one’s health, but it’s also important to be aware of the risks of an epidural so women can be fully prepared and in control of their own health when creating their birth plans.
15 Major Medicine Mix-Up
One woman in Sweden had a horrifying mix-up that never should have happened when she went to the hospital to give birth in July 2014. She was given what she thought was an epidural, but at some point, the containers for the epidural and a disinfectant were switched, leaving the mom with what could have been a fatal dose of disinfectant instead of an epidural.
The disinfectant was chlorhexidine, which is used to disinfect medical tools, like catheters. Fortunately, the dose was small enough that it didn’t leave any lasting damage to the woman. But, she spent two weeks in the hospital after her birth in a tremendous amount of pain – her husband described it as “electric jolts” - that left her unable to move her body properly as if she had a temporary paralysis.
14 Routine Procedure Goes Wrong
Irrum Jethra’s case is one of the most well-known cases of epidurals related to childbirth gone wrong. Her story has been plastered on almost every online news outlet imaginable, and it’s easy to see why. Irrum’s first child’s birth was supposed to go as “normally” as possible, but when she received an epidural, things went downhill. For hours after her daughter’s birth, Irrum still had no feeling in her legs, which is uncommon for epidural recipients.
Eventually, Irrum’s doctors found that she had a rare blood clot caused by the epidural that compressed her spinal cord, causing paralysis. It’s unknown at this point if she will ever regain feeling in her lower body, but Irrum undergoes several hours of daily treatments with a therapist to try to get her legs working – or at least, feeling – again.
13 Too Painful To Sit After Birth
Debra Shaw had her daughter in 2003, and since then, her life hadn’t been the same. She suffered damage to her coccyx, or the tail bone, during her daughter’s birth, which was long and intense for Debra because her daughter wasn’t positioned properly in the womb. But, to make matters worse, Debra’s anesthesiologist – who was a trainee - couldn’t find the proper place for the epidural to go, leaving her like a human pin cushion until he found the right spot.
Debra believes that the epidural possibly damaged her coccyx, which then became exacerbated by her rough labor and pushing. For years after the birth, with the worst pain starting around the time her daughter was two, Debra found it too painful to sit down because her coccyx had been pushed to an abnormal position, creating almost a reverse paralysis. Debra has since entered yoga and other treatments but has never regained full mobility without pain.
12 Scary Situation Post-Epidural
One husband on Reddit asked some of his peers for help regarding his wife’s condition after receiving an epidural for pain during the birth of the couple’s baby. During the procedure, the wife had felt a liquidy sensation going down her leg, to which the anesthesiologist said something about hitting a pocket, but no more was said beyond that. After the birth, his wife got several hot flashes and her right leg was still feeling numb.
The husband asked others what they thought may be the problem with his wife, as she was still experiencing numbness in her leg to the point that she was unable to walk, severe hot flashes, and no appetite. Fortunately, the wife was, at the time of the husband’s writing, under the care of a doctor and undergoing some testing to find out the problem, rather than relying on Reddit users to solve the puzzle.
11 A Change Of Mind Led To Disaster
Lisa Mann gave birth to her first child in 2002. At first, she planned not to have an epidural. However, she wasn’t prepared for her labor to last as long as it did, and by the time she had been in labor for 48 hours, she was ready for some pain relief. Lisa recalls that she was in incredible pain as the epidural needle went in, with an extremely hot feeling between her shoulders and then her whole body feeling cold. Soon, her legs started twitching uncontrollably.
She was able to have her daughter, but her left leg remained numb after the birth. When she got home from the hospital and tried to take a bath, neither leg was able to hold her up any longer. A day or so later, she began feeling numb at her waist. Doctors determined that she had spinal inflammation, which may have been caused by the epidural. For two years she used a wheelchair but was finally able to walk again when her daughter turned two.
10 Effects Of Missed Epidural
Dawn Gonzalez recalls her frightening birth story on the National Pain Report website. She believes she was coerced into having an epidural and a C-section because of complications she was experiencing with her labor. She went along with the doctor’s wishes. But, during the epidural insertion, she experienced incredible pain that she didn’t think was normal. The nurse administering the epidural said, “Why didn’t you tell me I missed?”
It was later found that Dawn had arachnoiditis and two forms of meningitis attacking her spine from the epidural insertion. Because of her intense pain and complications, Dawn isn’t able to give herself a bath or change her clothes without help and has chronic pain throughout her body. Dawn believes that everyone should be aware of possible complications of an epidural and never feel pressured into getting one if it’s not what they want.
9 Temporary Paralysis And Constant Pain
Michelle Babcock went into labor not thinking the worst, but instead excited to meet her new baby. She didn’t think twice about having an epidural when she gave birth in 2012 to her son. When she got the epidural though, Michelle felt a sudden intense pain on her body’s left side and her anesthesiologist reinserted the needle to another location. Then, her blood pressure dropped, causing her to feel faint. She was able to deliver her son but still had no feeling in her legs for hours after her son’s birth when nurses tried to get her to walk.
Michelle ended up with uncontrollable muscle spasms and extremely weak legs and feet that sometimes left her unable to walk at all, and when she could, it wasn’t much. She was eventually diagnosed with arachnoiditis and is unable to stand or sit for prolonged amounts of time.
8 Learning To Walk Again
Terri had an epidural in 2015 that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Although the specifics of her epidural weren’t released – if she had one for childbirth or pain management and what went wrong along the way – it’s clear that the effects of her epidural had changed her life forever. In 2017, a video was released showing Terri taking her first steps after long, hard, and intense training for the past year.
Terri had been training with NextStep Orlando Center after being told by doctors that her chances of ever walking again were slim to none – at only about a 3% chance. But, as the video and this screenshot from that video show, Terri proved her doctors wrong, taking her first unassisted steps with her trainer close by for safety.
7 Wheelchair Bound From Epidural
One woman on the What To Expect forums, a place where expecting and new moms share questions, answers, and pregnancy or birth-related stories, asked a question of other moms and pregnant women:
“One of my friends told me her cousin has been in a wheelchair for 5 years because of a failed epidural, what are the chances this happens?”. It is likely an even scarier situation when tragic side effects hit close to home, as was the case for this woman, who was afraid of it happening to her.
One woman replied that she’s known a couple of women who have had temporary paralysis from the epidural, but not long-term paralysis, and many other women had similar stories to share. Fortunately, the chances of permanent paralysis are slim, but they’re still there and it’s a possibility that every soon-to-be-mom should be aware of so they can make informed decisions.
6 A Devastating Post-Birth Story
Giving birth should be one of the happiest times in a new mom’s life, but as Candace told to The West Coast Mommy, her baby’s birth in October 2004 ended in tragedy:
“My pregnancy was complication-free. “[During labor] my baby decided to flip ‘face up’ which meant he was no longer in the ‘optimal birthing position.’ This, in combination with the back labor I was experiencing, was horrible. I begged for an epidural. “[The anesthesiologist] began preparing, and I said, ‘I’m contracting,’ but she went ahead anyway.”
Candace said she shook from the contractions during the needle insertion when they suddenly went limp. But, she was still able to feel cold sensations and touches. Days after giving birth, she still couldn’t get her legs to move to walk. She hasn’t gotten any answers from doctors as to what went wrong, but she hasn’t been able to walk since that day.
5 Long-Term Crippling Effects
Helen Bertelli’s epidural wasn’t associated with either one of her births of her two children, but instead was part of a treatment for serious back pain she was experiencing. An epidural for pain management is administered the same way as one for labor and carries the same possible side effects, including temporary or permanent paralysis. In Helen’s case, her epidural left her with spinal arachnoiditis, which is currently not curable.
The epidural left her with strange sensations in her legs which, at times, make her unable to walk or stand. She also gets intense pains and muscle cramps in her lower body. Helen says that she was never informed of the potential risks of her epidurals and has since formed an advocacy group that urges the FDA to make the risks known to patients.
4 Fighting For Answers
One husband started a Go Fund Me fundraiser for his wife, Cheryl, who received an epidural for pain management in 2010, much like Helen Bertelli’s case. When she awoke from her general anesthesia, she couldn’t feel her legs at all. Doctors reassured her that her numbness was normal for a short time, but hours later, she was still unable to feel anything below her waist.
Eventually, Cheryl was sent to another facility that found spinal damage from the epidural, causing her to become completely paralyzed from the waist down. The Go Fund Me account was set up to help cover medical bills for Cheryl’s new and unexpected health needs, including rehabilitation therapy designed to try to help her walk again one day. As of her husband’s writing, Cheryl had taken two unassisted steps finally, almost three years after her epidural.
3 Swimmer’s Horrifying Paralysis
At only 18 years old, Mallory Weggemann lost her ability to walk following an epidural that she had for pain management related to a case of shingles that caused her to have severe lower back pain. Mallory previously had two epidurals that went just as expected, but it was her third one that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Mallory had been a swimmer since she was 7 years old, so of course, she wondered if she’d ever swim again.
Fortunately, she’s defied all odds and has since become a para-swimmer, using her arms to help propel her from the wall instead of her legs, as most swimmers do. In 2009 and 2010, she won the title of World Disabled Swimmer of the Year and got an ESPY award in 2011, as the Best Female Athlete with a Disability.
2 Getting Some Justice
Just to show that epidurals have potential risks to people of all ages, this case tells the story of Robbin Smith, a woman who just recently won a $14.9 million lawsuit against a surgery center of which she was a patient in 2013. According to KDVR, Smith had received an epidural as a steroid injection with a drug that was labeled “Not for epidural use.” The epidural left her with a spinal cord infection, thanks to the faulty medicine, and she was paralyzed – likely permanently – from the waist down. Unfortunately, Smith was never told about the risks of using the medicine via an epidural.
Smith now needs constant care to do things she should be able to do on her own, like cook a meal, use the bathroom or take a bath.
1 Devastating Hospital Error
It’s extremely sad to hear about cases in which epidurals had such devastating effects on women, but it’s scary to know that it can happen to such young people, like Mallory Weggemann, who trusted the procedure to help their pain. In 2008, Sophie Tyler was another young woman – only 14 years old – who received an epidural for pain management following a gall stone surgery. The hospital made a traumatic error, though, leaving her epidural in place for two days and permanently damaging her spinal cord.
Sophie was left paralyzed from the waist down and now lives her life in a wheelchair. The family attorney has said, "At the age of 14, to be told the news that you will never walk again is unimaginable and to discover that mistakes were entirely avoidable has been incredibly hard for them to cope with."
Sources: ABCNews.go.com, CafeMom.com, DailyMail.co.uk, Express.co.uk, KDVR.com, Reddit.com, ScienceDaily.com, Telegraph.co.uk, ThisWestCoastMommy.com, WBIR.com, WhatToExpect.com