Thursday, September 21, 2006


Yesterday I got my first epidural shot. I’d known that I’d be getting it since last week. The doctor was looking at my MRI of my lumbar spine, said “I want you to see Dr. Allen,” then I promptly did and it was then that I discovered what Dr. Allen would be doing. He said it was a procedure where I’d get a small needle inserted into my back that would numb the area (just a SMALL needle… uh-huh), and then a larger needle (I believe LARGER was emphasized) would be inserted. A live X-ray type device would be used to help pinpoint the exact area that the giant needle would be visiting.

He said “You should have someone accompany you home… some people walk out of here just fine and others don’t.”

“Others don’t?” I asked. “Ha! Maybe I’ll have to be taken out in a wheel chair! Or a stretcher!” I said in jest. Oh, I do think I am funny.

Dr. Allen didn’t comment.

As the days passed I got more and more nervous about the procedure. All I knew is that a GIANT needle was going to be inserted into my delicate little, tiny, did I mention delicate (?) spinal column. If you are crazy like me, you’ll Google all the bad things that can happen––spinal fluid leakage, headaches, fevers, infection… DEATH! Okay, death isn’t a side effect but my brain told me it was. YOU WILL DIE from this, my brain told me (my brain doesn’t mess around and it DOESN’T have a sense of humor).

Then two days ago a coworker told me how horrible it would be. She said “Oh! My sister got one when she was pregnant. She had to have a catheter! It was AWFUL! You'll have a catheter!” That sent me over the edge. I wasn’t having a baby and knew it couldn’t possibly be the same, but OH THE AGONY.

Needless to say when all my vitals were hooked up yesterday in the scary surgical-type room, my blood pressure was through the roof.

The doctor asked what the highest my blood pressure has ever been and I said “160/110.”

He said “Oh! It’s exactly that!”

“Ha ha, chuckle, chuckle,” my brain said. “They think my high blood pressure is nothing and these are the last few minutes of my short life! Soon I will be dead! Dead! Dead! Goodbye cruel world, goodbye!” Okay, my brain wasn’t being that dramatic but you get the point.

“Do you mind needles?” he asked.

“YES,” I said. “I DO mind. I DO NOT like them,” I answered.

“Well, I guess you’d better look away then,” he said jovially.

What, you may wonder, is the point of all this chatter? Am I trying to turn this children’s chat blog into my own personal story- time? Maybe. Perhaps we could call it Fireside Chat with Meghan II. But seriously, I’m here to tell you that the anticipation of starting the artwork for a children’s book is EXACTLY THE SAME as the anticipation of getting a medical procedure. Well, for me anyway. A paintbrush may as well be that epidural needle. When were those other times that my blood pressure has been 160/110? When making a kids' book....

My editors always assume, I think, that it is fun to paint. “It looks like SO much fun!’ they always say.” But it’s not! It’s not fun AT ALL! Okay, once I get going it’s fine… but it’s those first few days when I tentatively hover near the table…when I push that white paper around…when I go to the art supply store and buy just a FEW new tubes of paint because A FEW tubes are better than TOO MANY…when I tell my friends “goodbye” because I won’t be seeing them for a while. I usually have a nice dinner right before getting going and tell my friends “Guys, this is my last meal with you. You won’t be seeing me for a long while.” We cry, we hug, and then I go on my way... and slump back to the dark, lonely studio. Okay, we don’t cry or hug but maybe we should.

Then, at the stroke of midnight, I begin. I usually paint in the late and early morning hours because there’s not that daytime distraction--happy people living their lives and that sort of thing. Sometimes I “take a break” around 3 am or so and then wake to find myself at 5am on the couch with the TV playing The Jeffersons WAY TOO LOUD. At other times I make it all the way to 5 or 6 am, still painting, still going strong. It’s at those times that my “second wind” kicks in and I get all hyped up. Sometimes I take a break to do sit ups and lift some weights. But then I’m back at it, painting away.

But the reason I get so anxious about the painting process is THE STRESS that accompanies it. When there’s only a week left and I know I’m not going to finish, when the editor starts the emails politely asking “How’s it coming along?” I feel the pain. Then I go to my part-time job, come home exhausted, put my new audio book on and get to painting. I’ll paint and paint and paint but sometimes the process can’t be sped up no matter how hard I try. When the artwork is due the next day and I have 4 pieces to go and I know I might not make it…and I'm so tired my brain starts playing that Rocky theme song over and over again––da da daaa, da da daaa (you know the one) ... when I know I won’t sleep and I won’t eat and the heart palpitations kick in and I feel light headed and TIRED and SICK…when that happens, I’d rather get the epidural shot. I’ll take that long needle in the back any day! This is whey the anticipation of the giant needle is exactly the same as the start of a book. Sad, but true.


Dear Readers: I hope you don’t think the above tale is depressing. I don’t mean it to be. I mean for it to be a light, beach read. Print it out, take it with you, drink some lemonaid, sit in the sun and enjoy. But please, if you have anything to add…if you don’t understand what I'm talking about or IF YOU DO…let me know. Please share your "day before the shot" tales. I'm sure I'll feel better once you do.



Caroline Hickey said...

Not to sound like an ignorant writer, but I had NO idea illustrators have the exact same feelings as writers when they stare at that blank paper. Now that I've read your post it makes perfect sense, of course. Jumping off the bridge is always scary, and the water is cold, but you tread water a little and eventually warm up. Is it terrible of me to say that it's nice to know we all feel the same?

Caroline Hickey

alvinaling said...

wow--this is amazing.

But first of all, HOW WAS THE SHOT?

Meghan McCarthy said...

Oh, the shot. It was fine. I had fun watching my pulse start at 75 and then drop to 60 when I realized it wasn't going to be that painful. The dr. was also helpful because he talked through the whole thing. i like it when they do that. Now, today, I am pain free! I'm keeping my fingers crossed....

I'm also currently painting (got a reference photo on my laptop). The art is the same way. it's not that bad once I get going. I'm listening to BLINK. I thought for my next post I'd compare how looking at an illustration is a lot like Blink's suggestion that people can make a decision within a couple of seconds. If one little detail looks wrong, the whole picture looks wrong, and you can tell immediately.


Meghan McCarthy said...

By the way, i like knowing we all feel the same way. it's like therapy!

Anna Alter said...

That is a perfect description of how it feels getting started. No matter how many books you do, its always the same- I always have the same thought that this time I just might not be able to pull it off... then I start running through other career options. When I finally get settled into working I wonder how I ever could have thought about doing something else.

Grace Lin said...

yay, for pain-free!

Now I'm seeing how those book-birth analogies are even more right on than I thought...

Anonymous said...

I had two epidurals, once with each delivery of my 2 kids. The contractions were so easy with the second that I contemplated skipping the epidural, but my OB told me to get it. It went so well that I realized the first anesthesiologist made a mistake and hit a nerve when I felt like I was being electrocuted through my spine! I also know the agony of staring at a blank page when doing artwork or writing, but since I am not a professional I don't have any stories about editors breathing down my neck at crunch time. Oh well. Anyone want to compare diaper rash to negotiating a contract?

Karen Lee said...

Oh Meghan, that was painful. You're poking my scab. I have five days to complete (plus start) the last two paintings of the book I wrote, the book I'm illustrating. I need a shot. This is every bit as horrifying as giving birth - will my book/child be healthy? will people like my book/child? will I be proud of my book/child? will I fail my book/child? Will I survive? And I will never,ever do this again (I said the same thing about having more kids after the first)

Agyw said...

Meghan, I couldn't write for a couple days, a little because of the deadline I'm under, but mostly it's amazing the thoughts that can be inspired. I never had the epidural (you're a far better man than I, Gunga Din), but one of the most painful experiences I've had until very recently, was my then two year old's spinal tap. You brought back all of those feelings. I'm happy to read it wasn't as bad as you'd thought it would be (wonderful life lessons, if only we could learn them through osmosis or some other method).

I am most often left with mixed feelings at my work. I love doing it (though it's often like pulling teeth). I find pieces that I love and get excited about, but loathe that it doesn't meet my little head trips. I'm also usually sure that others don't think that much of it, so I too often will solicit close friends attention for the work, as a confidence booster. I HATE being tied to others approval, I know it hinders what I do.

Happy completion of project and health. And may this one be the one that takes you to where you want to be.