Epidural procedure leaves Waikato mother in pain and unable to walk properly

In the busy Hutchinson household, a home full of laughter, play, and love, mum Clare feels like a spectator.

Toys and books lie scattered across the lounge floor, like incidental footnotes in the young Gordonton family's life.

For the past six months, the cluttered lounge has become Clare's makeshift bedroom, the faded blue leather couch her bed.

During the birth of her fourth child, Natalie, at Waikato Hospital, Clare received an epidural, which punctured the membrane around her spine, known as the dura.

A second epidural, using blood from Clare's arm, was used to seal the puncture.

Today, the 32-year remains in severe pain and unable to walk properly due to complications which experts describe as "rare as rare".

But Clare's story isn't one of despair or of a life bordered in black.

Her story is one of hope.

For other young mums going through tough times, her message is to reach out.

"Despite everything that's happened to me, and to my family, I'm just grateful that it's not a new mum that's having to go through this," she said.

"For a new mum who's trying to get their life on track, as well as care for a new baby, things could easily become overwhelming. But there is amazing support out there for mums. You just need to ask."

Clare said her GP has been invaluable in putting her in contact with support groups for mothers.

ACC has also stepped in and installed a large wheelchair ramp outside her home and fitted supports and aides in different rooms.

Clare's mother, Colleen Brimblecombe, visits the family every day, gets the kids ready for school, takes Clare to appointments, and helps with meals when Clare's husband, Robbie, works late.

But there have been dark times, when the three kinds of painkillers she takes fail to mask the searing agony in Clare's legs and back, or when her young children want to climb over her for cuddles. 

"I kind of feel a bit like a fly on the wall in my own life, which sounds really bizarre, but I just can't do anything, so you're just an observer, which is a really strange feeling.

"But I'm naturally a very positive person. It would be pretty easy to feel cheated and to blame people but ... you just have to get on with life. I'm a positive person and I've always seen the glass as half full."

Last week, Clare walked for the first time without the aid of a walker and recently joined a swimming group.

Aidan O'Donnell, lead obstetric anaesthetist at Waikato Hospital, said about a thousand labour epidurals are done at Waikato Hospital each year.

The risk of a dura puncture was about one per 100 labour epidurals.

A epidural blood patch is regarded as the most effective treatment.

O'Donnell said the most likely cause of Clare's pain and discomfort was nerve root irritation due to the blood patch procedure: a rare and unpredictable consequence.

"What she has got is as rare as rare as rare," O'Donnell said.

"If we do a 1000 epidurals a year in this hospital, one of our patients will be permanently injured by our epidural once every 24 to 52 years based on our current rate of practice."

O'Donnell was disappointed Clare hadn't contacted the hospital to say she was still in pain. 

He planned to meet with her to discuss possible treatments.

"I intend to put Clare back on my radar and make sure that she's followed up and given the best treatment that we can provide. My sincere belief is that we've ruled out all the bad stuff and that means overwhelmingly her prognosis remains favourable."

Clare expects her recovery will be slow, but is determined not to be caged by circumstance.

"As a family we use to love going on bush walks and this summer I would have loved to have taken the kids to the beach. But I still hope to do all those things one day. You just have to have hope. It's about having hope."

 - Stuff