A Bone Marrow Biopsy

If you’re like me, you’ve probably never witnessed a bone marrow biopsy procedure before. That’s right, even though I’ve had more procedures done to me than I care to remember, I have never actually seen the procedure being performed on me. This is because, 1. I always have to lie on my stomach, and 2. I’ve always been too scared to try and look.

But during today’s procedure, I mustered up the courage and asked my herculean wife to take pictures of it so I could finally see what it was all about. I call my wife herculean because she’s been exceptionally strong and courageous for me throughout my entire cancer experience; and after I saw the pictures, it amazes me even more how strong and courageous she really is. I know for certain that if the roles were reversed and I had to be there to support her during one of these procedures, especially during the first time, I would pass out. For real.

I also asked my wife to take the pictures so I could share them with others who may be interested in learning and seeing what a bone marrow biopsy is all about. But please be warned, these pictures may be disturbing for some people. If you’re still interested, please click the more link.

Bone Marrow Biopsy Begins
Getting into position to begin the bone marrow biopsy

Like I said, it is easy for me to not see what is going on during my bone marrow biopsy procedures because I always have to lay on my stomach. This is because, I assume, the back of the hip bone is always the bone of choice, probably because of its size and its close proximity to the skin’s surface.



Bone Marrow Biopsy Supplies
The supplies needed for a bone marrow biopsy

It takes two people to perform the procedure: A Bone Marrow Biopsy Certified Doctor or Nurse Practitioner and a Bone Marrow Biopsy Lab Specialist. This is the cart that the lab specialist wheels into the room to prepare for the biopsy.



Bone Marrow Biopsy Preparation
Numbing the biopsy site

After pulling down my drawers and cleaning the site, the nurse then shoots me up with a little numbing juice. After you see the next medieval-looking devices, you’ll understand why I need to be numbed up.



Bone Marrow Biopsy Needles and Syringes
The needles and syringes needed for a bone marrow biopsy

Yes, those needles will soon be inserted into my body. The thick needle with the green handle is about six inches long. The other needles will be attached to the syringes and are about eight or nine inches long.



Bone Marrow Biopsy First Needle
The first needle is hollow and is screwed into the hip bone and provides a pathway for the other needles

The thick needle is inserted through the skin and when it hits the bone, the nurse then screws it in until it gets down to the marrow.



Bone Marrow Biopsy Bone Marrow Draw
A syringe is then put in place and a second, thin, very long needle is inserted through the first needle deep into the bone and the marrow is drawn out

Once the first, pathway needle is set, the other longer, thinner needles are hooked up to a syringe and then sent through the first needle deeper into the marrow. Depending on the experience of the person performing the procedure, the pain up to this point, because of the numbing medicine, is not too bad; but, there is no numbing medicine down inside the bone and once the second needle is in place and the nurse begins to draw the marrow, it feels like a high-powered, electrical charge is being drawn out of my body. Again, the experience of the person performing the procedure matters. The first time I had it done was right after I was diagnosed with cancer and it was performed by a young, fellowship doctor. The doctor is a great guy and to this day I highly regard and value his care and contribution to my recovery. But, in addition to me having no idea what to expect that first time, let’s just say, the doctor still had a lot to learn about finesse and patient preparation when he performed the procedure on me. When he pulled out the marrow, he did it in a very okay-ready-or-not-here-it-comes, this-is-gonna-hurt-you-more-than-it’s-gonna-hurt-me kind of way. Fortunately, all the procedures since then have been performed by seasoned nurse practitioners and have not equaled the level of pain and anxiety experienced during my first procedure.



Bone Marrow Biopsy Lab Specialist
The lab specialist prepares the bone marrow for testing

After the bone marrow draws have been completed, preparing the specimens for testing is very important. I have been told that there have been times when the specimen wasn’t properly prepared and they had to do the procedure all over again. Not a good scenario. I have two more biopsies to go, provided I remain cancer-free. Let’s just hope the lab specialists continue to take great care with my marrow.



Bone Marrow Biopsy Completion
After about ten minutes the procedure is complete and a bandage is put in place

Once all the marrow has been drawn, the site is cleaned and gauzed up and then sealed with a large swath of tape. From start to finish, the whole procedure usually takes about thirty minutes or so. However, during my last procedure three months ago, for some reason the nurse couldn’t hit the right spot until after much prying, poking, and repositioning of the lead needle. That one probably took about an hour. But no matter how long the procedure takes, or how painful it is, when I think about all of the bone marrow my donor provided for me, nearly a gallon of the stuff, nothing I go through compares. Now that I understand what it takes just to get the little marrow I have to provide for a biopsy, I am even more thankful for my wonderful donor. I am told that donors have to be put under for their procedures and it usually takes them several weeks to recover. I am only sore for a day or so.


And now, after finally seeing my procedure, I am even more thankful for my wonderful, herculean wife and how strong and courageous she has been and continues to be in her care and support for me.

4 thoughts on “A Bone Marrow Biopsy”

  1. I now have a better appreciation for this procedure. I had to lay on my side during the procedure. Since I usually live with back pain most of the time, I was groomed for the aftermath. Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

  2. After looking at the viedo and reading the after effects and the risks, I am more likely to not have it done, just for the after pain alone. I also don;t like being put out for the test, that just makes matters worse. Thers has to be a better way of testing, this almost reminds me of the Witch Doctor approach,

  3. Joe,
    To me the procedure was never really a big deal. A little sting from the shot that numbs the site. Then most of it after that is just uncomfortable pressure. Much of it has to do with the skill of the person administering the biopsy, I guess. I have had a couple of stinkers who did have a hard time getting the needle through the bone and into the right spot to suck out the marrow. That wasn’t any fun, I admit. However, regardless of how well the procedure went, the pain afterwards has always been insignificant to me, as well.

    Now I will say that I have overheard others talking about how painful the procedure was for them and how they could barely walk afterwards.

    I guess it all depends on how good or bad your health is and how well you manage these types of procedures and the associated pain that goes with them.

    I am not aware of any other alternatives to the procedures for why I was getting them, which was to test to see where I was at with my leukemia. I’m not sure why you would need one, so I am sorry to have nothing to offer to you in this regard.

    Good luck, Joe. If you find any alternatives, or if you do get the procedure done, I would love to hear from you about it.



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