PENSACOLA, Fla. - Selena Gray delivered a healthy baby girl named Serenity on June 26, but she spent the next few days in turmoil instead of celebration as confounded doctors tried over and over again to remove the epidural that had knotted around her spine during labor, lodging dangerously in her back.
Gray, 18, of Milton, Florida, received the epidural after being admitted to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, on June 25. She delivered her daughter the next day.
"I had a great labor," Gray said, "I didn't notice any problems until the nurse went to go pull out the epidural string... That's when the whole journey began."
Gray then learned that the epidural had essentially looped itself into her spine and wouldn't budge when the nurses tried to pull it out as they normally would.
"I got scared. I didn't know if I was going to be able to walk again," Gray said, "I'm young, I didn't even really know what an epidural was."
As Gray's pain increased, she and her family struggled to get help from the hospital staff. She was told a doctor would be in to see her, but says no doctor came.
"The pain," Gray paused, "I just couldn't even explain it." It was so bad that she was unable to get into a wheelchair even with her father and boyfriend lifting her simultaneously.
At the suggestion of her father, Gray decided to transfer out of Sacred Heart Hospital to seek alternate care. Her stepmother, Patricia Alvarado, called an ambulance to make the transport, but the ambulance didn't show up.
That's when a hospital case worker told them that Gray couldn't leave with the epidural still lodged in her back.Taking matters into her own hands, Alvarado called nearby Baptist Hospital and explained the situation. Baptist Hospital then sent an ambulance and had Gray transferred to their facility.
When she arrived, Gray found out that the nightmare wasn't over yet. She said that the doctors there were so bewildered by her case that they didn't even want to touch her.
They instead referred her to University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, which was a six-hour journey away -- one that she made with the help of Stillhorse RV, Boat, & 18-wheeler, who sponsored her to help cover the costs of transportation.
Gray made the entire six-hour ambulance ride laying on her side and arrived to a packed hospital where she had to wait for a CT scan.
Once the CT was done, doctors told her that they were going to give her more pain medication and do their best to pull the epidural out by the string, otherwise surgery would be necessary.
"I just started praying that when they pull it, it loosens up and comes right out," said Gray, who was anxious that this could have been her first time undergoing surgery.
Her prayers were answered when the staff at Shands Hospital were finally able to remove the entire epidural on the night of June 28. She made the long, arduous journey home the following day.
Selena's posts about the ordeal as well as those of her family have been shared thousands of times across social media. Among the many sympathetic commenters and those sending prayers, some women offered advice and encouragement based off of their own nightmarish birthing stories.
Gray said that she's not entirely sure what her recovery path will look like because her case is so rare, doctors don't have much of a precedent to work from.
Because she's still in a lot of pain, Gray has to take things very slowly. She can't pick up Serenity on her own and relies on family members to carry her newborn to her -- but she says she's made a ton of progress.
"I was terrified, and I still kind of am," Gray said, but her attitude is overwhelmingly positive and hopeful, even in the face of uncertainty.
"Every morning when I wake up, it's like a restart. I'm just taking it day by day."
She has a simple warning for other expectant mothers: "Be safe. If you plan on getting an epidural, make sure you do your research."