Wet taps and the number '3'

Posted by Clark Venable on 5/12/2006

Wet taps are accidental dural punctures that happen while attempting to place a needle into the epidural space. The published frequency of wet taps is about 1 in 800 epidural placements, depending on the experience of the operator. If I'm placing an epidural catheter in a pregnant woman and get a wet tap, she has a greater than 50% chance of a dural puncture headache (unless, of course, she is morbidly obese, in which her risk is almost zero).

It seems my wet taps come in three's (hence the title of this post). I remember as a third year anesthesiology resident being on call on OB for the first time after spending three months on the transplant anesthesia service and getting three consecutive wet taps that night on OB. Bam, bam, bam (or should I say 'splash, splash, splash'). I felt terrible, of course, but could not recall doing anything different that would have caused them! My grandmother used to say that accidents happen in threes. She was referring to airplane crashes, but I have to wonder, is it true of wet taps?

In the last ten years of doing anesthesia I've had no accidental dural punctures that I know of. That all changed about a month ago. I did a lumbar epidural steroid injection on a co-worker's husband and must have scored the dura. That's one. I had a wet tap during a labor epidural on a patient who, in retrospect, had a non-union of the ligamentum flavum. That's two. I'm just waiting for number three. I'm on call on OB tonight. Is number three around the corner?

[here's a nice review, btw]

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