Monday, June 7, 2010

#176: The First Day of Chemo

This post is much longer than I expected. Sorry, it was a pretty eventful day. I'll talk chemo today and radiation tomorrow - Pennsy

Last night was a late one. There was a blog to post, my news reader to catch up on, a couple days worth of Facebook status updates to read. Yeah, I was stalling. Finally got to bed about 1:00. Mum was still awake, reading. I don't think either of us wanted to face the dreams that our evening was likely  to hold. We were both awake again at about 3:30. Mrs. P's alarm went off at 6:00. I got up and made a vanilla protein shake. That's what goes in the spot where I put three Marlboros and half a pot of coffee back in the old days.

Then it was time to flush my PEG tube. This involves taking a large syringe and running clean water through the tube four or five times a day just to keep it clear. We also change the dressing around it then. Because the stoma is still pretty new, it leaks a little. Usually nothing newsworthy. Except this morning on the gauze we found something that looked suspiciously like the spinach and mushroom dish I enjoyed at our favorite Indian restaurant yesterday.

We were faced with two equally fearful prospects. First, there was a possibility that stomach contents were leaking. This is very bad mojo. The juice in your stomach is designed to break down organic tissue. Having it sloshing around inside your abdomen is a terrible plan. Second, it was certain that I was going to have to admit that I spent my last day before chemo - a therapy almost assured to cause nausea - gumming on enough curry and tandoori to bust a gut. Mrs P, ever the student of those forensic procedural shows, bagged and tagged the evidence so we could take it with us to the cancer center.

There is such comfort in falling into a routine someone else knows well. After a short wait, we moved from sign-in to triage, from triage to the treatment room. "Dee", the nurse from my medical oncologist's office was summoned to examine the verdant discharge on my bandages. After a thorough examination of the tube site, the team agreed that the green stuff was gross, a little hilarious, and harmless. The Chemo could proceed.

"Rodger", the chemo nurse explained the procedure to me. He would give me two litres of fluid, then a bag of medicine, then two more litres of fluid. The "medicine" is very dangerous to the kidneys, so they do all they can to keep them flushed clean. I should feel free to get up and use the bathroom at the first urge. We would be working my radiation treatment into the schedule sometime during one of the two hydration periods.

Two children in white lab coats were my next visitors. I was shocked the first time I saw a police officer on a subway car who was clearly much younger than I. I have started to feel the same way about a lot of the wonderful young people who are working to save me. They are  brilliant and competent, but they are also so fresh-faced that they make me want to ask for ID before I show them my scar.

He was my pharmacist. She was his student and not his prom date, as I had assumed. He told me about the specific medicines i was going to be using. My kidneys could fail. My hearing could be damaged. My esophagus might swell shut. My bowels could stop moving. Gotta love this kid. While Mum and Mrs P took careful notes, (God bless them,) he went over each of the pills I'd be taking home. Steroids, anti-nausea potions, more anti-nausea potions, even more anti-nausea potions. "Don't lose these," he cautioned after showing us one particularly potent pellet, "they cost about two thousand dollars a piece." So that's where the nausea comes from.

The girls worked crossword puzzles and did needlework while I listened to my iPod and gazed out the window of our little cubicle. Time dripped through the pump that fed the juice into my left wrist. I had to move my LiveStrong bracelet to my right arm. In the process, it got turned around so the lettering faced away from me. I reversed it again so I could read it. The words are for me, not to impress other people.

When it was time, after about two hours, Rodger and another nurse came in with a large IV bag in a dark amber shroud, almost the color of a beer bottle. I should be so lucky. They were wearing blue haz-mat robes and gloves to protect their skin from the stuff that would soon be pumping into my veins. Like missile officers reviewing launch codes they triple-checked my identity.

"What is your name and birthdate?"
"My records show him as ... born on..."
"His wrist band shows him as so and so, birthdate thus and such, patient number..."
"I have him as patient number..."
"The bag contains..."
"My records show that the bag should contain..."
Check, check, and check.

There were a lot of light-hearted moments in the room. This was not one of them. this was some nasty stuff. How nasty is it? My pee is toxic. I had to use a special bathroom on the ward. The staff could not be exposed to the chemicals they were giving me or they might experience all the wicked side effects they'd been telling me about for two months. I have to "double-flush" to make sure none of the stuff they are putting on me winds up in the bowl at home when someone else uses it. Disinfect seat and handle. Nasty stuff.

As the chemo was finishing, a dear friend who is on the staff came down to visit with us for a while. She offered to walk us over to the radiation therapy building once I was back on fluids again. Rodger set me up, and we trundled my little IV pole across the courtyard. It was a beautiful Bluegrass afternoon. We laughed and joked and drank in the air and the energy of the young people enjoying their lunches at picnic tables. We probably walked 150 yards. It felt like a mile.

After radiation, which I mostly slept through, we made our way back to the ward. It wasn't long before I was finished and feeling worn out. We arrived at 8:00 in the morning and left around 3:00. That's all the typing I can stand today. Sorry I can't craft a more artful ending. We'll talk about radiation tomorrow.


1 comment:

  1. Thank-you Bob. I'm so glad that FB led me to you. Your blog is treasure. Thank-you for sharing your experience so brilliantly. I pray for your healing and comfort.


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