Saturday, July 3, 2010

#212: Stream of Chemo Conscousness

A little experiment today. I was at the chemotherapy infusion center for 8 hours, so I'm a little goofy. Consequently, my usually tightly organized, incisive insights may be a bit disjointed. But I'm to the point where a day without writing is a day unfilled, so here goes nothing.

Started the day with vitals, weight, pressure, temp all acceptable. Then the receiving nurse drew yet another vial of blood. My arms are starting to look like props for Sid and Nancy.

Met Grace, my chemo nurse for the day. She was sweet and very country. She kept calling me "Punkin'" which I found slightly grating for no good reason. We had to wait for the hapless Saturday morning on a holiday weekend lab techs to run the analysis on my blood before starting the long process of dripping.

Tried to start reading It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong. Got a few pages in, but ran out of steam so I turned on the History Channel and watched some programs about the American Revolution while Mrs P and I worked on the crosswords. She pretends not to know some of the answers so I can feel smart about spouting them off. It's pretty generous of her, actually.

Grace returns to tell us that my @%$!* white count is still too low. She'll call the doc and see what she wants to do. This sends me in to a funk from which I never really recover.

Grace comes back to tell me that she's texted the doctor. If she calls me "Punkin'" one more time I'm fixin' to bust my Redwing off in her "how-do-you-do."

Mrs P and I chat about how cancer treatment is about how you deal with setbacks. I am dealing poorly with them at the moment.

Grace pokes her head back in to tell me that the doc called and talked to somebody else, that's why it's taken so long to get word to me that we're going to reduce my dose by 20% and go ahead with treatment. She'll be right back to start my fluids, Punkin'. I mind her much less than I did a few moments ago.

I learn that Ben Franklin had a terrible rift with his son (William?) who was the Royal Governor of New Jersey. Ben's boy was a faithful Tory. I wonder how I got to be nearly fifty years old and a fairly well educated man, without ever having heard this story before.

Grace returns (getting a theme here?) and pokes me painlessly in the back of my hand. I am in love with her. Then the vein blows out and she has to stick me again in my forearm. Another good stick, but I now have three bandages on my arms and the morning's just getting started. She apologizes for the extra needle hole. I tell her, "Honey, I have cancer. I don't give a damn about a couple of needle pricks." She laughs, "You call me if you need anything, Punkin'." I really am tired of being called that by a stranger.

I learn that the battle of Bunker Hill didn't happen on Bunker Hill, but on the hill next door whose name I failed to write down. Also that Ethan Alen and Benedict Arnold were bitter rivals because Arnold was a consummate professional and Alen was a hillbilly knucklehead from Vermont whose Green Mountain Boys would only take orders from him. Alen also took full credit for the taking of Fort Ticonderoga which he should rightly have shared with Arnold. What any of this has to do with furniture or eggs, I did not learn.

I looked out the window for a while. I saw a couple of blue jays playing in the cedars. A ridiculously large dragon fly hovered outside for a while, then scooted away, presumably to find a body of water. I watched what appeared to be a hawk circling over the asphalt roof of the building across the street. The guard at the gate escorted a shapely brunette across the parking lot exhibiting what seemed to me to be much more than just professional interest.

The man next door peed himself. This is pretty easy to do because they are pumping you full of fluids to protect your kidneys and if you don't answer nature's first call, you are likely to learn that there's no snooze button on your bladder. Grace found him a pair of dry paper pants but did not to my recollection, refer to him as a member of the gourd family.

George Washington was compelled to put an end to the recruitment of Free African-Americans into the Continental Army because the south didn't want a bunch of gun-toting Negros roaming the Carolina hills, no matter what color their uniforms were. In response, the Red Coats announced that all slaves who enlisted in the British army would be freed at once. How did I never hear all this stuff?

Grace dropped of my bag of toxic, bio-hazard, poisonous chemo brew about half an hour early. She told us an uninteresting story about being under staffed, and wandered off, leaving this deadly packet on my rolling tray. I made a mental note that I hadn't peed yet, and resolved to be extra vigilant.

My chemo bag is orange, like a punkin'.

Some English General led an army of white men dressed in red through Brooklyn during the battle for New York. I would not suggest any general try such a route today.

Grace returned in her haz-mat regalia and we did the old what's your name, what does his armband say, what does the bag say, what does the chart say confirmation cross-check drill. Everything checked out, so she hooked me up and Mrs P went off to let the dog out and grab some lunch.

Oh first Mrs P gave me what she has begun referring to as "a feeding." This involves sucking a protein shake up into a large syringe and squirting it into my PEG tube. We do this three or four times a day, providing me with about 2500 calories, give or take. I'm gonna be a little under today.

Soon as my wife left, I had to pee. Grace saw me wheeling my IV pole across the corridor and asked if I needed any help. I was at a loss, so she turned on the light for me. I didn't want to make her feel bad, but the rest of the job was basically plumbing which is almost always men's work in my family.

No, that isn't right either. The toilet has been getting quite a workout this summer, and Mrs P has replaced all sorts of floats and flappers and things with no male assistance whatsoever. Still, she has never had to assist me in actually using the toilet.

"Chemotherapy patients: please remember to flush twice after using." Nothing about employees washing their hands, though. Hmmm...

Exhausted with learning what seems to be very rudimentary information about my own country's history, I switch to a futbol match on the pitch between sides representing Paraguay and Espanya. I know that's wrong, but I am too tired to figure out how to do the tilde thing over the N. I am please to say that I learn nothing more about the American Revolution.

Many handsome, dark haired men live in Paraguay and Espanya. The Paraguaymians are short, barrel-chested Andean mountain men who are utterly tireless. They wear red and white striped uniforms that make them look a little clownish. The Espaniards are tall and graceful in their dark blue uniforms. The Paraguayians appeared to be quite over matched against the tournament favorites, but also appeared to be unaware of this fact and were running around like maniacs, kicking big tall Espanish asses until the last minutes when two Espaniards had point-blank shots on goal. The first hit the left post and bounced out. The second hit the right post, then the left post, then bounced into the net. The Espaniardish striker ran to the corner and did a belly flop, then a bunch of other Espaniardians slid after him and began rolling on top of him giving him kisses. The Espanish side emerged victorious by the score of one-nil. It was a profoundly unsatisfying hour-and-a half. This by the way, is the most popular sport on earth.

During the game, Mrs P came back, gave me another "feeding," and Punkin' girl returned to start the last bags of saline when my chemo was finished. "Are they still playing these games?" she wondered. For once, I felt like we were on the exact same page.

Another trip to what Grace insisted on calling "the potty," and I was just about finished. Mrs P and I watched the little clock counter run down to 00:00 and it started beeping. We had been here for eight hours. My backwoods nightingale was on me in seconds. She removed the tape from my arm where the needle was being held in place.

OK, God forbid you should ever get Chemo but if you do, SHAVE YOUR ARMS! Because of the toxic nature of the chemicals, they really don't want them leaking all over the place so they cover the needle with a two-by-two-inch patch of clear tape that would keep tiles from flying off the space shuttle. Grace removed this tape as compassionately as she could. To her, this meant grimacing and saying "I'm so sorry, Punkin'," as she peeled away layers of my epidermis a millimeter at a time.

We finally left the building, drove home, carefully avoiding the Independence Day festivities. I no longer felt worthy to celebrate the day anyway. Heck, I didn't ever know that Washington was broke until he married Martha Custis. Apparently, she loved a man in uniform.

So now, I'm home. Tired, but not sleepy. We are fighting the impulse to shut the windows and turn on the AC, but the battle is not likely to last much longer.

Might as well try to march a bunch of guys from Oxford down Bedford Avenue.


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