I’m doing what I can to start the new year right: kicking cancer’s ass.
I get tucked into the corner at one of the stations that afford more privacy, which I love. They’ve honed the chemotherapy-only day to a two-ad-a-half-hour operation, an hour and a half of which is me doped out on Benedryl, but I still like being squirreled away to observe the world around me.
Six sessions and only the first two were at the same seat. It’s a big room, thirty chairs, and it astounds me every time. The waiting room for lab work and doctor visits was standing room only when I passed it. I have Katy again, and she remarks, “It’s always so busy the day after the holidays. We were closed for three days in the past two weeks. I’ll be home late tonight for sure.”
“Is that bad?” I ask.
“No, I don’t mind. I know to expect it.”
She obviously loves her job. I think they all do, although I wonder how they can. How do they not go home and cry themselves to sleep every night? I still have this idea that cancer is a death sentence, which it’s not anymore. They’re snatching people from the jaws of death every single day, people who are scared shitless that they are going to die, which must be rewarding.
You want superheroes? Go walk through a system therapy treatment ward, and shake the hand of an oncology nurse.
Katy gets everything ready for my port. She looks at the incision, which has a big scab over it. The red around the edges hasn’t grown; in fact, it seems to be receding. However, she remarks, “I’m concerned about your incision.”
“I talked to Dr. Freedman on Friday. She said it’s all right. It’s healing from the bottom up.”
Katy looks dubious.
“It looks better than it did,” I explain. “She looked at it two weeks ago, and the edges were more red.”
“I’m just worried because when you’re getting a treatment like this, your body doesn’t have the fighting capability it does regularly.”
“If she’s not concerned about it, then that’s all right.” She pokes around at the site. “Does it hurt?”
“Not really. The babies were yanking at it earlier this week, so it’s slightly sore. But it’s mostly fine. You can see on the edge there where the scab came off and it’s just scar now.” I neglect to mention that I’m also taking five percocets a day, but for some reason, I assume all the nurses know that we’re all on heavy-duty painkillers. The incision really is fine. It doesn’t hurt. If I touch it, it feels like a cut. The only reason I don’t like to is because the port underneath feels weird. It’s healing. It’s fine.
Katy has everything set up. She tries to go in. She pulls back and holds the apparatus above my chest. I look at it. The needle is pretty big, long and silver, with blood on the end. It doesn’t scare me, but then, it’s not going in as I’m staring at it. At least, that’s why I decide I’m not having any anxious feelings. I haven’t even had any Ativan today.
“I need to get my colleague to do this.” She sets down everything on the sterile package she opened and walks away.
Another nurse comes over. “Is this sore?” she asks.
“No,” I say again, still not mentioning the percocets. They don’t believe me, I guess.
Katy touched it gingerly and didn’t move it, but this nurse does. She presses and twists slightly, just like she’s getting a good grip on it. It still doesn’t hurt. It feels a little uncomfortable, like someone is grabbing a medical apparatus that’s been implanted below your skin and is being moved to a more accessible location.
(I know, I’m so literal. When I was giving birth to Morrigan and I got the overwhelming urge to push, the nurse asked if I felt like I needed to poop. “NO!” I yelled. “IT FEELS LIKE A BABY IS TRYING TO COME OUT OF MY VAGINA.” I mean, they’re two very different locations. How do you get that mixed up? And it’s a distinct feeling. I suppose if I didn’t know that’s what was happening, I’d be mystified, but it was what was happening and that’s what it felt like.)
New nurse gets the port accessed and shows me good blood return, but I’m worried. The needle goes in just at the edge of my incision. It’s supposed to be below the incision, not underneath it. I’ll have to bring it up to Dr. Freedman again.
“There may be swelling because of how it’s healing,” she explains. “It’s slightly tilted.”
That explains her having to grab and move it. It doesn’t explain why the needle had to go in so high. I’m really not impressed with this doctor who did the insertion. I’m starting to suspect he didn’t do it himself, that he had his student do it. At the time, I thought I didn’t care if she did, but if they have to cut me open and dig around in my chest again, I’m not going to be thrilled about that.
I feel bad for my superhero nurse, Katy. I suppose that like any jobs, nurses have things they’re better at. Is she afraid to hurt me? Or is she just bad at doing ports? Maybe she’s a newer nurse, and she doesn’t have the practice. Maybe because I’m so young, she feels a connection to me, and it’s too much emotionally to see my port moved where it’s not exactly supposed to be.
If you ever wondered what it was like to be in a writer’s head, this is it, man. Constantly wondering at the motivations and feelings of those around me. Looking for the next great story. If I had the confidence to write a nurse, I’d probably write a story starring (my interpretation of) Katy.
Her reticence makes me sad because I like her and I was hoping I could get her as my nurse all the time. If she doesn’t like doing my port, she might see my name and shunt me off to another nurse. I understand, of course, but it would make me sad. The other ones aren’t as friendly. They don’t have her heart.
Port accessed, I get myself all settled in the chair. I put my blankets over my legs, I flip the feet reclining part up. The IV line is in the way, and I’m always afraid I’m going to accidentally yank the damn thing out of my chest. I never do, and I’m pretty sure it would stay in and just hurt a lot.
Two chairs over, hidden behind one of the curtains, is a woman on a phone call.
“Oh, hi there.” She’s talking so loud I can’t help but eavesdrop–I mean, what else am I going to do? “Sure, I have time to talk. I’m just here at the hospital waiting– Oh, no, no, don’t worry, nobody’s hurt. I’m just here for a routine treatment. Nothing to worry about. Yep, all routine.”
My ears perk up. Scandal! This woman is having cancer treatments, and she’s keeping it a secret! Oh, the story possibilities! Except, that’s a sad story, one that the EKG heart tech told me about her aunt–but this woman sounds bright and cheery, not even forced.
Loud Lady moves the conversation along. I decide that I’m going to listen to her instead of my podcast. It’s that interesting.
I discover that she’s an instructor for an online insurance certification class, and she’s on the phone with a student. She’s been in insurance for forty-five years, and it’s her passion.
Whose passion is it to do insurance? I guess it takes all kinds. I kind of want to switch from Allstate over to whatever insurance she’s selling, since they were absolute dicks to me a couple months ago when I had credit card snafu that I didn’t have time to deal with because the babies were newborns. Accident forgiveness, my eye. Apparently that’s only if you rear-end someone, not if your bank sends you an entirely new credit card for no good goddamn reason and you forget to switch over automatic payments because you have two screaming newborns to take care of every waking moment. A fifty dollar charge to go along with it, and an incredibly rude woman on the phone that was basically like, “Nothing I can do.” Can we pick either a financial penalty or rude agents? That would be great.
They talk about the class, and Loud Lady is very enthusiastic about her students reaching out to her at any time for questions. She sounds like a good instructor to have.
I love listening to human interaction–more insight into the writer brain–and it’s inevitable. I can’t hear the student’s voice at all, but I know they are going to bring it around to the hospital visit. I mean, you can’t say, “Don’t worry, it’s just routine treatment at the hospital,” and not intrigue someone.
Loud Lady tries to dissemble, but she finally caves. Colon cancer, and they got the tumor out with plenty of margin, but she’s doing some follow-up treatments. I can’t tell if it’s immunotherapy or not. She says she has no side effects, so it can’t be chemo, but it almost sounds like she didn’t do chemo at all. Maybe? I don’t know.
In my head, I can hear the conversation on the other end between some of the students after they hang up the phone. “Did you know that Professor Loud Lady had colon cancer?” In college, any survival story is told in hushed tones. I had a Jewish professor, Dr. Shinar. The story went that it’s mandatory for all boys, when they reach 18 years old, to serve for a year in the Jewish army. He, apparently, was shot in the heart and lived. The bullet’s still inside.
That was the story, anyway. I have no idea if any of it’s true. But to kids who mostly haven’t experienced anything except the cattiness of high school, that anecdote was told with reverent tones and wide eyes.
The port comes out without any problem, although I bleed more than usual. I push down on it to help staunch the flow. Katy puts a big bandage over it. It’s nice because the babies can’t get at it when I get home. When I take it off later, it hasn’t bled too much.
I’m worried about my port. It shouldn’t be where it is. But it still works, so there’s nothing really wrong with it that anyone can tell.
The good news is that I have a week and a half until my next treatment since we’re going to Fridays. I’ll be feeling good for a few days!
The bad news is I have to keep my brain weasels at bay for that long. Don’t touch the port, don’t poke at the port, don’t put anything on the incision, says the nurses. Just leave it alone.