Sunday is the Worst Day After Chemo Day, but I don’t have a choice but to get out of bed on the 4th. I do what I have to, but I don’t feel good, and I’m angry at Nervous Technician for messing things up. I was supposed to have one scan, a full-body scan, on Thursday, and then sit back and wait. Why do I have to push myself because she can’t find her ass from her elbow?
I’ve got my strong face on, so Dad drops me off at the front of the hospital. It’s oddly quiet; usually the food court is full of people. Walking makes my head feel fuzzy, but I figure it’s just a side effect of the chemo.
The long hallway to Diagnostic Imaging is familiar. How many times did I waddle down it while I was pregnant with the twins? I had bi-weekly ultrasounds at the end. It feels difficult again, but it’s a different difficult. Not walking–I can walk–but moving. Being up.
I wish I could go back to bed.
The auxiliary coffee shop is closed and dark, rather than bright with a couple lingering patrons. Past the elevators. Past the bathrooms. Around the corner, and then there’s the familiar check-in desk of Diagnostic Imaging.
The same receptionist is working. She gives me a pitying look as she asks all the usual questions. “New or worsening cough? Any allergies?”
“No. Yes.” I used to list them for her, but I realized they have it in the computer.
“I’ll just put your band right here.” It’s the red bracelet that tells everyone I have allergies. “You don’t have to put it on. You won’t be here for long.”
Thank goodness, but I’m confused. Don’t I have to drink a quart of dirty tap water and wait an hour? I don’t ask. I figure they know what they’re doing. For some reason.
I sit in the empty waiting room. Most of the time, it’s half full of people looking pissy and giving one another furtive glances. How many times did I waddle to a seat, ease myself in, and hope no one commented on my gigantic belly? There was always some little old lady who wanted to talk about my reproductive outcomes, and I would smile and answer her questions about Morrigan and the two lives growing inside of me, all the while wishing she would get called next and go away.
A tech comes around the corner. “Samantha?” It’s not the one from Thursday, for which I’m grateful. She seems brisk and confident, which makes me think this won’t be another shitshow.
She takes me into the smaller waiting room, rather than the intake room from before. “Come back around here and have a seat.”
“Don’t I need to drink that barrel of barium?”
“No, no. That’s only if we’re doing a scan of your abdomen. We got that on Thursday. I’m so sorry we missed your head. I’m not sure what happened, but we’ll get it done as quickly as possible.”
That makes me feel better. I’m really not feeling good, but I suppose there’s nothing to be done for it. As she bustles off, I sit in the chair from Thursday where Nervous Tech showed another nurse how to access a port. It’s comfy, and I lean back and close my eyes while today’s tech wanders off to find some paperwork. The room is spinning a little bit. It’s disorienting.
Competent Tech comes back and starts going down the list of questions. She makes a mark as she checks off each one. She gets to the one I’m dreading since I don’t know the answer: “Any allergies to x-ray dye?”
“Well…” I say, “I don’t know… I mean… Last time, I had a small reaction.” I sort of hunch over, making myself shrink in, like maybe doing so will minimize that fact.
Her pen falters. “What do you mean?”
“My mouth was sort of… itchy.”
“Hm. Did you tell someone?”
“Yes.” Why didn’t the other tech write this down? “It lasted about five minutes, and she had me wait fifteen before she let me go.”
Competent Tech frowns.
I ask, “Was that… supposed to happen? The mouth itchiness?”
“No. That’s a reaction. Have you ever had another CT scan?”
“Did you have a reaction then?”
I thought about how my arms and legs felt itchy after the first one, but I didn’t want to tell anyone because I thought maybe it was my imagination. “No.”
“These things can crop up at any time. I’m sorry to hear this. You didn’t take the premeds, did you?”
Oh, no. No, no, she’s not going to send me home without a CT scan. “No.”
“Let me enter this information in the computer, and then I’ll get you a new appointment and all the instructions for the premeds.”
Noooooooooo. “Um, I had chemo two days ago, and they gave me a bunch of premeds there.” It sounded logical in my head and completely dumb coming out. I’m fuzzy and tired and feeling sick and disappointed. “Does that count?”
“No, unfortunately, you have to take them on a schedule starting thirteen hours beforehand.”
If I didn’t feel like a pile of dog poo that had no energy, I might cry.
Competent Tech types into the computer. She’s entering all the stuff Idiot Tech didn’t, and I am so angry at Idiot Tech. I dragged myself out of my bed on my worst day, and now they can’t even do it, and I’m going to have to come back.
She gestures for me to follow her. There’s a guy at the back of the hallway sitting behind glass. I’m really starting to feel woozy now. I lean against the counter and pull out my phone. He gives me the appointment time–Wednesday. I text my dad to come pick me up.
But I’m so confused now. I feel sick. My head is spinning. The guy making the appointment is talking about getting a doctor to fill the premed prescriptions. First, I think I’m going to have to have Dr. Nowak fill it. Then he explains he’ll call over to Dr. Freedman. I have to call her for something, though. I don’t know if I can remember. My head is pounding.
Competent Tech gives me a parking pass. “I’m sorry about this.”
“It’s fine.” I just want to get out of here. I eyeball a chair and decide that I’m going to leave.
I take two steps. A tunnel darkens my vision, and sparkles explode from behind my eyes.
Hell, no. Herman, get me out of here.
I push myself. I’m not going to faint–if I am, then I’ll collapse into one of the chairs. I force myself past the small waiting room and into the hallway. I make it ten steps toward the big waiting room, and then I fall into one of the chairs.
“Just breathe,” says Herman. “Take all the time you need. Don’t push yourself.”
But I want to push myself. I want to get the hell out of here.
Of course, there are about three groups of people in the waiting room now. I can feel their eyes on me. I put my head in my hands. I breathe slow and steady. My entire body feels like I’m being squeezed through a just-too-small hole. Chemo-tired, is what I usually call it, but since I’m pushing myself, it’s more than tired.
How am I going to make it all the way to the front of the hospital?
I can’t make my dad park the car and come get me. What’s he going to do anyway? Carry me? I have to make it myself.
I stand up, take ten steps, and regret it.
But I keep going.
The auxiliary coffee shop is still closed. I glance inside, hoping for another chair, but it’s just a little alcove with glass and coffee dispensers. The hallway is empty, and it’s so long. I remember it being super long from when I was pregnant, but I was never afraid I wasn’t going to make it. I think strongly about sitting down in the middle of the floor, but I’m afraid someone is going to come along and put me on a stretcher. I just want to get home and crawl into bed. I feel defeated, even though not being able to get the scan wasn’t my fault.
I push myself. Harder. Go. Walk. One foot in front of the other. You’ll make it.
I round the corner to the food court. To the right is a small table. I can’t make it any farther, so I nearly run over to it to collapse into the chair.
As the sparkles fade from my vision, my stomach squeezes. Here we go again. There’s a trash can twenty steps away, but I can’t leave this chair if I had to. I put my head between my legs and heave.
Nothing comes out, thank goodness. It happens again and again, but I haven’t had anything to eat since the night before. That’s what it is–no food, chemo, and pushing myself. I’m so dizzy. A guy is sitting a couple tables away, but I look at the floor. I text my dad that I’m coming, I’m not feeling well.
He asks, Do you want me to come get you?
No, the exit is just over there. I can see it. I can see his car. I can make it.
I push myself out of my seat, my stomach finally settled. One foot in front of the other. I make it to the door. I make it to the car.
I’m on my way home, and when I get there, I fall into bed, moaning.
Tuesday night, the 6th, I’m feeling better, but not all the way. Chemo is taking a little bit more out of me each time, and it’s harder and harder to get out of bed–and stay out of bed. I look forward to Wednesdays because that’s when I feel good, but I debate with my parents and Kevin on whether I’m going to be well enough to walk in by myself.
“No, I’ll go in with you,” says Dad. “I feel bad I didn’t go in on Sunday.”
“Should I sit in a wheelchair?” It feels like giving up. What if people look at me and think I don’t need it? I don’t want to be unable to walk under my own power. I’m too young. It’s too early.
It’s not forever.
Their answers are similar, but nobody wants to tell me what I should do. I agree to it.
I wake up at 2:30 a.m. to take my first prednasone. Then again at 8:30. Then again right before we leave for the hospital, along with the Benedryl and Sudafed.
I’m still not better by Wednesday the 7th. It’s frustrating. I want to feel like myself again, and walking around in a confused daze is not fun.
Dad drops me off at the front and goes to park the car. I wait at a table in the food court. When he arrives, under my own power, I walk over to the wheelchairs and sit down in one. It seems both mundane and symbolic at the same time. Stop making such a big deal of this. If it wasn’t so far to walk to Diagnostic Imaging, it wouldn’t matter.
All the steps to the CT scan machine are the same. Receptionist, questions, new tech, little waiting room. Questionnaire, but then the IV goes into my arm this time. I don’t want to fuss with my port. It’s a bigger deal to get that accessed and de-accessed than to just have a needle in the crook of my elbow.
I’m sick of needles. But what else am I going to do?
In the CT scan room, Latest Tech has me lie on the table. “Most of the time, the premeds are enough to take care of any reaction.”
I hope, I hope, I hope.
I lie back. I close my eyes. I wait.
For some reason this time, they don’t warn me about when the dye is coming–but I know. My mouth starts feeling weird. The tumor in my jaw tingles. That warm feeling floods between my legs again, but I’m focused on the allergic reaction. Is it going to get worse? Why didn’t the premeds work? Is my throat closing?
When Latest Tech comes back, I blurt, “My mouth is feeling itchy again.” That’s the extent of it. No ear itchiness, no throat closing. That’s not so bad, right?
Her eyebrows furrow. “Okay. We’re going to keep you under observation for half an hour. Let me know if it’s getting worse.” She hooks me up to a saline IV.
I stumble out into the hallway and down to the small waiting room. Dad is waiting there. I want to apologize for all this trouble. Being wheeled around a hospital, reacting to x-ray dye. I’m angry.
Allergic to x-ray dye? Why the fuck?
I feel horrible again. I put my head on Dad’s shoulder, and I feel like crying. An older, black man is sitting across from us. He is dressed nicely, dapper, with a hat on. Why would someone come to get a CT scan dressed like that? I barely got my leggings and t-shirt on this morning.
I’m too sober for this shit, says my shirt.
The itchiness goes away. Latest Tech makes a note in my file. The saline drips and drips, and finally I’m done.
I climb into the wheelchair.
I close my eyes.
Dad wheels me through the hospital to the entrance and goes to get the car, while I try not to cry by myself in the bustling food court.