welcome to the danger zone

Poison, Pain and Panic, Part III – The Comic Conclusion

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well not really.

It was a kinda chilly night, and I was quietly farming away, after having Easter dinner at the Rooney’s next door. Andy was sleeping. I took a couple of those tylenol-certs pain pills because I was having some pain in my chest. I chalked that up to the neulasta, and the uncomfortable position I was sitting it. It wasn’t so bad, but then my legs started hurting and my toes started to burn from the neulasta. So I ate some crackers.

Then, when the appropriate amount of time passed, I ate a couple more tylenol, and tried to go to bed. The pain had gotten a little worse in my chest, but I figured I could just suck it up, and I was tired. I fell asleep until about 3:30. Then my baldder demanded to be emptied. So I rolled off the bed and stood up. AND THEN THERE WAS PAIN. I MEAN REAL PAIN. PAIN THAT NEEDED NARCOTICS. It hurt when I stood, it hurt when I sat, it hurt when I walked. I decided that this was not a good thing, nope, not good at all, so I knocked on Andy’s door and asked him to drive me to Hershey because I was pretty sure that pain like this was not such a positive experience.  I packed up the backpack, tossed on some sweats and a hoodie so that I might be mistaken as a gangster and gingerly made my way to the car. Once the car started moving, the pain got worse with every bump. I decided we might not have time to get to Hershey, and I really didn’t want Andy to have me die in the car (we have an agreement by the way, in which if  I am dying, he makes sure that I don’t die in Pennsylvania. I am only allowed to die in California. I only die near the Pacific Ocean.  It’s the rule.) because he would be driving for the next two days straight with a corpse in the passenger seat to get me to my final destination, so I said…Plan change, we’re on our way to Schuylkill Med Center ER.  Andy asked me if I was sure…and at this point you will understand that I must have been in serious pain, because I said, yep I am sure.

Let me preface this next part with this disclaimer: I am sure there are many compassionate, professional medical staff who work at Schuylkill Med Center. I had a few take care of me. But you have to understand that I have grown accustomed to the level of care I receive at Hershey Med Center, and in particular the Cancer Institute. It is very much like comparing a Ford Pinto to a Bentley. I regretted my decision almost immediately because after Andy dropped me off at the ER door, I stumbled in to the reception area. As I waited patiently, breathless from pain, for the person at the reception desk to finish reading the page she was on in her novel, and put her bookmark in the book, and stare at me while I tried to describe the pain and that I was being treated for cancer blah blah blah. It was not very comforting or reassuring that there seemed to be no urgency about my pain or condition.

After I signed the requisite paperwork, I was ushered into an exam room, and given a gown that actually fit. Then two very nice nurses wired me up for an EKG and heart monitor. They asked me about my treatment, and I asked if they wanted to contact my oncologist. Nope, they did not. I explained about the neulasta shot. Not very interested. Then they unwired me, and told me that EKG looked fine. And someone would be with me soon. No one asked me if I wanted anything for the pain, and I was hesitant to ask, because after all, I was still in Schuylkill County, and I wouldn’t be the first person who would have faked pain for a percocet. Except I wasn’t faking.  One nurse put all my medical info into a computer, but that didn’t keep everyone who came in the room to do something from having me repeat everything all over each time. Well not everyone, because you see, the blanket warmer was in my room. So every now and then,  people would just walk into the room and snatch a blanket or two, not even acknowledging my presence, or that maybe I would care who these people were and why they were in my room. Now, I need to state here that upon my arrival, I was the only person in the ER. I was there about an hour, when I finally had a physician’s assistant come into the room and talk to me. I told her the life story, and then she asked me about my meds. I told her about the neulasta shot and SHE ASKED ME HOW TO SPELL IT.  Now, I’m all about my medical professionals owning up to not knowing everything, but seriously, I am in the hospital for chest pain, not a freaking spelling bee. After spelling words for the next 15 minutes, I again offered my oncologists name and phone number. No one cared.  The PA went off, and I was abandoned for the next hour and a half, interrupted only once to get blood drawn. It always amazes me how I get blamed when people have a problem with finding my veins. I get blood drawn all the time, every week. I can be in and out of there in 5 minutes when the phlebotomist is good at what they do, and I cringe in fear when it takes five minutes just to figure out where the vein is. The first blood draw was of the latter variety.

While I was in treatment limbo, Andy kept me company, and I discovered that I could make the vitals monitor do fun things like flat line if I held my breath or make cool patterns if I varied my breathing. Every now and again, the nasty automatic blood pressure thing would attack my arm. I soon realized that being startled by the machine was directly related to my higher blood pressure. I could also make my pulse look erratic by tapping my finger on the bed rail. What else was I supposed to do…there was no TV. And still no offer of pain meds.

Eventually the PA came back and stated that I would be getting a CAT scan. Then this short man who looked like a cross between Joe Lieberman and Droopy Dog appeared and started mumbling about how there wasn’t anything showing up in any of my tests, and they really didn’t know what was causing my pain. He kind of turned on his heal and continued mumbling about the CAT scan and more blood tests as he walked out of the room. My concern for my choice of treatment grew and grew. Then shifts changed and Dr. Droopy Dog left and I got a nice nurse to take me to the CAT scan. We sped down the hall in this new type of wheel chair that was very fast til we came to some double doors. She pushed them open and the pushed me through. It was clear that we were in some odd laundry/storage area and that’s when I really got nervous. Then I got loaded on what I was sure was a freight elevator and taken to the CAT scan room.

I’ve grown fond of the CAT scan. Sometimes the machine talks to you and tells you when to breath. At Hershey they have stickers on them.  This machine had none of the friendliness that I have become accustomed to at Hershey. Again, I had to retell my whole medical history. I know it was entered into a computer in the ER, I saw them do it. So I got ushered onto the table, got my dye through my IV, and into the machine I go. The ceiling in the CAT scan room has holes. It’s really creepy and kind of dark. I get more skeered by the minute. Then I am on my way back to the ER room. I get a chest xray. Then I wait more hours. It’s now 10 am. A new doctor comes into to see me. It appears he has read my chart, he introduces himself, he is very nice and explains that there is nothing in the tests to explain my pain, but they want to keep me overnight for observation. And then I FINALLY GET A TYLENOL 3. Just ONE. I really want a percocet but I’ll take anything at this point. Andy and I continue to amuse ourselves with the monitors, and he keeps asking me if I am dead yet.  I am not sure if the nurses find this funny or not, but I am amused.

Finally, they unhook me from the machine, and send me off to my room. I’m on the 4th floor in the cardiac unit. In a double room. As I may have mentioned, I’m not supposed to be around sick people. Throughout this experience I keep using my hand sanitizer. I’m not feeling really germ free. There’s no one in my room with me, but the nurse tells me I’ll probably have a roommate soon. I point out that I am not supposed to be with sick people BECAUSE I AM GOING THROUGH CHEMO AND DON”T HAVE MANY WHITE BLOOD CELLS. That means that if you put me in a room with a sick person, you are basically trying to kill me.  I repeat the “no sick people” rule several times. Finally a nice RN comes on, who actually listens to me, takes my treatment coordinator’s phone number and actually calls her to see what’s going on with me. Then they actually bring me food to eat. I am starving. Then they take more blood.

My room has a view of a wall. There is this television on a metal arm with a screen about the size my cell phone. No one brings me a menu for dinner, or takes my order. THERE’S no WIFI!  It 400 degrees in there because apparently old cardiac patients get chilly.  I text my friends and coworkers furiously at the  lack of simple amenities. What kind of barbaric place is this? I tell Andy that the next time we drive to Hershey – I don’t care if  I go into cardiac arrest in the car. I’m not staying in a hospital without valet parking and flat screen TVs.

Note: The day after  Easter is know as CHF Day at hospitals. Because old people with poor cardiac function eat a lot of ham and kielbasa and retain fluid and go into congestive heart failure and fill up cardiac units. So don’t get sick at Easter.

I drift in and out of sleep while watching LMN. Or at least I try to. It’s very hard to sleep in the cardiac unit. The nurses are always talking very loudly to the patients because they can’t hear. Someone’s heart monitor is always going off somewhere, so there’s an incessant beeping. Nosy people come to visit the old sick people and they are peering in my room. THEN someone’s grandchild picks up a phone, puts it on intercom and plays “london bridge” with the keys for at least 5 minutes before someone stops them. Then, just when I really comfortable, in comes a Dr. He introduces himself and then turns off the TV. He is very nice, but again, I had to relay all my medical info to him again. Now call me bitchy, but it just seems that if I had to tell you everything and you typed it into the computer, you should have my chart when the Dr. comes and he should read it. He asks me how my nerves are – I think he is talking about the burning in my toes; he really means my anxiety. He then tells me that my pain could be anxiety, gas, from the chemo or neulasta, they don’t know. He tells me I can go home tomorrow if there’s no change. Then he goes off to see the sick old people.

I notice that no one santizes their hands everytime they come into the room like they do at Hershey nor are there any signs that should remind them that hand washing is vital. I am constantly sanitizing while I am there. I am bored and wish I was at home; this just seems like huge waste of time. I could be in pain in my own bed, and it would be much quieter. I am sad that no one comes to visit me. Then the fun starts. Apparently there was a man who was using bath salts loose on the cardiac unit…he’s making a break for it. I hear the nurse telling him if he doesn’t stay he’s going to jail as she chases after him. He gets away. When security comes about 10 minutes later, they go after him. I think they actually catch him later.

Then dinner comes. I know you know I didn’t get to choose my meal. It’s meatloaf. I get the cardiac special – no salt, no fat, no taste. Well the meatloaf was actually good. The aide who cut her bangs herself and has a huge chunk cut out of the middle of them, brings me a second tray and I enjoy another piece of meatloaf.  The head nurse tells me they need a urine sample. They set up one of those hats in the bathroom and ask me to let them know when I pee. I buzz the buzzer and the aide with the crooked bangs comes in and I tell her the nurse asked me to call when I used the bathroom. She says okay, and I can hear her emptying the hat and flushing. And not getting the sample. So then the nurses scold me, and I have to repeat the procedure all over again, and this time I’m told to ask for the nurse not the aide. The nurse then comes back with medication – and a Xanax. Now, I’ve never taken a Xanax before, although I know they are very popular with my clients. I am not sure why I am getting one now, but I guess it’s for anxiety. It’s supposed to help me sleep. And it does make me drowsy.The nurse thought I asked the Dr. for it. If I was asking for anything it would have been percocet or even morphine. But I’m still just getting Tylenol 3 and a baby aspiring.  Until 9pm, when the nurses come and tell me I am being moved to a private room. Because they don’t want me around sick people. And the hospital is full of them.

I move to my single room. It has a real tv, although it is not a flat screen. I am offered a snack. I just want a cranberry juice. That seems to be a special request.  My faithful readers know I love a good hospital jello so I ask if they have any. My choices are green and orange  – there is no rainbow of jello here in Schuylkill County. AND IT ISN”T EVEN THE KIND IN THE INDIVIDUALLY SEALED CONTAINTERS. I DO NOT KNOW WHERE THIS JELLO HAS BEEN, OR WHO HAS HANDLED IT.  It is one of those little lidded cups.

Finally I get the room cool enough, they get my urine sample, I fall asleep and am woken up like 3 different times for vital signs and blood draws. I have this little port in my right arm where they can draw the blood so they don’t have have to keep sticking me. They stick me over and over anyway. I look like a junkie. I have glue all over from the little pads. They keep putting bandaids on me which have a latex adhesive which is irritating my latex allergy. I want to go home. Discharge can’t come soon enough. I get my breakfast which is french toast and green eggs. Really. They were green. And it wasn’t even Dr. Suess’s birthday. I do not like them Sam I am, I do not like green eggs with no ham.

The Dr. comes in early. Tells me I can go home. My treatment coordinator calls me and I tell her what happened; she says it was probably the neulasta, and she will request my medical records from the hospital. They bring them to my room in an envelope for me to take them to Hershey. A nice nurse walks me to the car when Andy gets there. I am free! I am free! Lesson learned.

The next day I am supposed to go to Hershey for a radiation followup. I am so physically and emotionally exhausted I can’t get out of bed. I sleep all day. This is all stating to take a toll on me. My toes continue to burn and be restless. My legs ache and there’s the weird monkeybat bite on my arm that stings every now and then but I can’t figure out what it is cause you can’t really see anything. I know it’s not MRSA or flesh eating bacteria, because I googled it. This is the part that isn’t fun. I’m am tired all the time, and it takes everything I have to get out of bed. My hair has started to fall out. It’s like human shedding. My scalp hurts and is sore. Food doesn’t taste right some days and some days I am just nauseated. I have discovered that I am not a big fan of eggs lately. I just keep reminding myself that I only have three more treatments to go, and I’m going to be done. But even when I am not getting treatment, there isn’t a day that goes by that I can avoid thinking about how my body has betrayed me. Yep. I’ve doubled up on the happy pills, because some days I am just cranky and irritable and want to literally snap the heads off people. And I don’t like that me.

And I’m anxious. I have my next chemo on Monday. I have my radiation followup visit on Friday. Then there’s that damn neulasta shot on Wednesday. But then end is in sight. And I now have the special valet parking pass. So I guess life isn’t all that bad. And I am still working on the special project. Hopefully the reveal will be this weekend.

Shout out to all my new subscribers. Tell your friends. When this cancer nonsense is over, I’ll be even funnier.

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One response

  1. Anonymous

    You are going to have to write a book about your adventure when this is all over! Something that covers your life story!

    18 April 12 at 9:28 am

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