“Cough, cough. Excuse me.”
And that is how it started. I became sick on Tuesday. By Wednesday my little cold had graduated into a fever and pnemonia. Fevers are bad news when having chemotherapy.
Why bad news? Well apart from the physical threat, which I was never too worried about thanks to blissful ignorance, it meant going to the hospital.
Has my dislike for hospitals has been made clear? Let me make it more clear: I hate hospitals. I distain hospitals. I fear hospitals.
This has been a problem for me, since, you know: cancer = hospital. But last Wednesday the universe conspired to solve that problem.
Once my temperature hit 38 degrees, Zsolt called the chemo hotline ; we were told to come in immediately, like right now guys, hurry the heck up. We went in immediately (minus the twenty minute wait for a parking space).
First was the A&E: we sit on the hallway while I suck on oranges to protect myself from the smell (and anxiety and people and injuries and everything). Zsolt holds my hand and we people watch.
Next I’m taken to the chemo ward and given a bed in a small room where five other patients are receiving their chemotherapy treatment. Despite laying on the bed with closed eyes, I can hear the ‘click swish, click swish’ of the drips and I hate hate hate being in that room. Zsolt continues to hold my hand.
There is a quiet period of me resting and Zsolt keeping guard. But this is a hospital and I have a fever, so quiet doesn’t last forever. In comes a doctor; she’s originally from Nigeria, has a husband and children in England, misses home but really doesn’t know many people there anymore except for her parents. This doctor has a good bedside manner.
I am asked questions. My temperature is taken. I give blood. I hack mucus into a cup. I am given oxygen. A seriously strong antibiotic is given by drip. More questions are asked. There is peeing into an impossibly narrow cup. We wait for a bed. My weight is taken (I’m shockingly light). Doctor one pierces my artery for blood while doctor two nods in approval. Blood pressure. Temperature. Nebulizer. Wait.
“You’ll have to stay the night,” says my blond doctor with the slight accent. I have trouble decideding whether or not I like her. Well, I could easily like her if she wasn’t directly connected to my shit-express adventures. But she is.
“Really? Can’t I go home?”
“It’s probably just a chest infection, but we have to be careful. It’s best if you stay a night or two.”
Where was my Zsolt with his carefully crafted questions? Was this mad woman with the clipboard serious? Why didn’t my temperature stop rising? Would I miss chemo this week? Once we were in the hospital it was as though a current took us. Decisions were made, plans formed, information sometimes given. Staying wasn’t a choice, it was a decision – and not mine. But we were in the current, and frankly, I was sick with a temperature. Can’t argue temperature.
They gave me a single room, thank goodness for small blessings. They gave me a single room on a night when patients waited 12 hours for a bed. Patients were being turned out, asked to leave and make room for new people (“Sorry, you aren’t sick enough”). Had someone been kicked out so I could have a bed?
And there followed five days of waiting to get out with rises and falls in my expectations; first I thought it’d be one night, then maybe two, then maybe three, then maybe forever. The doctor read my face when she said I’d have to wait longer: “We can’t let you go until you’re stable.”
Ahhhh. Okay, fine.
But you know what? I was getting used to the hospital – getting used to the smells and the IV and the steady tests. In my private room I was able to close the door from the rest of the world, but at the same time – couldn’t avoid that I was a patient . . . couldn’t avoid all things hospital.
Slowly but surely it became easier. I hated the situation less.
People who I could never hate: the nurses (except maybe the ones who inject my chemotherapy . . . and I don’t actually hate them, but their presence makes me sick)
Nurses! Again you were wonderful. Funny and supportive and patient. They would come into my room and talk about their day, take a seat to rest, show me how the machine worked. One nurse even took my, hers, and Zsolt’s blood pressure in the middle of the night, and we all laughed when the machine went blank on Zsolt’s trial – judging him to have no pressure at all. He is a fairly relaxed man.
It was a woman’s world; the nurses were a balance between chaos and composure. They took the time with me that the doctors couldn’t afford.
And that is why Bedside Manner is as much a treatment for illness as the drugs driping into our veins.
Nurses and doctors (apparently Dr Blond had mentioned to another doctor – Dr Artery Stabber – that I desperately wanted to go home for Christmas. I appreciate that she remembers, makes me like her a bit more) are healers when they stop looking at the chart and acknowledge the person. Not just medical professionals.
Point in case: Dr Busy. This woman comes into my room with her nose in the chart, one of the nurses follows her and smiles at me. “Where is this lady’s blood sheet?” demands Dr Busy. “It’s not in the cubby” replies Nurse Smile.
Dr Busy: “Yes, it is in the cubby. I put it there myself.”
Nurse Smile: “I can’t find it.”
Dr Busy: “It’s there. I put it there myself last night; find me the chart.”
And out goes the nurse, chastised in front of a patient and probably fuming.
Finally Dr Busy, after thirty awkward seconds of her making more notes and me waiting in silence, looks up and announces herself.
This person put me in such a rotten mood, it was hard to contain my disgust. LOOK AT PEOPLE, SAY HELLO, PUT ME BEFORE YOUR CHART. Oh, she ticked me off. Clearly this is an intelligent woman, but what a first impression to make. The only other time I saw her again was when she came in the next day on the heels of another doctor (only male spotted entire week, except for the porter) and didn’t look up, didn’t take her face out of that bloody blooming chart.
Here is my point: Medicine is more than medicine. Most people, thankfully, realize that truth. My nurses were wonderful for helping through such a frustrating few days. It was all about bedside manner.
And apart from being in the current with that ‘you’ll never escape!’ feeling. . . well, it was restful. Zsolt was allowed to spend nights beside me on a cot. We read books and magazines like we were on a beach in Cuba. I didn’t have to make a single meal, nor clean a single toilet. And there was a quietness that – while a bit boring – made me slow down.
It made me slow down, it made me calm down. Hopefully it will make chemotherapy easier. We’ll see next Friday whether or not I vomit at the sight of that medal tray with the drugs. This Friday’s chemo was cancelled due to illness. So that puts me two sessions behind my target (and yeah . . . Christmas in Canda . . . hmm.)
And then – day five – we were released. That was it, over. Happy thanksgiving.
When we arrived home the apartment building was rocking with some easy-going Caribbean flavoured dance music. People were sitting in the staircase, children were playing in the yard, food was being passed around on paper plates. Anna, my neighbour, said they were giving thanks. Thanksgiving. Her husband had had an operation and it’d gone well. They were giving thanks to God. (Them and the thirty some people stuffed into that micro apartment)
I thought it was such a beautiful idea – a different sort of Thanksgiving.
We gave thanks a different way too, not with Turkey or stuffing, but by changing our hospital clothes for summer attire and going to the common to play Frisbee in the sunshine. What a day, a perfect autumn afternoon. We were thankful for each other, for the weather, for the freedom.
And soon that will be how it is all the time. Soon this will be over and life will go on. If ever there were a time for laughter and dancing and music, that would be the moment.
I look forward to giving thanks.