The Other End of Sunset

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The hamsters are coming, again

I've spent much of the past two days in the hospital.

Both days at the Infusion Center at Stanford Hospital. A pretty new facility -- it's only been open for a little over a year -- and it's really nicely equipped.

OK, they don't seem to have wireless network, or really any internet access that I can figure out, but that's a nit. The patients sit in chairs like Lay-Z-Boy(tm) recliners, with these plasma screen televisions that hang over the chairs, and lots of room around them for visitors or whatever.

Few people are by themselves. Most bring a family member or friend or so. We spectators get to hang out on less comfy chairs, but hang nonetheless.

We usually try to get a seat by the window -- there are three treatment rooms, with 2 window seats per room, so there is some contention for them. However, they have better light, more to look at, more power plugs for me, and some hope of getting a 3G connection through my JunxionBox so I can get some internet during the day. There is also a long padded bench under the window, between the two treatment chairs.

I slept on that bench for a couple of hours today. Felt a little odd, to be lying there, with my Mac on one side, and a magazine collapsed across my chest, and my dirty old Vans on the bench. I hope I didn't snore.

How prosaic. Saturday afternoon, the guy with his magazine, and feet up, asleep. Almost normal.

But yet, so abnormal. This contradiction is the core of the surreal nation that is treatment.

You can tell the novices from the pros. So recently, I too was a novice. Now, I am the Zen Master. I know which chair to get. I know how to get the secret ice. I know -- kind of -- where the microwave is. I know where the extra pillows are hidden. I know the secret runes of The Machine Who Gives The Chemicals. And I know the secret language, the language of the word we do not speak. Yea, verily, I know the runes of Chemo.

It's not surprising that it's pretty important to make sure the right people get the right drugs. I mean, conceptually, this stuff is poison. Make sure and poison the right person -- that's a new codicil of the Hippocratic Oath. So there is a dance before the drugs go in. The dance starts with the nurse, your faithful author, and the patient all reading the name on the vial, and verifying that it's not Joe Smith's drug. Seems reasonable. The dance then proceeds apace into checking the patient locator number, and the chemo orders, again, all against the bottle. Then, and only then, have we counted to three, and may throw the Holy Hand Grenade.

It's actually pretty darn dull. The patient watches movies, or TV, or reads a magazine. I take a few pictures, and do some work, and make a few calls. And fetch food, water, blankets, and general frivolity.

See, I'm funny. Not that you'd know from here, but really I am.


The novices are very polite, they don't ask many questions, and they don't know that IV needles hurt, even when done well. And they are afraid.

The pros? We know that the nurses are GREAT, and will do whatever you ask, generally speaking. We know what to bring, and what to ignore. We aren't freaked out by the Machine beeping -- it beeps when the medicine can't flow down the line cleanly. It's a scary sound, and it's loud. But the noise won't kill you, and the nurses will come soon, and it's probably just a kink in the tube anyway, so why not straighten it out yourself?

We are only afraid of missing a treatment.

An older couple came in today. Often, before getting the Drug, the patient has to have some blood work -- verifying that the white blood cells are good, there is enough of the red stuff, and so forth. If they aren't good enough, you don't get the Elixir.

That older couple? She was the patient. He had an annoying squirrel like voice. And her white cell count was too low for treatment. So they went home. And the look in her eye as she left was bloodcurdling, if you will forgive the morbid pun. They were talking about diet, making sure she got enough protein, and rest, and other stuff. And you know she was thinking "oh, no, another week without treatment". She was mean to him, they had a little spat, but he understood it too. You could see that.

We ae afraid of missing treatments. We aren't afraid of the beeping.

A guy came in yesterday, with his girlfriend. He was the patient. He had a black bowler on, eye liner in one eye, and Doc Martin's on his feet. Sweet! She was dressed in bright pink, with a scarf on her head. They were very cute together. He got his treatment, and they left, holding hands.

There was a nice Hispanic woman in the chair next to us today. She had been in treatment for a while, but had been using IV needles. That means they stuck her each and every time she had to get treatment or to give blood. The poor woman had bruises all over her arms.

However, she had just been given a gift -- she had a central line (sometimes called a "PICC line" or a "port") in her arm. This means that drugs and blood will come through that thing, and no more sticks. It is an outpatient surgery to get this thing installed. They cut into your upper arm, and slide a tube up your vein into your Vena Cava (largest vein in the body). Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it in there. But man is it better than getting stuck all the time! You wear this cute elastic cuff around the port, which is no big deal, and it makes the treatments SO MUCH easier. I highly recommend it, speaking as a spectator, of course. JR got hers before the first treatment. It took three tries. She was bruised. But just the once, was she bruised. The nice Hispanic woman womt be bruised anymore, although it freaked her out a little bit when the nurses changed her dressing and cleaned the port. I wanted to tell her that it was ok, that she wouldn't notice it in a few weeks, but I didn't want to intrude on her space. So I didn't.

Well, then, you may ask, if I didn't want to intrude on that patient's space, why am I telling you all of this? Because I want you to know. I want you to be able to smell the place, and see the process, and hear the noises. Because some of you will have to do this, and I don't want you to be scared. Don't worry about the beeps. Worry about the tumor. Eat a lot, drink a lot, and laugh at everything you can. But don't be afraid of the machines.

I'm doing a quick day trip to that lovely city in the Southwest this week. Fly in, head to a photo shoot, then fly home. I'll probably have something to write about then, eh?

Be well, OtherEnders, and I'll save you a seat in my taxi. Unless it's going to the Infusion Center, in which case I'd recommend waiting for the next one!