Cancer Lesson #59: Don’t Take Anything for Granted

Cancer Lesson #59: Don’t take anything for granted.

If you’re a cancer patient, or even an adult, you probably think you understand lesson #59.

I thought I did too, but two experiences near the end of my treatment proved how wrong I was.

You see, throughout my cancer year, from surgery to chemo, I followed my body’s lead on what I could and couldn’t do. If I felt up to something and wanted to do it, I did. If I felt crummy, I stayed home and read or watched movies.

I assumed – that is, took for granted – that I was the best judge of what I was physically capable of, and for the most part, that approach worked.

On two occasions, things turned out differently.

The first started as a normal week, with chemo on Monday and my Neulasta shot on Tuesday. As usual, I felt pretty rough on Tuesday and Wednesday, but by Thursday, I was doing pretty well.

That afternoon, a couple of friends came by, and we had what The Engineer (my husband) would call a good old natter. Everything seemed fine.

A few hours later, the situation changed drastically. Some kind of reaction kicked in, and I was feverish and shivering.

The Engineer helped me upstairs and took my temperature as I tried to remember how high it was allowed to go before we had to call the doctor. It was 101.3, which I convinced myself was below the magic number. (Later I discovered it’s not supposed to go higher than 101).

I’m not stupid. Had I been still been feverish the next morning, I would have called. But after taking a couple of acetaminophen and allowing an hour or so for them to kick in, I finally stopped shuddering.

Friday morning, I woke feeling much better, albeit a little shaky – and shaken – from the experience.

Fast forward a few weeks to my last chemo treatment (yay!) and final Neulasta shot (double yay!)

My muscles and bones ached and pained me for a few days, but by Friday, I was convinced the previous treatment reaction was a fluke.

No fever. No chills. No temperature.

I felt almost normal in an “out-of-breath-by-the-top-of-the-stairs-feeling-really-enervated” kind of way. Chemo was over, and I wasn’t sick or exhausted. Things were looking good, right?

Wrong, and wrong in a BIG way, because that night The Engineer and I went out to dinner and ended up in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

I’d suggested dining out, even gone so far as to order a glass of wine to celebrate the end of chemo.

After a couple of sips, I started feeling weird. You know, that strange “out there” feeling that tells you something’s not quite right and maybe you might just puke?

“You may have to drink this.” I pushed the glass across the table. “I feel kind of funny.”

“You okay?” asked my loving husband.

“I think so.” I began gulping water in the hope that I was just dehydrated.

Eventually the waitress brought our food. I stared down at my fish and chips, thinking I can’t eat this.

My husband asked again if I was okay.

“No.”

The next thing I remember was waking to the sound of voices saying the ambulance was on its way and the mortifying knowledge I had to go to the bathroom immediately or things would soon get even worse.

The Engineer escorted me to the restroom in a sick version of the walk of shame. I could feel the other diners’ eyes on us, but felt too bad to care (much). Ambulances don’t have toilets, and that’s all I’m going to say on that subject.

Someone (probably the owner – what restaurateur wants an emergency vehicle parked at their front door?) was smart enough to direct the squad to the back. We exited to climb through its open doors.

All I wanted was to go home and crawl in bed. But my husband told me I’d been out for FIVE FREAKING MINUTES(!!). Going to the hospital seemed like a good idea.

Wrong again.

There, they decided to check my blood count – a reasonable suggestion in the situation – and perhaps give me some fluids – also a logical plan.

A uniformed woman came to take me for my chest x-ray.

I was suffering from chemo side effects. Why did I need an x-ray? And more to the point, why should we – okay, why should our insurance pay for one?

They said it was “standard procedure” when someone suffers a syncope episode (http://tinyurl.com/cwegp7) (Quick vocabulary lesson: Syncope is a fancy term for fainting.)

The nurse said I could refuse.

I refused.

Next, they tried to access my port to draw blood. Despite the nurse’s dramatic efforts to make it less painful, it hurt like hell. And he couldn’t get any blood.

They tried a vein.

No joy.

The guy was ready to have another go at the port, but I wasn’t going through that again.

I refused.

Eventually, they decided to give me fluids, so the nurse set up the IV adjusting the controls to push liquid through my veins so I wouldn’t be there all night – another good idea.

Though it burned a little, I figured that was because it was running fast.

The nurse asked if it hurt, which was fortunate because I hadn’t thought to complain.

“Sort of,” I admitted.

When we looked at my arm, it was puffing up from the fluid, which was being pushed into my tissue and not my veins.

At least, I assume that was what was happening since he immediately disconnected the needle.

About then, The Engineer started looking green, and I worried he was going to lose his lunch.

Turns out he hadn’t had any, and witnessing all the poking and prodding was making him ill.

I called it quits.

“I’m going home. I’ll drink lots of fluids, but we’re leaving.”

Funny, no one seemed surprised.

Clutching the extra-large hospital-provided scrubs in one hand, I shuffled toward the door, encountering the woman who had come to take my CAT scan.

I refused that too.

I’ve since visited that restaurant only once, under duress, to celebrate my brother’s birthday.

I hid under a big hat and sunglasses.

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8 thoughts on “Cancer Lesson #59: Don’t Take Anything for Granted

  1. What an ordeal Kym. You never really know when you are doing more harm to yourself by refusing treatment. But in this case it seemed they were using you for a pin cushion. But you servived it and look at you now. Glad to have you around my friend.

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    • Believe me, I’m glad to be around! I just remember that you and I both know my experience was no worse than wha t others go through all the time, sometimes on a daily basis. I was lucky – for me, it was more an embarrassment and an annoyance because I think their “standard procedure” is designed purely for profit.

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  2. We’re fortunate that the medical system works a little differently here; emergency medical treatment is free, so you wouldn’t have been faced with financial decisions at a time when you were not operating normally. But the vein-prodding resonates; I had a similar episode after my first chemo when I got febrile neutropenia and was admitted in a big rush. They tried 3 veins before they found one that wouldn’t shut down round the needle. If I’d been feeling strong enough, I’d have clocked someone for the extra crap they inflicted on me. Why is it that medical treatment seems designed to dehumanise at a time when our humanity needs to be acknowledged and respected?

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    • Even if we/our insurance hadn’t been paying, I think I still would have been annoyed that they wanted to perform unnecessary tests when the problem was so clearly unrelated. It sounds like you have craps veins just like me. I’ve decided for any future blood draws I’m going to demand they get the best “needle sticker.” In the end, they have to anyway, so why should I be poked and prodded in the process? Having said that, I can honestly say all the nurses in the chemo lab were brilliant. The incident above took place in a different hospital from where I received treatment, and I’ll not be going back there again. Let’s just hope neither of us has to go through another needle poking adventure any time soon!

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      • I had surgery for the first stage of my reconstruction 2 weeks ago. I had a very serious talk to the anesthetist beforehand, with the result that there was no slapping and poking to get a vein. He used a tiny pediatric butterfly cannula to put enough into me to get me asleep, and all the major poking around took place after that. Mind you, I still have a bruise on my arm from where the big cannula was… I’ve promised myself that if I ever need chemo again, there’ll be no messing about, and I’ll get a Portacath or PICC line straight up.

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      • I had a port, and I must admit I didn’t want to let it go. The arm that can be used for injections is, of course, the one that doesn’t have my one good vein. I’m good with little needles – lots of veins in my hands! How did your surgery go? What type of reconstruction? I had it all at once – mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction – a VERY long surgery, but I’m glad I was able to do it that way.

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      • I wasn’t able to have both done at once because I lived in a small country town, and it wasn’t available unless I travelled 3 day’s drive away. At that point, I was single and on my own, so it was an easy decision. I’ve waited 3 years to get to the top of the public health operating list because the cost of going private is horrendous. I’ve had an expander inserted under my pectoralis muscle, with a 3″ incision through the original mastectomy scar, so there’s no additional damage. I have to say, I’m absolutely delighted already. The expander had 100ml (nearly 3.5 fluid ounces) of saline added during surgery, so I no longer cave in just below my collarbone, it’s actually slightly convex for the first time since the mastectomy. It means I can wear something ever so slightly scooped in the neck, which is kind of necessary here in the tropics, after spending 3 years covering up! I have three top ups scheduled or possibly more, depending on how uncomfortable it is, then it has to ‘rest’ for 3 months to let it drop into its natural position, and then I get my silicone implant. I’m fortunate to be not very large, so matching it is not going to be a long process! I’ll, ahem, keep you abreast of developments. Sorry about that…..

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      • So glad to hear it went well for you, though its kind of a bummer to have to wait three years. I’m all in favor or universal health care but many of its proponents don’t grasp that part of it. Still, it did give you time to heal, I guess. Will look for your updates.M:-)

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