To The Best of My Memory…

I think I started radiation on a Tuesday and received chemo on Thursday of each week, so it was after my third radiation treatment that I got back in the car, took a quick ride down the street and over a couple blocks to the GYN/Oncology office where I would receive chemotherapy.

Before I began treatment I felt pretty good about the radiation therapy, but was terrified of chemo. Can’t say exactly what I was so afraid of, but it was real and deep fear.

I don’t remember anything about that first visit until I was sitting in the chair in the chemo room. A fair sized room with six large recliners on each side of the room, facing the front of the room, with an isle down the middle. There was a large flat screen TV high on the wall in front of us and the nurses’ desk and supply room behind us. Next to each chair were a small table, IV poll, and a trashcan. I’d selected the last chair in the row on the right on purpose – I wanted to be able to see everyone else in front of me, but didn’t want any of the other patients to be able to watch me. Shortly after I sat down, stashed my purse under the table and such, another woman arrived and sat in the chair across the row from me. The nurses introduced us to the other patients and announced that we would be joining them for a few weeks. It was the other woman’s first chemo treatment also.

Starting an IV soon became something I would have nightmares about. Really, I had horrible dreams at night about this. Sometimes I still do. I’ve always been thin and therefore my veins are a bit thin also, making me a difficult stick. Add to that the fact that I was extremely ill and …. well it was a mad hunt each week to find a vein that could be catheterized with the IV needle.  My hands are still a wreck. If you look at them today, you would think I have tons of freckles on the tops of both hands. If you run your fingers across them you will feel little lumps under each ‘freckle’. These are actually all spots the nurses tried (and usually failed) to start IVs. It really hurt then and is still tender now.

I remember sitting quietly, watching and listening to all that was going on around me. Once my IV was in place and a bag of saline was slowly dripping into my arm the nurse moved her cart to the woman in the chair next to me. Her IV was in easily inserted on the first try. The nurse moved back to me. She quickly went down a checklist of side effects I could experience from the specific chemotherapy drug I was about to receive. I think she’d gone over it all in more detail when I’d had the first meeting with her, but I hadn’t listened too closely then either. She slipped the bag over the hook on the IV poll, clicked open a port on the tubing of my IV and in a moment it was connected and dripping into my arm. I think I held my breath for the first couple of minutes, waiting for some violent reaction. None came, thank God. Satisfied I was going to handle the drug ok, the nurse moved on to repeat the same process with my neighbor across the isle. She also handled the initial drops of poison without any problem. The room fell quiet, each patient lost in their own little world. Some read. Others knitted or worked puzzle books they’d brought with them. The nurse started a DVD on the big screen in the front of the room. No clue what the movie was. Something with Steve Martin – but not the light comedy you’d expect from him. I was nicely distracted, getting engrossed in the movie when the women next to me started moving around. I tried to glance over without appearing too nosey but soon realized the woman was waiving her arm in the air and appeared in great distress. I tried to call out for assistance but had trouble finding my voice. As the nurse hurried over to her I sank back in my chair, petrified. I was watching the very thing I had been so afraid would happen to me.

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