I had planned to get through last Friday’s chemo session without a hitch, then rush home and begin packing for our vacation, which was to have started today. Yup, that was the plan. However, sometimes one’s plans don’t matter too much in the overall scheme of things.
Last Friday found me in a private room in Kaiser’s infusion center, administered to by Nurse Joyce, a diminutive, Filipina ball of energy who’s taken care of me a number of times over the past six months. Everything was going as scheduled, the Carboplatin flowing smoothly into my new power port, my iPad propped in my lap as I answered email and reviewed layouts from work. Nurse Joyce was asking me the usual questions about my health, side effects, etc., when I found I couldn’t think of words. The first word I couldn’t think of was, “neuropathy.” Soon, I was too cold to think of any words at all. At the time, it was 91° F outside, and probably in the mid-70s indoors. I was shivering like it was mid-winter in Maine. Nurse Joyce asked me if I wanted to stop the chemo, but Ms Stubborn-Beyond-Belief insisted she continue the chemo. She switched me to the bag of Taxol.
Two-thirds of the way through the Taxol, I became violently ill, the temperature in the room seemed to plummet further, and my entire body began shaking violently. In between heaves, I noticed I couldn’t breathe and began wheezing. Joan arrived in the room around that time and noted that I had turned very white. She also noticed that I couldn’t talk; something she’s never seen in the 20 years we’ve been together. The chemo was stopped and it became evident that my plans had just flown out the window. My oncologist arrived, took one look at me and sent me to the ER. Besides not being able to breathe, the thing that scared me most was the look on her face.
At the ER, I was proclaimed “neutropenic” (having a dangerously low white blood cell count), and was discovered to have a fever just below 103°. I was given oxygen, hooked up to an IV and administered a strong antibiotic. After many hours and a rather unpleasant incident involving a flimsy plastic bedpan (“You’ve gotta be kidding, you want ME on THAT? Do you know how much I weigh?!!”), I was admitted to the hospital.
My neutropenia (no, this is not something one buys at The Pleasure Chest and enjoys in the privacy of one’s bedroom) earned me a nice private room with a view. Anyone entering the room was required to don an over-gown, gloves and a mask. They even gave me menus to choose my 3-meals-per-day from. Except, when I ordered something not kosher on a neutropenic diet, such as a green salad, I got something else, like canned peaches. Oh well, sort of felt like a return to my childhood. Yes, they even had Jello for dessert!
After 2 days of enforced rest and the attentive care of Dr. Mike Chang, a smart and funny intern who looked all of 14 to me, I was released from the oncology ward. Although last Friday didn’t go the way we intended, perhaps enough carboplatin/taxol got into my system to bash more cancer cells. While we didn’t get packed for vacation, which we’ve moved back a week, I actually got the rest I needed. It just didn’t happen as I had planned. And, maybe it was better that way.