This past week I had a 3-day stay at the hospital thanks to my good buddy, Gemma.
Side effects are a bitch, and this last cycle of chemo has really kicked my butt, but good. In 10 days, I’ve put on 11 pounds of water. It’s concentrated in my thighs, gut, arms, chest, neck and head — in other words, everywhere but my calves and feet (so at least I can wear shoes — no ham feet!)
I must look like the Michelin Man.
My face is moon-shaped, and I’m neck-less (seriously, my neck is gone and my head is just one big lump attached to my shoulders.) My arms feel like they’re propped out away from my body, and my body has expanded to the point where some of my tee shirts are uncomfortable to wear.
But the worst is probably my thighs. I keep checking, I don’t see where the Side Effect Elves have strapped on the pillows –but I know they’re there. Right at my crotch, between my legs, though I don’t see them, I know there are bed pillows strapped to my legs. I’m walking like Matt Foley, that Chris Farley character whose thighs never touched when he walked. I’m feeling those water pillows, and though it’s not painful it’s very disconcerting and uncomfortable.
Went to the After-Hours Oncology clinic today and (luckily) it was my oncologist’s weekend to be in-house. The irony of all this water retention? I’m dehydrated. The water is sitting in my soft tissue, and not going into my bloodstream, so my blood is running “thick,” which is affecting my kidney numbers. So to fix my water problem, we’re gonna hook me up to a bag of plasma and pump more water into me.
Back to the After-Hours Clinic for a bag of saline to be pumped into my vein. Good thing too, cause I feel like crap.
This is a bad day. It’s the first time I’ve actually worried about being able to dress myself. Every effort steals my breath and makes gravity my overpowering enemy. The overwhelming pressure to sit and be still is so bad that at the last minute I ask my neighbor, Judy, to drive me to the clinic–because I realize I won’t be able to walk from the parking lot to the door of the clinic. And I was right. Judy dropped me at the door and I used a wheelchair to get to the check in desk. First time that’s ever happened.
(Baby Boomer Sidenote: Text messaging has become an amazingly powerful support tool for me. If you’re a boomer, and you don’t know how to text, take the time to have someone teach you. For reference, in the following text messages, my words are either in a blue or green field.)
I wouldn’t have thought I could feel worse, but I do. Back to the clinic for another bag of saline. But we’ve barely started pumping the fluids when the nurse comes back to tell me that my kidney numbers have gone so far south that my Oncologist is admitting me to the hospital. Hurrah.
God bless my neighbor, Judy. Once again, she was my driver, and she deserves a HUGH THANK YOU. She got me to the clinic on Sunday and Monday, and then got me to the hospital. Bless her! She’s a keeper!
(Just a sidenote, at this point in putting this blog post together my laptop crashed. I’m finishishing up on my iPad. I apologize if any of the upcoming photos are wonky-looking. Eventually, they’ll be fixed.)
Cindy took this lovely photo of me, just before she left for the evening. Just call me Ms. Puffy Face!
The steroids I got interfered with my sleep, but I think it has ultimately helped me. I had to get up 3 times during the night to pee, and each time was easier to get out of the bed, walk to the bathroom, do my business, and get back into bed.
The last time I got up was after what felt like an intense couple of hours of sleep. I actually felt a bit rested. The part that sucked was that I was drenched in sweat. My front/back hospital gowns were almost dripping wet. There are few things grosser then laying down in a sweaty-wet bed while wearing a pair of sweaty-wet hospital gowns. But what a great motivator! At 6:48 AM, I made the decision: it’s time to send Bev home.
Monday afternoon to Thursday afternoon. Three days, three nights. Not really that much time out of my life, but I’m glad to see it gone.
When you enter the hospital system, you surrender your independence and self-autonomy. This is frustrating, and frightening. But there are too many moving pieces in the hospital system, too many inputs and outputs, to allow each patient to have their own way.
Our hospital caregivers owe us, their patients, a huge and almost overwhelming responsibility: to restore our health to the best of their collective abilities. What an amazing group of people to take on such a challenge!
We as patients also have some responsibilities.
- Take an active part in your recovery by paying attention to what each doctor says, writing stuff down and (IMPORTANT!) asking questions. If you’re not able to take part in these conversations, a family member or a good friend should do it for you.
- Remember that the staff has multiple patients, so do what you can to group together the activities you need help with, instead of hitting the call light every 20 minutes.
- And if the nurse has to wake you up every 4 hours during the night to draw blood, it’s not because that’s how she gets her jollies. It’s because the doctor is closely watching for changes in your blood (in my case, potassium levels), so that issues can be addressed and you can get well and go home.
When you enter the hospital system, it’s hard to avoid feelings of anxiety, fear, and pain. For me, it helped to focus on the people helping me — to invite them to the “party” in my room. This gave me something outside of my own troubles to concentrate on. And it gave us all lots of laughs. Laughter can help you heal.
To the party pals I found at the hospital, thank you for all the laughter! I’m raising my cocktail in toast to my favorite party-hardy team on the Fifth Floor: Nurses Robin, Swetha, Shelley, Alicia, and Jamila. And PCTs Nathalie, Benita, Sang, Jenny, and Georgia. And to the ladies in the room next door, Erin, Jessica, and Sylvia, your laughter was lovely to hear, and I’m glad that we got to meet.
Party on, my friends!