The ball got rolling quickly. Very quickly. So quickly that at one of my appointments yesterday I wasn’t even on the schedule, but fortunately others in the office knew I was coming. Two days ago I was dreading the thought of waiting a month and a half to get into surgery, figuring out what I was going to do while I waited, unable to work, my life on hold. Then I got that call from the oncologist’s office,
“We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
And the next morning I was off to the hospital for a number of tests, needle pokes, instructions, and various pre-op procedures.
Our first meeting was with the doctor who would be prescribing and monitoring the chemo dose given during the operation and the days to come. The meeting was quick and informal, as we have already heard everything there is to know about this operation and he was just following up. He was a smiling, friendly man, who shockingly looked JUST LIKE my best friend growing up. I had to bite my lip at one point to stop from breaking into a huge smile at this realization, which might have been inappropriate considering he was explaining the process of poisoning my body for a handful of days. The one new bit of information that came from this session was that I was going to have a chemo drip into my system for potentially 5 days. Up to now I had heard 2 to 3 days, then 3 to 4, and now the potential was 5. Obviously, the longer the treatment, the more poisoned I become, but the greater chance of killing the cancer and preventing recurrence….so let’s do it.
We shook hands and headed over to another building for a chest scan to make sure no cancer had spread into other areas of the body, but due to a communication gap we actually had to walk right back to the building we came from for the procedure. Knowing what to expect as I had just had a CT scan not a week ago, the wounds in my arms still apparent, it went by very quickly. The radiologist was a happy, joking man who sent me on my way, telling me, “Make sure I never see you again.”
Then it was a walk across the street for all the pre-op business. Ahead of my scheduled visit I was brought into an exam room where my new nurse friend for the day explained what procedures we were going to perform before launching into the list of questions I’ve answered at every previous visit. She balanced the checklist on her knee, ticking off every box with her pen.
At one point took a sudden pause.
“Geez. YOU have cancer?” she said rather incredulously, then continued on.
“Do you take any over the herbs, fish oil, supplements, over the counter medications?”
“No. No. No. No.”
“Great! Not even over the counter meds? You are the EASIEST patient I’ve ever had to deal with before an operation.”
She gave further instructions on preparing for the operation, how to eat, passed me a bottle of strong medical soap and instructions on how to wash the night before and morning of.
“Don’t use it on your genitals. It’s very strong.”
Then it was off to a chest X-ray. I struggled to put on my gown (haven’t hospitals heard of VELCRO?!) and an orderly rolled up with a wheelchair. I stood there looking down at it, like “Really?”, thinking to myself, “Am I supposed to sit in it?”. I was half a second away from suggesting that I just walk, but relented to hospital procedure and awkwardly sunk down into the contraption. Then as a caring gesture, though adding to the surreal awkwardness of it all, the nurse wrapped a warmed blanket around my upper body for the trip to the X-ray room. I was pushed through the halls feeling absolutely absurd, trying not to catch the eyes of staff passing the other way, trying not to hear their unspoken thoughts, “Wow. I wonder what’s wrong with HIM?”
We made it to the X-ray room, took a few shots, and I sunk back into the chair to get wheeled back to the exam room for more fun.
When I returned, the nurse was immediately apologetic, just finding out that I had the Chest Scan not an hour prior to our meeting, so it turns out the chest X-rays weren’t necessary at all. Knowing I’m working through this without insurance, she assured me the charges for the X-ray would be cancelled and I wouldn’t have to worry about it.
“Have you ever had an EKG reading before? Do you know what it is?”
“Well, besides what I’ve seen on TV…No.”
I lay on my back, she started applying little stickers to my body to hook up the machine, and we discussed my tattoos, her teenage son’s new infatuation with tattoos, the type of music I listen to and her son’s excitement about going to a recent Green Day concert. I resisted dropping my punk cred card. Pressing a few buttons on the machine it started beeping and pulling in readings from my body.
“Yup. You’re a runner. Your resting heart rate right now is 47.”
She yanked the stickers off my skin, took the machine away and came back with bags of vaccinations and a few needles of differing sizes. A little apprehensive about this, I felt a few drops of nervous sweat rolled down my back. I was going to get stuck twice in one arm and once in the other. Not a fan of needles….who is?…I braced not so much for the prick, but the injection. She poked me with the first one, but the pain was negligible and I managed to relax a little. Moving to the other arm, she took a much smaller needle and only inserted it under the skin instead of into the muscle, pushing the vac into my system. Finally, into the same arm she stuck me with a wider needle and sent the last dose of vac into my body as the last pre-op precaution to fight off sickness and infection when my immune system drops.
Then we were down to one last blood draw before I could get out of there and process this quickened change in my life. She wrapped a rubber tourniquet around my arm to raise a vein for insertion and audibly expressed her pleasure at the size of vein she had to work with.
“Wow. Look at that. This will be a piece of cake.”
And with four small vials of blood pulled from my body, that was it. I could finally put my shirt back on, be given one last set of pre-op instructions before leaving and then get walked out of the exam area. The nurse was incredibly nice and it was like I was leaving a new “friend in trauma”, bonded by the intimate experience of her administering minor pain, drawing out my physical resources and offering comfort along the way, even sharing a few personal life details. I didn’t know if I was to shake her hand or give her a hug, so I simply thanked her for her work and went on my way.
The highest of fives to nurses, amirite?!
I met my parents in the waiting room and off we went…..the ball finally rolling and the first procedure down.
One interesting dynamic to this whole procedure was the finality by the staff in addressing all my pre-op needs, essentially seeing this as the last hospital visit before I came back to get cut open. They were soft-spoken and gentle, doing their best to alleviate any concern or fear I might be harboring leading into the surgery just over a week away….but they didn’t realize I still had a colonoscopy coming!
My focus wasn’t on the procedure yet, so I wasn’t internalizing their instructions or emotional care deeply. Taking each step one at a time, I’m still preparing to get this colonoscopy out of the way…and THEN I’ll brace myself for the big show. All of what I dealt with that day were just simple necessities and getting them out of the way felt more like a formality instead of weighed down by the seriousness of preparation.
And with that, I have today and tomorrow to relax, then Sunday to prepare for the colonoscopy (Oh THAT’S going to be a pretty post), and then what I’m told is a relatively easy procedure that I won’t even be conscious for on Monday.
THEN it’s a week of waiting….one last void before my life changes irreversibly.
Above all else though…I’m just glad we got that ball rolling. For a short moment it felt like it was rolling away from me, but I caught up and hopped on. So let’s ride it out.