Saturday, August 27, 2011

Just When One Door Closes...


I turned to look at my mom, who was crying happy tears for the first time in almost six months. My own waterfalls were being held by a very flimsy dam, but only because there were so many people standing around to watch me bang the gong that symbolized my very last day of radiation treatment.

Five and a half weeks. 28 treatments. 280 buzzes of the machine.



I hugged my techs Janis, Kerry and Bob goodbye and headed to the changing room for the last time. As I took off my gown and threw on my jeans, I thought about the last song I heard playing in the room during the treatment. Janis gave me a Posion shuffle, which was perfect, but the last song said it all. "Something to Believe In." That song never meant more to me than it did that day. I have so much to believe in. I believe the treatments will make me better. I believe I will get married next week. I believe it will all be ok.

Since it was Thursday, Jimmi had to go to The City to pick up his tuxedo, and I decided to go back to my mom's house to wrap our bridal party gifts. But halfway back to the house, I started feeling terrible. When we arrived, I immediately shuffled over to what I've decided to call "my chair" and plopped down on my side. With my radiation-burned ass and snoochie, sitting isn't usually the most comfortable option. Walking sucks, too. Come to think of it, there aren't many positions I can stand for more than a minute.

My mom covered me with a super-soft blanket and I was out cold...until the pain woke me a few minutes later. "Mommy, it hurts!" I really can be such a baby when I'm not feeling well. My mom walked in, thermometer in hand. She pushed the button - beep beep - then stuck it under my tongue. Beep beep beep beep. 99.8. "That's not good," I said. "And I'm so cold." My mom wasn't worried, "they say not to call until it hits 100.4. Do you want to lay flat in my bed?" my mom offered, "Maybe it'll help." I was willing to try anything.

I curled up in my mom's bed and tried to watch a movie. My head was hurting and I had chills. Finally, I got up and went to the kitchen where my mom was starting dinner. "I'm done in there." And I rested my head on the counter. "I can't even hold my head up." I stared at the unwrapped gifts that I needed to make pretty for our rehearsal dinner exactly one week from that night, and I just felt exhausted.

My dad and Jimmi arrived a few minutes later, and the dinner I'd requested was served by Super Mom. Unfortunately, after two bites, I had to leave the table and hit "my chair" again. I rested for a bit, then tried to join my family for a second time. No luck. Jimmi and my dad headed to the office to bond some more, and I sat at the table trying to force myself to eat the smallest bites of food. The tears started to fall, "I don't want to die, Mommy." She was a little taken by my comment. "I don't remember anyone saying that was a possibility. Please don't talk about that, you're gonna make me very sad." She got a tissue and dabbed at her eyes, then handed me a clean one. "I hate how I feel. How am I gonna get married like this? Why can't I just feel better for a little while?" She handed me the thermometer again. Beep beep beep beep! 100.0.


I'm gonna end up in the hospital, I just know it.

I laid my head on the table as my mom cleaned up around me. Every few minutes, I'd recheck my incredible, rising temperature. 100.2. Not quite there yet. Try again. 100.7. Oops! Skipped 100.4! "Mom, we need to call the doctor." She walked over and looked at how I was sitting, leaning to one side, wrapped in a blanket. "Sit up, take the blanket off and take it again." I did. 100.4. "Can you call for me, Mommy?" I'm really not sure what it is about me being sick and having my mom there that makes me completely shun all adult responsibilities, but it happens every time. Anyway, she did call, and I laid uncomfortably on a chair and waited.

Dr. Gorsky wasn't on call that night, but Dr. Graham was. I'm pretty sure my mom was relieved to hear that. It's not that she doesn't like Dr. Gorsky; she just has a really hard time with her accent!

After about a 15 minute conversation with the doctor, my mom let me know that I needed to go to the emergency room so they could check my blood counts. If the white cell count is low, they'd need to keep me. If not, I could go. Luckily, we didn't need to go to New York City this time. The chemo doctors are affiliated with one of the local hospitals in New Jersey, so we were able to go there. My mom said, "Dr. Graham is calling ahead. But you need to let them know you're a cancer patient and can't sit in the waiting area. You need to go right in." I pointed to my wigless head. "I think that's pretty obvious, no?"

I sent Jimmi home to feed the dog and cats and told him I'd call if I needed to stay. He kissed me goodbye, and I got into my mom's car and we headed to the Emergency Room.

My dad helped me out of the car and my mom went to park. I took baby steps to the door as my dad held onto my arm. A nurse greeted us and I was forced to say a phrase I never wanted to hear about myself, "Hi I'm a cancer patient with a fever. Dr. Graham called ahead." She smiled, nodded and gave a full-arm  wave to come on back. She handed me a mask, which I used to cover my nose and mouth and keep extra germs out. I just called myself a cancer patient. Ewww. Yuck. Gross. I'm so much more than that.

My fever was still holding at 100.4 when the triage nurse took it. Good. At least they won't think I'm crazy. I think the longest part of registration was listing all of my meds. Seriously.

They took me to a room in the ER immediately, and handed me a gown. I wish they would've just admitted me. I know my counts are down. I know I'm gonna need to stay. I really could've skipped the five hour emergency room visit.

Blood was drawn for a CBC and cultures. The line was left in my arm for future use. A warning sign was placed out side my ER room door to make sure anyone who was going to come into contact with me washed their hands and wore a mask if there was even the slightest chance they could be sick. We even kicked my dad out of the room for coughing. And then we waited.

There was an occasional EKG or chest x-ray to keep things interesting. There was a barrage of attending doctors, who I truthfully didn't want to listen to, and there was a TV that finally started to play Family Guy. Ah, some entertainment.

At about 11:00, Jimmi decided he didn't want to sit home and wait anymore, so he headed over to join us. That's when I got the results. Attending Dr. #1 said, "Your white cell count is very low. We need to keep you here and start you on broad spectrum antibiotics. If the blood cultures grow something more specific, we'll narrow it down, but you need to be here and you need an isolation room. That could take some time."

Great. It's already midnight. They decided to start my meds in the ER, just to get them going as soon as possible. I turned to my mom with a random thought to share, "You know, most of the stubble on my head is falling out, but there are some hairs that have grown back in. They're longer than the stubble and they're all grey!" She just looked at me, "Really? It's growing back?" I think she missed my point. "GREY! It's growing back grey!" I didn't bother to tell her that while I was getting ready for bed the other night, I noticed the infestation of white hairs on my head and they freaked me out. So, what did I do? The same thing any sane, bald girl would do. I grabbed my tweezers and started plucking those little suckers out!!

"We found you a room!" sang a voice at my door. Awesome! Of course, it was almost 2:00 am by now. We were all exhausted, and I knew there would be no chance of getting any sleep that night. But, here I am. I'll make the best of it.

I was wheeled down to my room, which had two beds set up, but before I could ask, the nurse came in and said, "You won't have a roommate because you need to be isolated." Whew! Sometimes I don't play well with others.

After I was settled in, I decided to be a big girl and let my entire fan club go home. After looking around at the selection of uncomfortable chairs, I didn't feel right having anyone try to sleep on one of them. I got kisses all around and watched my parents and my fiance walk out the door. Then I made myself as comfortable as I could, closed my eyes and couldn't sleep. I painfully tossed and turned, but between the positioning of my IV and the raw agony in my nether region, there just wasn't any hope for a restful night. Finally, at 4:45 am, my eyes closed and I drifted off to..."Good morning! I'm here to draw your blood!" My right eye popped open and peeked at the clock on the wall, which read 5:00 am. Not happening. I only slept for 15 minutes! And they just took my blood a few hours ago in the ER!! UGH!!!

Ok, the 5 AM blood-sucker is gone. Try again. I closed my eyes. Nope. Turned over. Nope. Stood up. Nope. Went to the bathroom. Nope. I was still awake when the nurses changed shifts at 7 and the new one came to assess me. I tried to sleep again, but there was a knock on my door at 7:30. "Room service!" and a tray of food I didn't order was brought into my room. Not even interested in that. I closed my eyes again.

Knock, knock, knock!

You've gotta be kidding me!

"Come in!" And in walks a priest. Was I actually asleep and dreaming this? Am I dying? Why is there a priest at my door? Is he coming to tell me I'm a sinner because I'm divorced? Or that Jimmi is the devil? "Hello, I am Father (Forgive me, Father, I don't remember your name). Is it ok if I pray for you?" What's the correct answer here? How did he even know I am, or was, or am Catholic? If I say no, will I go to Hell? Will I hurt his feelings? I do believe in God, so I know prayers are good. Oh, ok. Why not. "Sure." I said. Father I Dunno held his hand over my head as I clasped my hands together like a good Catholic girl. I said Amen when it was appropriate. I didn't fall asleep during it. And I let him anoint me with oil, even though I was quite sure it was going to stain my new, pink beret. I thanked him when he was done, and he left the room.

About a half hour later, my room phone rang. Seriously? It's 8:30 in the morning! I've slept for 15 minutes! Oh, that's annoying! Where's the stupid phone? Oh! It's behind me, in a corner all wrapped up in it's own chord. Ring! Ring! UGH!!! I jumped out of bed. "OUCH!" Unplugged my IV pole, dragged the pole around the bed, grabbed the phone, pulled the wires off, "Hello?" "Hi Sweetheart!" It was my dad. "Daddy? Why didn't you just call me on my cell?" He was silent for a minute. "Oh, I'm sorry. I just want to let you know I'm here so I'll be up in a minute. Do you need anything?" Just some sleep. "No, I'm fine."

My dad entered my room a few minutes later with terrible bags under his eyes. I felt badly for him. Because of me, he and my mom didn't get home until after 3:00 am. Here it is 8:30 am, and he's already back.

Knock, knock, knock!

Now what?

"Come in!" A balding man, who appeared to be about 60, entered my room. "I was wondering if you'd like to receive Communion today?" For real? Where am I? First the priest, now the Communion man? Again, how do I say no? "Sure." He looked at my dad and I and explained, "We're all going to say the Our Father first." How do these people know I'm Catholic? Do they just knock on everyone's door? We finished the prayer, I received the Bread of Christ, then the man asked my dad if he'd like one too. He obliged. Oh, I wish my mom had been there. The poor guy's face would've dropped to the floor when she said, "I'm Jewish!"

The rest of my day was pretty uneventful. I finally met Dr. Graham, who informed me that my white cell count was up just a tiny bit, which is good, but since I've now finished radiation, I'm allowed to have a shot that will help boost them even more. She also let me know that I'd need to stay until probably Sunday to give the blood cultures a chance to grow and to make sure I do well on the IV antibiotics. I figured she'd say that. Then she asked to see my backside, and after checking out the view, confirmed my own feelings, "oooh! That looks like it hurts!" Thank you, doctor.

After Dr. Graham left, my nurse came in to give me a blood thinner to avoid getting clots while I'm lying around. It was super fun when she said, "It's a shot that I'll put in your stomach and it stings a bit." I didn't care how pretty that sounded in her Australian accent, I still didn't want it. But five minutes later, she was standing over me, wiping my lower abdomen with an alcohol pad, then gripping a chunk of skin saying, "Little pinch. Little sting." Little, my ass! "OUCH!!' Oh, and it was one of the lingering stings. Was that really necessary?

Finally, my mom showed up with Cocoa Krispies and kisses for me. I was able to eat a little bit and then I just hung out in bed telling my mom what a busy morning it had already been. Jimmi showed up a few hours later with cards for our 5 year first date anniversary, and I realized how quickly our wedding would be here. God, I hope I make it.

The next time the nurse came in, she had the white blood cell booting shot. I felt better when she said it was going into my arm, but then she let me know it will sting too, and I just turned my head away and waited for it to be over. Yup. That one sucked, too. Dr. Graham had told me earlier that 10% of people have bone pain from that shot. She said sometimes it's the hips or the skull or the chest, so just be prepared. I asked the nurse about it and she said, "It doesn't happen right away. Maybe after the second or third day." Wait, what? "How many shots do I need?" I asked with concern. "Oh, usually as many days as you're here." Wonderful.

Since my counts were so low, I wasn't really allowed to leave my room and the door had to stay closed to keep germs out. My mom insisted I do laps around the room so I could get my body moving. Especially my bowels, which, after having diarrhea for four solid weeks, had decided to go on strike and not produce anything in about 5 days. I did as I was told, then, as Jimmi helped me into bed, I felt my chest go into pulsating spasms. "Ow! My chest! Oh my GOD!" I gripped my chest and sunk to the bed. "Ow, ow, ow, ow. It feels like someone is squeezing my chest. It hurts!"

Jimmi got the nurse and an EKG machine immediately appeared in my room. They were checking me for a heart attack. "Is this from that shot?" I asked. My nurse assured me that it doesn't happen that quickly. Then what the hell is it?

"The EKG was normal," said my nurse when she came back to my room. "I've called the doctor and she wants to out you on Nexium for heartburn." What is wrong with these people? "I haven't eaten anything, how would I have heartburn? And, really, that didn't feel like heartburn. Are you sure it wasn't from the shot?" She insisted that it was too soon for any side effects from the shot and that sometimes heartburn doesn't feel like heartburn. "Did you call Dr. Graham?" She looked at me, "No, Dr. Ahmed. The attending." I wanted to say, I don't want that doctor! She's not my doctor! Call Dr. Graham! But I didn't. "Oh, ok," was all I could muster.

The pain continued to get worse, but it really only happened after I'd been standing and I'd go to sit down. But it hurt so much I could hardly breathe. Plus, to make it worse, I had finally gone to the bathroom after my buildup, and now that area was burning and hurting as well. The nurses changed shifts, so now I had Maria taking care of me. She just happened to walk in on me while I was in intense pain and offered some meds. I'll take more morphine. It helped a little before. "I can give you something better than morphine and it'll last longer, but it might make you nauseous." Oh no! "No. I don't want anything else to make me sick." Maria said, "It will help with your pain. I'll give it to you a little at a time so you can see how you feel, ok?" She was right. I needed the pain to go away, so I agreed to her plan. She shot 1/4 of the dose into my IV, then had me wait. A few minutes later, I was loopy, the pain wasn't as bad, but I wasn't nauseous. Maria came back for another 1/4 dose. Same result, but loopier and less pain. My mom decided to bring a bucket and my tooth brush to my bed as have me brush right there. It didn't look like I'd be walking anywhere, at that point! Finally, Maria pushed in the final dose. The pain was gone and I was very happy. "I have to pee!" I announced. So much for not walking. Jimmi helped me to the bathroom so I didn't fall over, then he helped me back to bed. The pain was just about gone from this wonder drug. Maria insisted I call her any time I needed to use the bathroom through the night, and a "Fall Precautions" sign was placed outside my door.

I was so sleepy, that my family decided now was a good time to leave so I could rest. I kissed them all goodbye then fell into a deep sleep for an hour until the phlebotomist woke me for blood. Grrrrr!

Here it is, Saturday, August 27th. I found out that my white blood cells have quadrupled, which is great. Nothing grew in the blood cultures, which is also great, Dr. Graham confirmed that the pain WAS from the shot, so I was right, and I can most likely go home tomorrow, which is long as the hurricane stays away.

I also realized something else, a year ago, before all of this crap started, Jimmi and I had a choice for our wedding date at the venue we booked. August 27th or September 3rd. Obviously, we chose September third, but what if we had chosen today? I would be in the hospital, and we wouldn't be married. I also found out that since the reception venue is in the botanical gardens, which is run by the State of NJ, has been shut down this weekend due to the severe whether we're supposed to have. Both weddings this weekend had to reschedule or be moved to another venue. I feel so badly for those brides. They must be devastated. I know I would be.

But I look ahead into the forecast. Saturday, September 3, 2011. Sunny skies and 79 degrees. Perfect. Now all I need is one more miracle. I need to be well enough to get through my day. I have one week.

I can do this.

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