Saturday, June 25, 2011

Turns out that being in hospital is like war...

long periods of mind-numbing boredom, interspersed with short bursts of equally mind-numbing terror.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Chemo.

It turns out I have "difficult" veins. I've always had this problem and am the bane of all IV-inserters' professional lives. Yesterday I got in here by about 2pm and at 2:30, three different nurses had tried to put in a functioning IV into my arms and hands in four different places. On the fifth try, we got it to work, but the decision was made to surgically insert a veinous catheter which will have to stay in my arm for about a month. Until the next round of chemo.

That was fun, requiring a short surgical procedure during which I learned that I have a robust resistance to local anaesthetics. Great fun to be lying on a table, with them digging around 5 cm inside your upper arm, dodging important arteries, and suddenly they hit a part that the anaesthetic hadn't found yet. Four tank-fuls of local anaesthetic later...Gah!

Oh, and no swimming for three weeks. I can lower myself into the pool, but I have to cover the bandage with plastic wrap and try not to get it wet. Fun fun!

This morning, I had another batch of water spiked with a large dose of anti-emetics, anti-histamines and various drugs that are meant to protect the stuff chemo drugs attack and that I need to keep. This kind of chemo kills the cancer but also the cells lining the bladder, and the kidneys and the brain, so as I've been having the IV drips of the deadly stuff, I've been given small doses of "antidoto" in the form of pills that dissolve in a glass of water to stave of "neurotoxicity".

I realise they have to tell you these things to keep you up with "informed consent" but really, there are a few things I might be better off not worrying about. They know the signs to watch for and are so attentive that I'm growing in confidence.

Today we had to wait seven hours for a surgical expert to come to insert the "pic" and the next bag of poison was delayed. I am just about finished the second batch, cisplatin, and am having mannitol as a chaser to keep my kidneys from failing. There is a gaggle of nattering Italian ladies chattering away all at the same time, clustered around my roommate's bed, and I am torn between being slightly jealous of their customary stick-togetherness, and relief that I don't have to be pestered all day by crowds of relatives. Such an Anglo misanthrope, me!

Every time the nurse comes in and hooks me up to another plastic bag of clear liquid, I ask the same thing: "Che cos'รจ?" One of the nurses is obviously becoming annoyed by my obsession with knowing exactly what and how much poison they're pumping into me. When they hooked up the Mannitolo, I asked again, and she said that it's just "the protocol. The doctor esplain it all!" From now on I will just crane up and read the label upside down and quietly type the name into Google.

The nurse has just come and added another one to the ever-growing stack of plastic bags and bottles of incredibly toxic substances on the little table in the room, all waiting to go into my arm. At the other end of the table, the roommate's six female relatives are clustered around a little portable DVD player watching home videos. (The three men are all chatting in the hall outside the door.)

There is always something slightly surreal about medicine.

Oh by the way, a little note for people planning on getting cancer in Italy, don't get it in the summer. The Gemelli doesn't have air conditioning. I got a friend to bring over a fan (and the weather has not yet reached the Terrifying Italian Summer-On-The-Sun tipping point where even a fan at full blast ten inches from your face is no relief) but I can't imagine what everyone else is doing. Sweltering I guess. The procedure room where I had the surgery was at least ten degrees hotter than my room. I can't understand how they manage it, but I'm a northern Celt and we don't do hot weather.

More gruesome details as events warrant.




Greg_L-W. said...


but isn't chemo fun!!!

I've been playing this game for 13 years and I'm still here annoying people!

I finished chemo 2 weeks ago and so far I won the race - they are killing the cancer faster than they are killing me THEY THINK so now it is on to 20 hits of radiotherapy starting on the 11th.

I'm also on Cisplatin but my chaser is Gemcetabine.

I hope you don't mind I just nicked your article WITH LINKS and put it on my health site at: - you may care to link to help others on The Roller Coaster!

One way to safeguard a PICC Line is to use cling film - to bathe or shower!

Have an immense amount of fun!


Anonymous said...

What Fr. T. said about your writing, that it was like Kerouac, only better.

"The candle burns
and when that's done
the wax lies
in cold, artistic piles.

'sabout all I know."

I'm so glad you're still typing away. Prayers from here,


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Hilary Jane!

I like your mordant sense of humor even in the midst of all your worries. Good luck and God bless!

Sincerely, Sean

Mrs McLean said...

Uh huh. So when are you coming to Edinburgh? Meat pies. Sausages.

Steve T. said...

I have the same resistance to local anaesthesia. The first (and thankfully, last) time I had a cavity drilled, the dentist shot me with Novocaine, waited a few moments, then started drilling.

At that point in my life, I was very fit, and was in fact a weightlifter. I bent the arm of his dentist chair. So badly it needed to be replaced.ulpans

John Paul Sonnen said...

Get well soon!

Anonymous said...

I feel for you Hilary. I have "difficult veins" too, and it was misery. (I promised to life weights to try and remedy the problem before next time). Nothing compared to what you're going through, though. I admire your ability to endure thus trial. Will offer prayers.