Monday, May 01, 2006

5.01.06, Mechanics of Chemotherapy (...skipping labor)

In fact, I was double-sidetracked and might post on immigration later. For now I'm posting a more timely explanation in response to several friends' questions about "What's it actually like to have chemotherapy?" / And the Franky Scale, I'm going to say 7 or 8 today, kind of sunny in Seattle, back with my cats, running at sealevel. Also have to raise my number a little before I get zapped tomorrow.

[so as promised] I’ve had several friends ask what chemo is like, the trivial details and mechanics of it, so let me give a few. Before the first IV session, which they call “infusion,” I was mildly wigged out; however, I was also loopy with post-surgical anesthesia so who knows what my mental state really was. After a couple of sessions it goes like this: You check in with your freaky-looking credit-card type thing they use as ID at the SCCA--it contains only name, sex, age, and an 8-digit number. Forest, not Amex, green. No logo, no pictures, no mountain scenes, no kitties, nor holographic images suggesting unimaginable wealth, in someone else's account. The Green Card truly is odd. Hand them your green card and they tell you a number: “Number 20.” This is your infusion room. You walk through a door and down a hospital hallway, where I always feel like I’m trespassing, and you find your private room. You get an IV pole--which actually looks kind of Philip-K.-Dick-ish and high tech--a hospital bed, a lazy-boy for your caretaker person, a TV and a VCR (I think it is, not DVD). A waterless handwasher item hangs on the wall to promote OCD behavior in the hospital. Every time you come in or go out, you must wash. A small window behind you lets light into your room, but you're facing the wrong way so, unless you watch Lake Union in reverse image on the off TV screen, you can only look at the curtain separating you from the nurses’ station--yes, it’s set up like a panopticon. Not perfectly round, but close enough. (So the curtain must symbolize ideology, it’s all you see, makes you feel alone, private, voluntarist, but the Nurses of your Destiny all sit at the central desk of biopower just on the other side! Althusser vs. Foucault in a steel-cage death match!......sorry, thought I was back at work for a minute.)

First, they draw blood to make sure you’re still healthy enough (in terms of immune system) to do more chemo, wait about 45 minutes for the labs to return, then they hook you up. For 30 of 40 minutes a manic nurse will sequentially “access your port”--which means stick a needle into your skin, into the subcutaneous porta-cath Dr. Hands put in for me [pullling a needle out of your skin is called "de-accessing your port"]--and switch five or six little hanging clear-plastic bags of fluid before the actual chemo drugs are given. Pre-chemo drugs, or secondary drugs, include things like benadryl, some stomach-protecting drug, anti-nausea drug, etc. (anyone want a list just say so), and their cumulative effect is to kick my ass and make it hard to stay awake. Why do I want to stay awake? Don’t know that--it’s some odd compulsion, maybe a fear that I’ll miss something, or that some stranger will come by and steal my totally cool hospital socks made of some synthetic monkey-shit-brown material but sporting very hip white rubberized stripes on the bottom to keep you from slipping. Anyway, I fight sleep.

It’s actually quite anticlimactic: the chemo drugs are heavily diluted, administered drop by drop so it takes about 3.5 hours, and there is no pain. You just lie there. You could sleep, watch a movie or TV, read a book if your mind stays that keen. With me, I just get tired, I think I tried to read Zizek last time, and Gillian--no doubt somewhat sadistically--was engaging me in a conversation about Benjamin’s “Theses on History” and who is the puppet and who is the dwarf, whether historical materialism always wins or whether it’s theology. (Just a joke, Gillian, xoxo). I can’t figure that shit out even when I’m not inside the panopticon, let alone souped up on a benedryl cocktail. Overall the process is uneventful, just time-consuming. Then you get a ride home and vegetate. Though drinking lots of fluids is highly recommended. Gillian tells me it's a good time to get writing done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Mr. Jones" - It's me, Lauren (Dartmouth), overwhelmed upon reading your blog for the first time today and wishing I could send you an email or a letter or a hug. Been taking poetry classes & always think of "somehwere i have never travelled gladly beyond" and then, by association, you (and Sam Adams Lager and chindallae kkot). Bless you, my dear friend.