I'm risking a shipload of karma by talking about a funky afternoon at the infusion unit. Any talk of being in the company of cancer patients and receiving a $13,000 drug with the support of a special grant is generally made in a reverential tone. One should be grateful for life, the field of medicine, and the brick and mortar of the local teaching hospital and all its minions. Nevertheless, there are times when the bumpy, un-pretty operation of the whole process exceeds the mandate to remain gracefully silent.
I screwed up my schedule. I'm admitting that up front. The last time I went for treatment, there was a snowstorm, or what passes for one in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After a traumatic afternoon of making a 15-minute trip in two hours, complete with walking in the snow (make that slipping and sliding and falling in the snow) and dragging my disc disease-ridden lower spine up a steep hill by will alone, I lost my appointment card. Going on memory, I planned for the wrong day, and the right day had passed before I called to check and was told to come in Friday, the 28th.
The infusion center, home of cancer patients, hemophiliacs, chronic anemics, and a few auto-immune folk like me, was packed. There was no treatment recliner for me (universe forbid one take their treatment in a regular chair), so I sat on a narrow bench in the hall waiting for a free space. When I was called back and planted in a comfortable recliner, I thought my problems were over. My neighbors were a young Filipino women, sleeping under her hoodie, and and an empty chair. A nurse deftly inserted my IV and I settled in to knit and wait for my medication to be delivered from the pharmacy. The empty chair was soon occupied by a dreadfully thin, very ill-appearing man with one leg amputated. He was accompanied by an equally thin, fidgety woman who constantly asked how he felt and made frequent trips to the nurses station to request various drugs for his comfort. She never removed her sunglasses.
The Filipino girl was rudely awakened by her companion, an even younger girl (sister?) who yanked on her hood and shoved a phone in her ear. They spent much of the remaining time making calls, giggling and sharing the phone, evidently feeling that their noisiness was of no consequence if we couldn't understand their language.
In the interim, the chairs across from me came alive with an older man and woman informing each other about their lengthy illnesses and the trips they took between transfusion therapies. They were on the other side of the room, but I heard every detail about their years-long illnesses and began to contemplate pulling the curtain around my chair to pretend to solitude. Eventually the older woman finished "this mess", as she called her five times a month precious blood transfusions, and left. The man proceeded to fall asleep and snore loudly. With the first snore, the Filipino girls and I stifled laughs and looked at one another with complicity. After he cranked up to louder snores, he began to gargle, adding that liquid, bubbly component to the noise-quite an accomplished snorer he. A sudden crescendo produced audible laughing among us, prompting his wife to turn around humorlessly to find out who dared respond to her dear one's performance.
The skinny man next to me began to mutter about wanting to "puke", and I silently begged him to control that urge, as that activity is my perfect prompt for sympathetic vomiting. There was frantic activity on the part of his woman, who had by then called the doctor's office herself to ask for drugs. Her conversation with the nurses over who called when and what to expect took ten minutes. I beat a retreat to the bathroom in the hall, pushing all my hardware with me, and hoping I could stretch the walk until his problem was resolved. As I sat in the bathroom my infusion monitor beeped "complete" and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I took the slow, winding back way home, happy in my solitude, finally able to laugh over the nutty, chaotic afternoon experience.
The little guy pictured is my version of Piplup. Cuter than chemo.