Chemo..

...is not as bad as advertised, said the legendary journalist Harry Golden Jr., back in the late '80s. I interviewed him for a magazine profile when he was dying of cancer. Of the throat? The magazine soon died, too. He was still working as a beat reporter in Harold Washington's City Hall. Working for the Sun-Times. Dean of the City Hall newsroom. His editor told me he never complained about his medical treatment, never let it interfere. My story was nominated for a journalism award and I invited him to go to the awards dinner with me, but he died before we could. He was that close to death. He was small with sharp features and laughed like this: hahhahhhahahahahhahahhahahahha.

So far I will have to say the same. For today at least. Chemo began with the installation of a port below my collarbone, in the jugular vein. It's an underground tube with a hole so that I won't have to be stuck time and again by the nurses. I hope it's the right choice. L has a friend at work who had trouble with her port. I wanted one because Cancer Vixen's drawing hand started getting numb from the chemo needles. And when I was in the hospital for surgery I had an IV in my hand and it hurt during and for two weeks after. I learned from a nurse that after constantly poking the inside of the elbow you might have no good veins left. So I hope this port is a port for the good.

Yesterday when a hospital person called to tell me to fast for 12 hours and such, I told her I wanted an attending ("real") doctor to do the surgery. She said to tell the people today. I did and they said, This is the first we've heard of it, we don't know if we can do it, the doctors spend a lot of time supervising... But I got a real doctor, a very nice one who rattled off information but had time to listen, too. When I thanked him for making the time, he demurred, that that's what he does. For the first time in Fancy Hospital, I encountered no apprentices! It was liberating! I realized I should have told the nurse who made the appointment for me that I wanted a real live doctor. What a crazy world when it's an imposition to get senior staff to do the work.

In the prep room there was a fake skylight on the ceiling, lit with a photograph of cherry blossoms. The little rooms to left and right had different photos. A nice touch.

The doctor said it would be like dental work, where you don't feel pain but you feel pressure. I felt nothing. Or don't remember feeling anything. It was quite Proustian--awake and dreaming at the same time--I remember talking about numbers in dreams. The nurse said I also talked about flying in dreams. That sounded right.

Next was the recovery room, where I recovered quickly and ate last night's leftovers from Red Light with alacrity. Green beans, basmati brown rice, kung pao tofu.

Then we were off to the 21st floor for the chemo. I thought it would be a room with three to five lounge chairs and ladies in varying stages of side effects. And then one day we would find out melodramatically why one person never came back. Instead, I was in a private room with a regular exam bed and a rocking chair, and the nurse gave me Ativan and some anti-nausea through the IV and then she "pushed in" the medicine, as she said, the Adriamycin in a syringe attached to the tube attached to the needle in the port. I couldn't feel much. I could see the Adriamaycin, which is red. Then more saline. Then it was over, after maybe 30 minutes.

We left with three prescriptions for pills to fight nausea. L and I picked them up later at the drug store. Two medicines are mandatory. One is optional. I asked the pharmacist if he knew anyone who went on chemo and didn't get nausea, and he just looked at me haplessly.

But I am hoping. I had some Indonesian ginger chews sent by a friend in Oakland and I am wearing the anti-motion-sickness wristband my sister sent me.

My sister also sent herself. She arrived yesterday afternoon and we sat around then walked around the neighborhood, finding a few crocuses. I showed her three-flat graystones that cost $1 million. Prices in Houston are much more modest. We had dinner with L's daughter for her birthday. It was the first time my step-daughter met her step-aunt.

My sister drove a borrowed car from the suburbs to pick me up this morning and we got to the Fancy Hospital parking lot in good time. She stayed with me as much as she was allowed to. She is very easy. I haven't spent much time with her alone, for years and years. She is cheerful, easily amused, calm and not irritable. She's a learning disabilities diagnostitian in a school and we talked about special ed and autistic kids. She's taking a class so she had to finish a paper for it, and fly home tomorrow to hand it in. We also talked about my mother, and about my sister's plans to hold both Passover seders at her house, for the first time ever. When my father was alive, he and I led the seders, using some feminist material I'd found in Ms.magazine. After he died in 1991, I led at least one family seder in Houston by myself every year, adding new tricks, checking out new haggadahs. I always thought the seders there couldn't go on without me. I think my constituents likened me to Castro. It seemed I would always be there, and never name a successor. This year I'm not going home; seems like too much coming on the heels of chemo. I will be a participant and not a leader in two seders here. We will see how it goes. I did warn my friend B that I would try to wrest control of the seder from him.

When I went to the Oriental Institute last week with a friend, I saw a display that said that there is no proof that the Jews were ever slaves in Egypt. Even the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary says it ain't necessarily so. Ah, well. Then we can universalize the slavery experience. Or treat it as metaphor.

Meanwhile I keep asking myself if I'm nauseated. Like poking at a bruise and seeing if it really hurts. Right now, I'm OK. Let's hope.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I guess after all these millennia and no proof other than a written account, it's safe to be an Israelite-slavery denier. I know, it's not fair to compare a nice museum scholar with a malicious, modern-day denier. I imagine, though, that many things have happened in human history for which there is no readily available forensic evidence.

Glad to hear the chemo treatment wasn't as bad as you might have expected, and that you have good company there.

Hope you have a Happy Passover, even if you're not running the seder.

- Cousin D

Anonymous said...

It sounds so simple, but I never thought of it: just insist on a real doctor instead quietly accepting the visits of the ever changing team of students. In a crisis it can be hard to think straight. Next time I take my father to the hospital I will be better prepared. Thanks.

BC said...

Bill Cosby has a name for interns and the non-doctor caregivers. he calls them "Hey you, almost a doctor." I am glad to read this report on your first day of chemo. We did indeed think of you today. Drink your water. Water is good. We love you.

bc, sbc, & luna c.