Oops…make that “night at the ER”.
Sunday, June 1st …around 4:00 Rick wants to know why I am huddled under a blanket, “I am cold”. Later on, I start taking my temperature…37.1, 37.4, 38.1, 38.5…call the B.C. Cancer nurses hot line…get my butt to the nearest hospital. We land at the ER in Chilliwack around 6:30 and as soon as I get out of the car and start walking across the parking lot I knew…Diverticulitis…sharp pain in the lower left abdomen while walking…great!
I hand the nurse my red Sheet “To Emergency Room Triage” with the warning in big letters “Febrile Neutropenia”….lovely as this is followed by the words “infection in a neutropenic patient is potentially life-threatening”. Just what I want to hear!
Triaged…in isolation…on oxygen…nurses and doctors flying around the room…Rick is vibrating he is so scared…me? I start to laugh! I found the whole situation so blooming scary it was funny…cuz what else was I going to do…curl up into a little ball, cry and hide under the blankets? I chose to find the humor in the situation and just deal with it. By 10:30 I had blood work done…white cell count way down…neutrophils (the white cells that fight bacteria and infection down to .65), my doctor had talked to the chemo oncologist and I was on antibiotics and sent home with the dire warning if my fever got up to 38 I was to head to Abbotsford hospital immediately.
Monday, off to radiation as usual. Tuesday, coffee and a hug with Michael, radiation and then off to meet Marj my friend for lunch. By the time we got home I was feeling crappy again. On top of that, my hair is starting to fall out and I texted my daughter, who was coming for a visit, to bring her shaver…time to chop it off. 6:00 temp was 37.4, 6:15 it was 38.4…call my friend to cancel the wire wrapping class I was going to take that evening, grab ear plugs (because you never know) and in the car and on the road to Abbotsford ER.
Total different scene than Chilliwack…sick people hacking and coughing all over the place…me? Stuck in general population with a paper mask on. I showed the lady on the front desk my red card expecting the same reaction I got in Chilliwack…nope. We waiting an hour and I went back to the desk. Her reaction to the red card…you know, the one that says I am supposed to be triaged and on antibiotics within an hour…the one that says this is life-threatening to me…this is the cancer hospital…her reaction to that red card, “that carries no weight here”…excuse me? I guess a nurse overheard the conversation and Rick was getting loud…got me into her office and got me going. Did I get put into isolation…did I at least, get put into a corner? Nope…back into general population with a paper mask on.
Ok…not all bad, Cory the nurse assigned to me was awesome. The doctor I was assigned was pretty good. Just that I picked a night when all hell was breaking loose and the ER was overrun and backed up 6 hours….me bad!
12:30 a.m. and the doctor comes back…lab results show white cell down even more and neutrophils don’t even register….not good! They are keeping me overnight and Cory finds a stretcher in a corner with a screen around it…Rick is sent home…sorry the lights are on…good thing I brought ear plugs. Between the lights, hooked up to IV and getting pumped with fluids and antibiotics…I have to pee all night I managed to eek out a couple of hours sleep. Breakfast…nope…CT scheduled for 1:00 and nothing to eat until then except…gross, crappy tasting stuff…which Rick thought was really funny…wait until he has to drink this one day!
CT scan over and now I am getting admitted to Oncology ward. I am in isolation so I get a room to myself…this I can handle…Mr. Laughing Man is sent downstairs to get me a TV. He also has to go home and get my toothbrush etc. and hopefully a hairnet to confine this stuff that is falling out all over the place. The staff on the ward are awesome, the room is confortable…nice view…no restrictions on visiting hours…hair everywhere on my pillow…on the blanket…Rick find me a hairnet!
Dr. Keith, my chemo oncologist pays a visit…not good news. My blood levels are too low to do chemo as scheduled on the 11th. Between the apologies I get, “chemo can kill me, he took an oath to ‘do no harm’.”…yadda…yadda…yadda. All I can hear in the noise is chemo can kill me and I know that the cancer can kill me and my odds just went down. I am no longer swimming…treading water desperately trying not to drown. He said he would revisit the issue…given time for the antibiotics to work…time for me to fight back and get my blood levels up….time to fight back period!
Thursday, I put my hair into a braid and got wheeled down to radiation….back in my room and tried to take out the elastic in the braid…half the braid came with it. Brushed my hair and a whole bunch more of hair came with it…done. Texted my friend, Gillian asking if she wanted to take a road trip…she did and she shaved my head…no more hair falling everywhere…love it! My brother says I look like our dad…I guess I do now! Texted my daughter and told her too late…couldn’t wait for her.
Each morning the vampires come in and take my blood…each day my white cell count goes up and my neutrophils go up. The food is not the greatest and on the menu is the usual stuff I am not allowed…you know…peas, beans, corn…and the rest is tasteless….mind you, my taste buds are gone right now and nothing tastes right except potato chips and chocolate!
Monday the 9th and the vampires come in…this time full lab workup. Mark and Susan drop by just as Dr. Keith makes his visit…no chemo. He is putting it off for a week and he is talking about lowering the dosage. Now this is scary…chemo will kill me and cancer will kill me. I don’t have a choice…don’t cry…don’t let the fear in…swim, swim, swim.
I am doing my best to keep my spirits up, I have Rick to keep going, I have family to keep going…I am down in radiation…patting the machine, as I do every morning…calling it “my big boy”…closing my eyes while the machine zaps me…picturing Buck Rogers’ ray gun zapping the cancer and shrinking it. I joke with the staff that chemo has let me down and it is up to them in radiation now. Laughter keeps me going.
Wednesday, Susan comes back to take me down to the “Look good, feel better” seminar. Companies donate makeup etc. to cancer patients and we have a blast putting on makeup and looking at hats and wigs. I get back to my room to hear the words…”you are going home”…yeehaw! My white cells are normal…my neutrophils are 2.7…wicked!
The rest of the week was quiet…radiation Thursday and Friday…the weekend spent resting…exhausted from the radiation. I felt guilty because Father’s Day was such a quiet day. At least all the kids called him (even the grandchildren) and he picked chinese takeout for supper.
Monday the 16th…back for lab work and then radiation doctor who says I am doing fine (even though we know nothing until 6 weeks after treatment stops)…off to radiation…up one more floor to meet with Dr. Keith. Chemo on Wednesday…50% dosage. He called it a double-edged sword…yeah, I know…chemo can kill me and so can the cancer.
Too numb to be scared…too numb to do anything other than hope, believe and swim, swim, swim.