We caught a shuttle from the radiation building where we parked, over to the area where I was going to get chemo, and the driver made it plain that where he dropped us off was where we would be picked up later, for a ride from the chemo back to the Lair of the Linacs. I had not thought to pack any food, so though the apartment has a nice kitchen, we had to eat in the cafeteria in the main hospital, which was not so good… hard to navigate and harder to find truly fresh, healthy food.
We made our way up to the Oncology Hematology (chemotherapy) department, and they began their dance. After serving thousands of cancer patients, the team has developed an elaborate system to try and ease the process for the patient. Before delivering the chemotherapy drug itself, they begin with anti-emetics and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the side effects of the poison.
It involves hooking the patient up to an IV pump that meters the stuff in gradually, changing bags of fluids about a dozen times, and their SHOW. I called it a team, but it’s more like a league of teams, with several specialties within the department. Every step of the way, representatives of each team in the league came to explain what was happening: Infusion nurse…and another…and another… Doctor, Pharmacist, social worker… The reason for more than one nurse was that I had not kept myself well-hydrated, and my veins were “flat.” It took 5 agonizing needle expeditions and a warm pack to finally get the IV cannula into a vein. I am staying WELL HYDRATED from now on!
As the hours of infusions wore on, the nice Kaiser folks paraded past my curtained-off corner, full of information and professional concern. I asked questions, and took notes, and forced fluids, and the horror sank in, that I was now one of those pale persons we see being handled, supported, preserved… a project.
In spite of my having bungled the start of the infusions by not hydrating, they were done spot on 3PM, so I proceeded to the radiation treatment exactly as planned. It was scheduled for 3:20, and the shuttle could get us there in a matter of a few minutes. We had to pick up some new medications for pain and nausea, and chased around through three different pharmacies in the complex before getting them, but were still on track.
I called the transportation desk as we made our way down the elevator to the shuttle stop where we had been dropped off. Dispatch said the shuttle would be there in a couple of minutes. We sat on the bench… for 20 minutes… and the time of my radiation appointment passed. I called dispatch again. The shuttle was “on its way.” Another 20 minutes later, I called again. I had been told not to walk the half mile to radiation from chemo, because the medications would make me weak and susceptible to sunburn. It was becoming apparent that walking would have been less stressful than waiting and being late. I called Radiation Oncology, who said that they would nuke me whenever I got there, and that they understood about transportation troubles. I didn’t understand. After another pause, I called dispatch again, and queried the dispatcher more closely on the location, and was told that the driver had looked for us but not found us. We had been right there, at the exact spot where we had been told to wait. I went back into the main building, looking for the security guard I had seen on the way in, to verify the location. After several trips in the elevator, and some dithering around the fluorescent-lit halls, I found my way back to the parking. On the way back, I happened to notice another door into the parking structure, on the level below the one where we had been dropped off and told to wait. There was a shuttle stop sign on the pavement there. As I hurried back to where Charlotte was waiting, I called transportation, and asked on what level the shuttle stop was. The dispatcher told me it was on the FIRST level, and I explained that we had been waiting on the SECOND level, because that was where we had been dropped off and told to wait. He said he’d send the shuttle to the second level. I rushed up there, to find Charlotte gone. Who was orchestrating this madness? It was now over an HOUR past the time of my appointment, and I was less than a half mile away from it, waiting on a phantom shuttle bus! I phoned Charlotte – no answer. I called dispatch again, asking about my wife, and they had no clue… but then the shuttle pulled up. Charlotte was not in it, but I decided to proceed to Radiation. On the way, we saw her on the sidewalk, walking as we should have done from the start. By the time the shuttle had methodically regurgitated me in front of the building, Charlotte was at the reception counter, speaking with the clerk. I was an emotional shambles. We went down to the waiting room for the Linacs, which was both very large, and nicely decorated. Impressive. It’s at least 200 feet long, and straight, though the panorama makes it look curved:
My name came up on the annunciator quickly, and I went to meet the Linac. The Radiation Therapists were warm, understanding, and very efficient. The room was very calm, dimly-lit, and nicely appointed, as torture chambers go:
I put in the Fluoride trays, to help keep my jaw properly aligned without grinding my teeth. I lay down in the cross-hairs of 3 green lasers, to the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and found that holding still wasn’t as difficult as I had feared it would be. They tattooed a 2mm dot onto my chest, to make sure they get my body in the same place every time, and left the room.
The machine whirred and rotated and buzzed, and the Rolling Stones came on… and I was so tired I didn’t have the energy to panic. It was over sooner than I had feared, and I left, encouraged that I could get through the series of 35 treatments without Ativan.