23 February 2009

Chemo Buddies, Substitutes and Sandwiches

9 a.m. Mon. Feb. 16, DF 10
For round 2 of the red death, we scored a window seat away from the main row; a safe haven from front desk gawkers and wandering, spaced-out chaplains. Instead of viewing patients filling out forms, we look upon blue skies and the interconnecting rooftops of JP and Brookline. It's like a Lisa Daria painting.

James and I are setting up shop with our laptops, books, mags and other articles of distraction when our chemo "neighbors" show up. They are an older couple who move in ways that suggest they've been doing this for a while. They immediately -- and mercifully -- draw the curtain. "Not that we don't like you guys," the gentlemen says from his side. "That's fine," we say from ours.

We're just glad someone took the initiative. We're still unsure of the protocol on who draws the curtain first. There are people from all over the world at the DF, and you can never be sure if hasty curtain drawing could be viewed as a sign of disrespect, like the throwing of one's shoes, for instance.

Before our neighbor's nurse can even hook the gentleman's wife up to her IV, their mini TV goes on -- it's an auditory invasion -- gameshow ding-ding-dings, the over-elocution of some Tom Bergeron-style svengali. Shit.

Happy President's Day!
It's desolate at the DF today because it's a holiday. Caroline came bounding down the stairs this morning and shouted to Paul (who was deeply involved in a granola bar and juicebox on the couch), "Happy President's Day, Paulie!"

"There's no candy or egg hunt, Caroline," Paulie responded, already jaded by the uneventfulness of this particular holiday.

I used to love President's Day. It was always the perfect long weekend to go to NYC -- inexpensive, not too crowded, Sat. afternoon cocktails at the SoHo Grande. We'd take the train down on a Friday after work, fly home on the $60 Sunday morning shuttle and then have all day Monday to recover.

But this President's Day will obviously be spent on the mainline surrounded by a bare bones hospital shift. It's almost surreal. The 10th floor is usually a beehive of activity with scurrying nurses and patients being paged, processed and prodded. The cafeteria is closed for the entire day. The pharmacy is operating on a Sunday schedule. My doctors have the day off. Even Judy, our chemo nurse isn't here today. What's even odder is the elevators are being manually operated by random security personnel because certain floors* are closed. If you don't ask someone to turn the key for your floor, the doors won't open there.

Aside: This* threw a wrench into my plan to purchase a gauzy headscarf from the Friend's Boutique on the 9th floor. But then again, a headscarf has nothing on this fantastic head piece that Gena D. sent me. I can't wait to wear it out some night soon.

Anyway, as I pointed out the inactivity around us, James wondered if I was expecting a President's Day ice cream sundae cart and puppet parade ala Caroline. Actually, I just want a banana and a Poland Spring, which luckily are on hand. And someone said they were planning on bringing in sandwiches soon. And anyone who knows James knows all he needs is a good sandwich to feel well taken care of. I'm starting to feel that way too.

The Substitute Nurse
My substitute nurse (the sub) hooks up my IV and hydration while I wait for my blood work to come back. I have to say, I'm becoming pretty agile with my chemo caddy. I take off my shoes and sort of glide around in my fleece socks -- pushing the caddy to the loo, to the kitchen area, up and down the hall -- all without causing a ruckus. I'd much rather move around than sit idle on a saline drip.

We are still waiting for my toxic stew to be mixed when my chemo buddy, Cameo, breezes into our cubby up with a pack of pink (MF pink!) playing cards and a game of UNO. She said she'd loitered a bit by the desk before some security person told her to just go on in. Apparently, she'd texted James but he was deep into a game of darts on my iPhone. This happens a lot. Either I'm zoned out on my computer or James is zoned on the iPhone. He is no doubt the rock of my shituation but I have to admit it's nice to have a pal along this morning for a good chinwag over some saltines. And it didn't take long before we were all laughing too loud and being made to feel like we were goofing off in church. It was just what I needed, though.

Aside II: Besides, someone had to drown out those MF game show sound effects. There's nothing like a game show to remind you of being home sick from school as a child. The sounds of a game show only reinforce that feeling of being sidelined.

..On the '45'
After a 10:45 a.m. turkey sandwich, we all simmer down a bit and try to remember the fundamentals of 45s, a card game we all became addicted to more than 10 years ago (and abruptly had to quit lest friendships and marriages be torn asunder.) CK first taught us how to play on a ski trip to Killington in 1997. Then Draper and Golen re-taught us a year later on the Nantucket trip. At that point, the only people we knew that had ever heard of and/or knew how to play this game were from the Merrimack Valley. Apparently, the card game was created on a Commuter Rail ride between Lowell and North Station. It was aptly named 45s because -- station to station -- it took about 45 minutes to play one full game. It was a perfect time killer, not to mention addicting and fun. I don't even like playing cards but I remember becoming a lunatic over this game. We were up in the Nantucket kitchen almost every night until 4 or 5 a.m. It got loud, it got competitive. There were cheat sheets, allegations and betrayals, all culminating with a hostile steak tip found floating in the hot tub.

James, Cam and I decide to shelve the game for today. You really need four people to play anyway.

Guess the Nurse's Hometown, Round 2
James has already begun engaging the sub in the kind of effortless banter that I could never get away: "So, do you get to take another holiday because you worked this one?"

SUB: "Yes. Time and half for the holiday plus another day off with full pay."

She is wearing Nantucket Red-colored corduroys, a white Oxford Cloth shirt and penny loafers. She has no hint of a Boston accent, though she mentions she grew up in the city. (We soon learn she means the city of Brookline). She has a 20-year-old son in private school. When we said we lived on the South Shore, she didn't say anything which not only rules out the South Shore, but the North Shore as well as there'd undoubtedly have been some "ne'er the twain shall meet" kind of comment.

When the sub leaves, I generalize: "Metro West."
JAMES: "Medfield."
CAM: "Hopkinton."

We're all on the same page. I get more specific and go with "Wellesley."

The sub returns wearing a flourescent Hazmat cape, chemical-resistant gloves and a mask. I ask who unleashed the Ebola virus. She's is unamused and tells me I've lost six pounds and need to bulk up. I mention that I've also lost two inches of height according to their measurements. And where is the damn President's Day ice cream sundae cart?

Chemo administered and completed, James starts small-talking her up again.

JAMES: "So, will you get out a little early today? Beat the traffic going home?

SUB: "I am just in Natick. There shouldn't be too much traffic on the Pike today because of the holiday."

Well, pinch my toes and call me a chimp named Travis.
We are good.

We bid the sub goodbye and stride with pride onto the elevator. We stand in smug silence for a few moments, waiting for security to turn the key so the elevator doors will open once we hit the Lobby.

Red Death: 2 down, 2 to go!

Seven Songs of the Day 2/23/2009

1. big bad world, the plain white ts
2. losing you, john butler trio
3. all at once, jack johnson
4. island in the sun, weezer
5. what would you say, dave matthews band
6. everybody’s changing, keane
7. saved, the spilled canvas

Courtesy of LK Boylan


Anonymous said...

I do not know her, maybe she is new? I love it I was playing along trying to figure out who it was...
You might want to try this game, I would listen in on the other peolple conversations and try to
figure out what kind of cancer the person had! OMG that is horrible
put I am a nurse. You seem to be doing well! Good for you!!!

Anonymous said...

Kate, I don't know how you do it, but your blog is a f'ing riot! Your strength is astounding. You will beat this! Mary (D'E) Boyle

Rebecca said...

Kate, skip the scarfs. Invest in Buffs (planetbuff.com). They are more versatile, will keep you much warmer in winter and cooler in summer. I wore them all during my chemo hair loss and still use them as headbands as my hair grows back in. If you need one quick, they can sometimes be found at hiking supply stores.

The fill in nurses on holidays are sometimes per-diem and not on the regular staff.

And feel free to pull the curtain closed. I'm always conscience of other people and keep the TV low. I find that the sound carries away from the units no matter how low it is. So I bring head phones or turn on the closed captioning.

Good luck!

Bean Down Under said...

Kate - glad to hear that you have 2 down and 2 to go! Loved the prior 2 blogs too! I will never listen to Joe Jackson the same again either. I want to get in on the 'guess where they are from' game!

Dr. Nic said...

So I take it our friend didn't come across any cute Dr's?? I'd love to keep you company one Monday. I will certainly ask some leading 'location' questions.
Love it !! You and Jamie crack me up !

Roving Lemon said...

Ah yes, nothing like spending time at the hospital to make you dread weekends and holidays....

Hope you are enjoying some 'off' week energy!


Anonymous said...

NATICK!! You are good and as I read on I was thinking Weston/Natick/Wellesley! Before i even read your metro west....it was the penny loafers (so early 80s) that did it for me! I like this fuck cancer game. I say we throw some money in it to make it interesting.

You continue to make me giggle, despite all the obvious. Hang in there...i say you give up cancer for lent. Whadda ya think?


jenne said...

you are awesome. i just found you by accident today, and i know that reading about you is already helping me with the challenges i am facing. Eff Cancer!!! rock on KJ! and THANK YOU for sharing your story.

Anonymous said...

I love you and the blog. Please keep writing everyday, I hate waking up and not having pointyuniverse updates, no pressurrrrrrr. I love you! TRB <3