I arrive at 8 am. Sam works admitting: name, birthdate, reason for being here. The data links me to my doctor’s orders. I receive a barcoded arm band.
Recently, I’d wrinkled my nose at the uneven coverage of Tom Brokaw’s multiple myeloma diagnosis; the cancer we now share. Our celebrity obsessed social culture stuffs itself on sound bites. It’s mostly appetizers, seldom the entrée of what, in this instance, is a fascinating disease.
As I digest these thoughts, an elderly gentleman opens the door to the infusion clinic. I follow. We must weigh ourselves. He sidles out of his wheelchair, edges onto the floor scale, and grabs the printout. It’s my turn. 177 pounds. A little chunky for me, due perhaps to winter’s inactivity and steroid bingeing on potato chips and candy.
I nestle into a lounger at one of the infusion room’s seven stations. The light is muted, pleasant. I connect my iPad to the wireless. K approaches. I like her. The oncology nurses are universally wonderful, compassionate guides through the Stygian underworld of cancer.
We chat about our weekends as she takes my vitals. BP is 120/58. Good, I’m relaxed. She palpates my wrist, then wraps the IV site in heated blankets.
Several minutes later, a fat worm of vein greets her needle. She draws two tubes of blood for lab tests. It’s the usual suspects. K hangs a bag of saline, flushes the IV port and attaches the drip. She brings me ice water and a blueberry muffin. In the infusatorium, we are all celebrities.
The room gets busy. First, a young boy arrives with his little brother and his father. I’d not seen him in previous visits. Raccoon eyes and a shadow of new hair infer cancer. So, a fellow chemo junkie. His wan smile, nonetheless, lights the room.
Then, a regular, obviously the respected patriarch of an extended family, shuffles by me with the usual entourage: two adult daughters and his wife. He dabs watery eyes with tissue. His resting gaze shows resolve.The ladies surround him with love, the strongest elixir of all.
Nurse R arrives at 9:50. My labs passed muster. She hangs another bag of saline. This one contains four milligrams of a magic potion. The tiny dose is infused over 20 minutes. Any faster and it can stress the kidneys.
Finally, it’s time for the subQ. At 10:25, K brings the medicine. Another small dose, but it packs a wallop. She wears a protective gown, gloves, and a plastic face guard over a paper mask. Did I mention this shit is poison? The needle stick into my belly fat goes OK, but for a few moments, when she pushes the drug home, it burns as if I’d swallowed a jalapeño pepper. Before I can object, it’s over.
K disposes of the needle and her bio-hazard suit. She returns and shuts down the saline drip. She cleans up my IV site. After 2 1/2 hours, I am free to go. I have bandages on my belly and wrist. The nurses bid me farewell.
Others arrive as I exit. Out in the lobby, no one stops me for an autograph. On go the sunglasses … I slip into my cloak of anonymity and depart.