Chapter 7: Growing Pains
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It’s amazing how many of my experiences were tied to some form of entertainment, because during most peoples’ treatments, they are far from entertained; they’re usually in pain.
So it made sense that I too would get to experience such discomfort during my stay at Eastern Maine Medical Center. I suppose it was as inevitable as a cancer patient losing his or her hair.
It had already been a week since Shawn and Jonas had paid me the unexpected visit, and yet here I was anticipating another family-filled Saturday (a guy could get used to this). My Father and Brother were down again… but so were my blood counts.
I had been told that every round of chemo takes a long time to recover, but this first treatment aftermath proved that whoo boy, they weren’t lying. Especially considering they beat the ever-living shit out of you.
Let’s take an aside and talk blood counts. These are the normal ranges for blood counts:
My counts during these low times were way down. They were–
With counts these low, it was impossible to fight any sort of infection or cold. That’s why visitors would have to wear masks when in my room, and why I wore them outside of the room. They never required my Mom and Stepdad to wear one due to the fact that they were almost always around me, which sort of made me afraid, considering how dire they made the risk of any illness sound. Of course, when they were sick they would wear one regardless.
The last thing I needed to do was to get sick, and with those low counts…. well, let’s just say that I would have been in trouble.
The visits were the usual amazing experiences. The weekend guests changed up the scenery and allowed me to see the other loved ones that meant so much to me.
We laughed heartily at my expense when someone happily blurted out a reminder of the time when (recently) I shooed everyone out of the room because I was high. By this point, I had no qualms being high in front of anyone. Bring on the Pope, I got this! In fact, it felt like I was getting away with a crime. Hey, at least I actually ate when baked out of my gourd. That was a plus.
After the chemo injection stopped, the natural feelings of hunger would slowly but surely return, as the chemo to blood ratio in my body would dissipate. It was a Ying/Yang sort of relationship. Ahh, “feeling shitty” and chemo: The Balance of Life (and Death).
Another one of my staples in my television viewing was the weekly run of Saturday Night Live. I had watched it since the mid-90s right after Farley and Spade left, but at the beginning of the likes of Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Tim Meadows, and Darrell Hammond among many other greats.
So naturally, I firmly cemented the show as another one of my touchpoints of normalcy. My family left as visitation time ended (8pm), I was left to get ready for SNL. Something was different this time though: my lower back had been bothering me.
I thought nothing of it as it just felt like I had slept wrong. I had felt a similar pain before and to be honest, I was adjusting to the hospital bed beautifully. The adjustable back on the “medical cradle” really made a difference. As show time crept closer, the pain had grown to an uncomfortable ache comparable to the feeling one gets when you’ve bent over for too long and instantly try to stand up. It was like that, but more constant.
It continued getting worse throughout the episode of SNL. When the hour and a half finished, I had anticipated sleeping. I left the television on (I preferred falling asleep to the TV then) but couldn’t even get comfortable let alone fall asleep.
As I tried closing my eyes, I couldn’t help but notice the film that had begun; it was The Breakfast Club. I hadn’t seen it yet and wrestled with watching it or sleeping. Pain or no pain, I was enamored with the film. When the commercials would come on I would close my eyes, fully okay with passing out. But that moment never came.
Each time I reopened them… the movie pulled me back in. Then it hit me. They probably named Bender from Futurama after Judd Nelson’s character. They are both badasses after all.
I tried drawing some sort of parallel between their teenage angst and myself in the current situation (as I often do), but alas, I was in too much pain.
As the movie drew to a close and “Don’t You Forget About Me” played over that classic final shot, I finally was able to get to sleep.
Unfortunately, it only lasted a few hours, for I awoke in much more pain. I finally hit the nurse button. The nurse came in and I told her I had been in pain for most of the night and it was getting worse.
“Oh my God, why didn’t you tell us sooner?!”
“I didn’t want to bother you.” And that was only partly the truth. I honestly hadn’t thought of that as an option. I surmise I wasn’t used to being in the hospital yet.
She immediately administered some pain meds and by 8 A.M. they conducted the first test: a CAT Scan. I knew I’d get a lot of “firsts” while in the hospital, and not to the level of “First pee in a hospital toilet,” but the CAT Scan was definitely a first.
The CAT came up empty. So much so in fact, that they probably assumed that I was faking it. But make no mistake I was in some dreadful pain.
So they tried something else: an MRI. That was a first too. As I laid there in ready, they asked if I had wanted a blanket. What a weird question. Is the tube liquid cooled or something?
They slowly retracted the slab for the first imaging. I guess you never know if you’re claustrophobic until you find yourself in a tight spot. As for me? I had a harder time with it than I initially imagined. The clanking and banging really didn’t put me to ease either.
It’s like they designed the MRI as a torture device and realized it could also gather internal images as a side effect of its creation. There’s no way that someone would intentionally do this.
“Hold still, please.” That wasn’t so easy as the shivers began. I was freezing. Curse that damn blanket! They knew all along!
Five minutes later they pulled me out; I was able to breathe again. “You’re doing great… We’re almost done. We just need to take another image.”
They came to adjust my positioning and I inquired: “Can I have that blanket now?” The tech nodded and soon she covered my body with a simple linen sheet.
They put me back in the tube. As I slid backward, the warmth returned to my extremities. I was comfortable– well, as long as I shut my eyes. “We’re going to play some music to calm you.”
The local radio station, 105.1 WTOS, The Mountain of Rock blared in the speaker above me. Well, at least I can jam out to some Disturbed.
The machine resumed its mechanical symphony.
The music swallowed too much water and drowned by the evil waves of that wretched machine.
I resumed my meditation, attempting to picture myself in another place. I dreamed of being outside my room near that magnificent tree that everyone ignored. I wasn’t going to ignore it. I placed my hand on its trunk, rubbing the bark against my hand. One finger slid into a deep groove on the tree’s face and I pressed against the side, popping off a section of tree skin.
I rotated it in my hand, taking it all in. The sun was beating down on me rather harshly. It was getting really hot. Then I opened my eyes. Inside the torture chamber, I was getting really hot. Holy crap. I wanted to shimmy the blanket to my feet to relieve this unbearable heat wave, but if I moved it would prolong the imaging.
Curse you again, you fucking blanket! They tricked me twice now. Even a thin sheet was too much and my temperature equilibrium was ruptured once more.
When they finally finished the images, they pulled me out. I quickly threw the blanket to my feet. They had me slowly rise up and return to my room.
The transporter dropped me off at my doorstep and I hobbled over to my bed. I hit the nurse button. “Hello, can I get more pain meds?” Won’t make that mistake again.
The doctor came up to give me my results. “We can’t find anything wrong with you. There’s no rupture, no internal bleeding. We don’t see any bone fractures or leakage. So let me get this straight: the pain is in your lower back?”
Oh no, they don’t believe me.
“Yes, on both sides. I can’t sit up straight, it hurts so bad.”
“Okay, we’ll review your test results again and get back to you. In the meantime, we can administer pain meds every four hours, so a nurse will be back around 4pm.”
I thanked her for her visit and off she went. What the hell am I supposed to do now?
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.