Chapter 31: “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”
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For those of you just joining us, I was told that I needed an infusion that while great at killing fungal infections would also cause me to shake uncontrollably. Now we resume our regularly scheduled programming:
“Tremors? Like an earthquake?”
“No, more like a seizure. Dr. McGann didn’t tell you?”
“No… I guess she had enough bad news to tell me. Why does this medicine do this?”
“Well, not to worry, we give you Demerol to control the shakes, it’ll relax your entire body; you’ll often fall asleep through the infusion.”
“Alright, then. When do we start?”
“In a few minutes. We need to begin now so that when you’re able to undergo the biopsy, we can already have the infection under control. Here are your meds.” They were in usual pill form. “Can I get the Amphotericin like this?”
“I’m afraid it doesn’t come in that form. In fact, we also have to do your antibiotics via IV, after. So I’m going to prep your arms for dual IVs okay?”
“Plural? Like more than one?”
She laughs, “Yes, we need to ensure the medications go into separate lines, and also that you’re well-hydrated during the treatment, so we need to administer a course of saline as well. Don’t worry; we’ll take care of you, okay?”
My Mom and Gary left to talk to the doctor and to be honest, I forgot anyone else was there. The nurse prepped my arms, and like always, my veins were up to the task. Soon, I was back to being the victim of Pinhead: multiple tendrils penetrating my flesh from different angles like the chains in the Hellraiser films.
My left arm awaited the antibiotics to begin, my Port-a-cath was ready to receive the Amphotericin, and finally, in my right arm, I was prepared for hydration for the upcoming onslaught of meds. They used the additional nub on the saline side to poke in and add the Demerol. As soon as they pushed it in the tube, I felt a warmth climb up my arm and into my heart, and when that happened, immediately my eyes grew heavy. I’m STONED.
The Demerol hit me hard; so hard in fact, that I had never felt so incapable of normal thought as I did at this moment. I was bombed harder than any other drug… Marinol, Codeine, oxycodone, even fentanyl; nothing hit me as hard.
The nurses and docs always marveled at my “beautiful” mouth; most kids who get chemo have ghastly sores that formed in their mouths. When they were remarking at how “perty” my mouth was, they took advantage of my intoxication and got a photo of said mouth.
I continued my soaring as I watched Friends (as I’m wont to do), and losing my shit over it. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen. The jokes would come fast and furious, but as soon as Joey or Chandler made a weird face, it was over. It appeared that only visual humor would work on me now in this inebriated state.
Then after about twenty minutes of waiting, they administered the Amphotericin. I sat there in anticipation for the antifungal to kick in, and it wasn’t happening like they said. Good, because I couldn’t deal with the shakes right about now. As I thought that, my arms started to shake.
Then my legs, and soon, I was convulsing incessantly, different sections of my body popping like I was on a bed of individually firing fireworks.
I wasn’t in control of my own body. The closest thing I could equate that feeling to was like being possessed in a horror film. Someone– something else had grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me like a paint can at a hardware store.
The nurse hit the call button and ordered more Demerol and tried to hold me down. She yelled to me something I thought I was done hearing: “You have to control yourself!” Reach deep down inside and stop shaking!”
You have to control yourself…
I thought back to a time I was in elementary school after the divorce. The kids used to pick on me a lot because of my weight gain. I never knew why I had become so big, and when someone made fun of it, like Marty McFly being called “Chicken,” that caused me to turn around and fight. Whether it was on the soccer field, or right in front of the third-grade classroom window, I would get into scuffles.
I remember my first detention. I don’t remember why (I wasn’t fat yet but I began to stay at my grandparents), but in third grade, I was mad at my classmate Danny, and was caught throwing rocks at him. As he ran away on the field I stood near the edge of the tar throwing pieces of crumbling asphalt towards him; I never even came close.
But the teacher saw me and I wound up in the principal’s office. The Principal was a large woman who wore a wig, and most times it was hard to take her seriously. I, like many kids, pictured ripping off the wig and running away with it screaming, “I’ve killed it!” but this time, it was very easy to take her seriously because her voice was devastatingly stern in tone. I sat there terrified of her, as she berated me: “You have to control yourself. If someone makes you upset then you need to tell a teacher, not throw rocks at them. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I swallowed hard as she stared me down. She wanted to drive this point home. Sadly, it didn’t happen, because over the next few years I was in several fights. At one point, I had a boy hitting me in the face, and another slugging me in the stomach. And I just stood there, unaffected by any physical harm, but I was pinned against a building unable to move, and then it hit me (not literally, but figuratively [there were enough literal blows already]): Maybe the Principal’s right, this will continue forever if I let these people bother me.
Even still, I didn’t abstain from fighting; it took me a few more fights before I learned my lesson but that was the first moment of clarity. It’s like the first time you made a healthy food choice and saw this magnanimous alternative path you could have followed in that moment; you were at the crossroads of that life-changing decision but the strength of sugar was too immense and you went crawling back to that damn donut.
But I kept eating terribly, and now, the weight was helping me during my worst of times, as these past few months were proving. So I dug deep down and concentrated on stopping the shakes, all while still baked out of my gourd.
It was harder than I thought. I began with just my right leg, trying to focus on that alone. I was able to slow the leg’s speed comparative to the rest of the body, but it still shook.
This felt like a movie! The chance for success was slim and the odds were against us, much like a film about overcoming adversity– like a sports team drama! For as I continued to fight with everything I had, even when I was down further than I had been thanks to the lovely Demerol, I dug deep down and gave it all with my entire being.
Soon, my body began to slow, and I let my guard down for a second in celebration– nope, bad idea. My shakes resumed. It’s going to have to take a continuous focus, huh? Meanwhile, one nurse held me down and another jumped on my other side to assist in the efforts.
My body finally hushed to a soft murmur. The nurses injected me with the approved Demerol and I was out like a light.
I awoke several hours later in a daze. The high was still in full force. I groggily observed my Port. The amphotericin was gone, and I was just getting the saline solution. It’s over. Finally.
I tried sitting up, but my body was weak. So I adjusted the height of the bed instead. My Mom and Gary were around me. They had gotten word of my experience and frankly, I’m glad they weren’t there to see it.
“How are you feeling?” my Mom asked. “Great now. You?” Gary chuckled. I sound drunk! I’m slurring like crazy! The nurse came to check on me. I felt compelled to ask: “How long wull I havta take this Ammfoterribul junk?”
“As long as we see an infection in your lungs. Don’t worry; we’ve made sure that you’ll have the right amount of Demerol for the next dose. No more shaking, ok?”
“Deal. Now, can I orderr sum ffood?” It might have been my current high, but I swear at that moment we shared a cliché TV sitcom laugh right before a commercial break.
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.