Chapter 32: “Death and All His Friends”
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The next few deliveries of Amphoterrible weren’t that bad really. They properly bombed me beyond the point of the shakes, and I mostly slept through the courses. I had been discharged and again stayed at Chet Ronald and only had to visit the outpatient clinic every few days in the mornings to get the treatments; it wasn’t necessary to waste my Dad’s Insurance on expensive hospital stays.
So I got up pretty early every day, registered at the front desk downstairs at the Webber building, and sat in the waiting room for my turn. Then, the nurses would call me up to bat for my vitals check, and I’d go in their back room and comply. The group of nurses there were just as cool as the ones on the main pediatric floor. Kathi and Susan were the main nurses up there (along with the charming Secretary Sherry), and while they never fought for Maternal rights over me like some other nurses did, they cared deeply for me and every one of their kids.
As I sat waiting for the commencement of treatment, an IV pole dripped my “happy drug” into my veins for the upcoming battle. I’d try to stay mentally occupied by reading a magazine or watching their fish swim around in the massive fish tank between the waiting room and the playroom. As soon as Dr. McGann came to get me, I realized something around the corner; something I would have seen if I went into that playroom.
There on the wall was a collection of children’s portraits; children that the clinic and its staff had lost; ones that lost the battle against their respective diseases.
I hadn’t thought of death in quite some time, and here it was in dozens of smiling faces.
I stopped in front of this wall, and observed every single one of them; imagined their lives’ potentials, and the hole left by their loss. Tears ran down my face. Some of these kids weren’t even five yet for Christ’s sakes. They would never get to learn the vast knowledge of the world or to learn to drive their first car, or what it meant to fall in love. Instead, their families had to pick up the pieces and break the news to their other children that their sibling wouldn’t be around anymore.
I decided then and there that I would do something for these kids; something to honor them, and to help others who struggle to fight this disease. I will stand for you, O Wall of Sadness.
Dr. McGann stood there with me in silence. I turned to her and saw her face; it read of all her interactions with these kids; the painful and the pleasant. I couldn’t imagine what it meant to witness the loss they see year after year, but I could see she mostly saw the good times, and how fortunate they had been to spend time with these wonderful kids.
We approached the treatment room and began the antifungal infusion. I tried to sit through a VHS tape that they had up there but ended up falling asleep like I often did.
Once again, I awoke with the treatment being over. My Mom and Gary walked me down, and back to the Ronald McDonald House. We went to the nearby KFC that had a buffet option and pigged out. The thought of those poor kids still had me shaken up, but I remembered telling myself to eat no matter what so I tried to focus on my meal.
The next day the tag teams swapped out, and Dad came down to visit, this time alone. I had wished Trav was there too, but he couldn’t make it every time, and it’s too bad because Dad was able to stay a few days longer in order to be there for me during a lapse in my Mom and Gary’s inability to do so.
This meant that Dad would be able to join me for the following treatment of Amphoterrible on Monday. Dad sat with me for a bit in the treatment room and I decided to pop in an action movie so we could watch them together like the old days when I was a kid; the only difference was now I had Amphotericin pumping through my veins. I was trying to enjoy the film, but I was still quite high.
Just then I felt this sudden urgency like I remembered the stove was on, there was a gas leak, and a candle was left nearby on the counter. This panic came literally out of nowhere, but instead of being able to calm myself, my heart raced harder, faster, and it felt like my throat was closing up on me.
I asked my Dad to get the nurses, and they flew in with a big syringe in their hands. You know it’s pretty serious when two of them show up. They told me I was having a more violent allergic reaction and needed a dose of epinephrine immediately. They warned that my heart would race for a bit, but as soon as they injected it – just like the Demerol – it took instant effect.
I stood up, trying to calm down because if I laid back on the recliner, I would feel my torso bounce forward with every powerful beat. They kept the blood pressure cuff on my arm and kept a close eye on the heart rate. Every time the cuff inflated I felt the entirety of the force behind each heartbeat and therefore wanted to rip it off, never to wear one again.
This pounding heart was the most terrifying thing that I had ever felt in my life. I maintained a concerted effort to calm down, much like the other allergic reaction of uncontrollable convulsions, but to no avail. The nurses monitored my vitals as I went through utter hell. My Dad watched on in shock; he didn’t know what to do. To be honest, he kept his cool and tried to calm me down, and that was the thing I needed in that moment.
The rapid beating finally began to slow to a crawl, my throat eased up, and any semblance of a high I had was burned out of my system several minutes prior.
I laid my head on the nearby bed and crashed hard. No matter how many times the cuff tried, nothing could wake me up from this sleep until I was good and ready.
There goes that theory. The doctor finally made it back upstairs (she had some visits to complete on the main floor), and she was able to wake me. “Don’t worry, we’re definitely done with Amphotericin now…”
I smiled weakly. “I sure hope so; I don’t know if I can go through with that experience ever again.”
I kept thinking to myself of the millions of people out there that have life-threatening allergies exactly like this to more common things than Amphotericin. Others need an EpiPen on them at all times in the chance that they encounter their own allergens like shellfish, tree nuts, eggs, bees, and so much more.
Hell, even poor Macaulay Culkin in My Girl had such an ailment, and he wasn’t able to get to help in time; luckily for me, I was in a hospital. I had always been ignorant to allergies because I was fortunate enough to have avoided them for the most part, so I didn’t know how serious this ordeal had been.
The next day, when returning to the clinic for a red blood cell transfusion, I was informed that if had I waited just ten minutes more, I would have been dead. This was the second time I had thought of Death in the past week, and I was not a fan. In fact, I could have gone without ever knowing that bit of information in my entire life, for I’m sure that one day, that thought will come back to bite me in the ass.
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.