October 4, 2005
I am pretty damn certain that I am going to die. I fumble, drop the American Express card on the ground, reach down and retrieve, swipe it through.
“Hey! Hardly anything today,” Bob says, assessing my handful of groceries. “What’s gotten into you?”
Bob is a cheerful grocery clerk. He is 37, has a degree in Geology that never got him anywhere, collects comic books, and likes Batman so much that when he bought a new car (black Nissan) last year, he got a custom license plate that read: ***-BAT. Everyone at work calls him “Batman Bob.”
Yeah, I know that much about a grocery store checker. This town isn’t that big. And yes, this is clear proof that I spend far too much time at the grocery store.
I’m dying here. I’m seriously going to die. Something is wrong and it is hot and it throbs and the pain radiating through me isn’t in my swollen, pregnant belly like it should be.
I call my husband as Bob’s placing the pasta salad, rotisserie chicken, and my emergency Fleet enema into the paper bag.
“Hey. Look. I feel weird. I’m…I don’t know…something really hurts. I don’t think I can cook dinner tonight.”
“Weird and hurting how? Labor weird?”
“No. It hurts higher. I feel like my heart’s going to explode or something. It really burns. In my chest…I mean it. Something isn’t right. I’m coming home.”
One Hour Later
I double over in the car, fearing that I’m going to vomit.
“Don’t worry about D.,” my husband says, rubbing my knee. “She’s in good hands with Kelly.”
Kelly, who I don’t know from Adam but we’ve just moved to this neighborhood and I have no friends. Kelly next door with the blonde hair who wants another baby so badly but nothing’s working. Kelly who pats my belly every time she sees me and says, “God, what a gift. Let me know if you need anything. Anything at all.”
Well Kelly, we just cashed in our dance card. Hope you meant it about that helping out stuff.
I buck back and forth, side to side in my seat, riding out the waves of pain.
My husband watches out of the corner of his eye as he drives. “Jesus. You weren’t kidding. You’re really hurting.”
You think? I’m writhing and slithering more than Robert Plant at Wembley, for chrissakes.
The fact that I don’t say this really means I’m in trouble.
Half an hour later
“We need to get some blood to the lab,” the stout nurse says. “It’ll help us know what’s causing so much pain, and whether we can give you some morphine or not.” She lays out the vials beside me on the metal tray, wraps a tourniquet on my arm.
Morphine. Please. Let it be so.
I hunch into myself as another cramp hits. I half expect some disgusting creature to burst out of my chest, X-Files style. I really need to stop watching X-Files re-runs.
She taps my arm, peering up and down. “You don’t really have any good veins, here,” she says, as if it’s my fault. “I’m giving it a try.”
No luck. She tries again, and red starts to flow into the tube, but then stops.
“Dang,” she says. “It blew out.”
She sticks me again, to no avail.
She calls out, rattled. “Is Brian around? I need him to try to get blood over here. I’m getting nowhere.”
Brian has soft brown eyes that I like and he says, “Hopefully this will be the last stick. Sorry you’re getting stuck so many times–that’s just not fair.”
Just show me the morphine, buddy. Stick away.
He fingers my arm, furrows his brow. “Huh. Your veins kinda want to roll on me. I know it’s hard, but can you try to be still?”
I try, I really do, but he fails, twice.
“This is awful,” he says, patting my hand. “I’m gonna call down to oncology and get a nurse. I don’t want to keep sticking you.”
I’m fighting tears and humiliated to be doing so.
“Hey, hey. It’s okay,” he says. “You’ll be in good hands. Those nurses can get blood from a stone.”
July 25, 2011
“You don’t really have a great one, do you?” Annie, the oncology nurse says, pressing deep on the arm, searching. “I think the one over here might be viable, but it seems to want to roll.”
“Good luck. I’m notorious for being difficult.”
Annie rips the forefinger and middle finger off of her blue latex glove, exposing slender digits. “I’ll hold it down and hope it doesn’t go all loosey goosey.”
She presses down with the two naked fingers and dives in, looking for a gusher.
“How about that,” she says, winking as the blue plastic portal hits vein. Quickly, she tapes it down. “Ready to knock this out?”
We are in the Maple room, the one between Aspen and Pine. Mama’s in the recliner and I’m in the black chair on the left.
I look at the door facing me that reads: Soiled Hold. Soiled Hold? What the heck? And then I remember about the uncontrollable diarrhea and the throwing up and all the other bad business that’s possible, and I’m not happy about being across from Soiled Hold, not happy at all. I don’t want Soiled Hold in my eyes or in my life.
“That chair isn’t padded nearly enough,” Mama says, eyeing my perch. “Make sure you get a few pillows. You’ll never make it for 6 hours; you have a bony rear.”
“Umm, excuse me?” I rise and shake my backside like Beyonce. “Plenty of padding there, honey. As if you can talk, Shingle Butt,” I say and we break into laughter, filling the quiet space with voice and echo. It’s weird, this loudness, but it’s what we do, what we do when things are hard.
“All right, where’s the party?” A tiny woman named Jeanne, no bigger than a minute, enters with two biohazard bags. She hangs them on a wheeled rack with 5 prongs at the top. The prongs are curlicued, so the gizmo resembles a fancy coatrack and it makes me sad, this attempt to pretty up a grim thing.
Jesus. The poor fella who has enough bags to fill all 5 prongs. That’s a mighty cocktail, 5 prongs.
“Were starting you on saline, a steroid and Zofran,” Jeanne says. “Zofran’s an anti-nausea drug, which should help things go a bit smoother.”
“Oh good,” Mama says. “Don’t want to waste any buckets.” She laughs and I laugh and Jeanne looks a little startled and then laughs, too.
Jeanne plugs her into the drip and says, “This will take about a half hour and then we’ll start the chemo. If you need anything, hit this.” She places a silver bell on the tray attached to the recliner.
“Look, Jeeves–it’s like the Four Seasons! Where’s the fuzzy robe? Foot massage?” We cackle, filling up space.
We get pillows, warm blankets and settle in for the duration. I open my new book, Just Kids by Patti Smith. Mama’s eyes are bothering her, so she can’t read, so she closes her eyes and I read her tidbits from the book.
“Holy heck. Talk about hippies,” she says.
“Is it over yet?” she says, rolling her eyes.
I read, she drips, and after a while, Annie comes back with a large biohazard bag. “How are you doing?”
“Thrill a minute.” She eyes the biohazard bag. “Did you sign me up for the Merlot infusion?”
Annie laughs. “I prefer Chardonnay.” Annie removes the previous tubing and starts the big bag. “This one first and then the other one the last hour, okay? I’ll be in every half hour to check your vitals.”
I down a large bottle of green tea and promptly have to pee. As I make my way to the bathroom, I see a thin man in a recliner, dripping away. He can’t be much older than I am. Next to him, on black chairs, sit a woman and two children, watching Family Feud and eating McDonald’s french fries.
People bring their kids here?
Suddenly thirsty, I fill a paper cup with water, drink it down, refill and down the second one.
When I return, Mama’s restless. “This is boring and awful,” she says. “I shouldn’t have let you come.”
“You didn’t get a vote,” I remind her. “You’re stuck with me.”
And she is. She’s stuck with me and the biohazard bags and Annie and the vague promise that this will buy her time.
Mama’s convinced we’re wasting it, but I’m convinced we’re buying it. We have to be.
~And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
-TS Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”