My oncologist, ever watchful, made me go through a number of tests making sure that the pneumonia wasn’t really cancer in disguise.
Although the CT scan showed a couple of scars on my lungs, my doctor believed them to be harmless. But now that we knew the scars were there, we needed to keep on eye on them to verify that they won’t grow or change in any way.
We decided that I needed a new CT scan every six months for a couple of years.
Last week I went for my first follow-up CT scan.
I always schedule my medical appointments as early in the morning as possible because I hate to worry with anticipation.
This one was at 8 am.
I am an experienced patient, and for the most part a brave patient. During my treatments for breast cancer six years ago I have gone through so many tests, I like to think that there are few surprises left for me in my doctor’s arsenal. Even so I ask my doctors and nurses to let me know what’s ahead during any particular visit. I need to brace myself, emotionally and physically, for the pain that follows most medical procedures.
During this particular visit a dye called contrast material has to be injected into a vein through an IV in my arm.
Because I have to fast for 12 hours before the scan, I am usually dehydrated by the time I hold out my arm to the nurse, and I almost always notice the nurse’s cringe. My veins are practically invisible; the cancer treatments have destroyed them.
This brave nurse tries to find the right vein. She makes me pump my fist. She slaps my arm. She takes a needle and digs in. She moves the needle around. No blood. She tries again. She tries three times.
There is sweat on her forehead. There is sweat on my forehead. I am also starting to feel light headed, and a bit sorry for myself.
The nurse tells me that she is allowed only three tries. She walks out seeking help. A few minutes later she comes back and tells me to follow her. I assume that we are heading to the blood lab.
But as she pushes me through a door, the nurse tells me that we are going to the infusion center. This is where cancer patients sit in chairs and receive their chemo treatments.
I have not been in an infusion center for six years.
It is not easy for a cancer patient to walk into an infusion center without preparation, without reaching deep inside to find some protective armor.
The nurse directs me to a chair and places a warm blanket around my abused left arm.
“Sit for a few minutes and let’s get your blood flowing,” she said. “The infusion nurse will find your vein. These nurses are used to everything.”
I look around.
The large room is full of cancer patients even at this early hour. A few chairs over a middle aged man is sitting comfortably in pajama pants and reading a book. He has a full head of hair and a healthy rosy color. No one would guess that this is part of his morning routine. Next to him sits a woman with very short hair (I can’t tell if her hair is on its way in or on the way out) looking pale and yellow. She is staring into space listlessly, with hardly enough energy to sit upright in that chair.
Next to the woman sits a young man (maybe my son Mike’s age?) His head is bald, skin sallow, face swollen from steroids. He is busily typing into his laptop, and I can tell that he is trying very hard to keep up with things that young people do, not to be left behind.
I don’t frequently show my emotions in public and I almost never cry when other people can see me doing so.
But now as my eyes swell with tears I feel powerless to stop them or to hide them.
Right at that moment my doctor walks by my chair, heading to the coffee station. As he is filling his Styrofoam cup, he glances up and our eyes meet.
I can almost hear him thinking. He doesn’t understand what I am doing in the infusion chair, crying. The only way I could get to this chair is through his order, and he knows that he hasn’t placed the order.
At that moment the infusion nurse comes over and noticing my tears assumes that I am afraid of needles.
“Oh dear,” she says, “no need to worry! I will find your vein in no time at all.” And so she does, on her first try.
My doctor finally understands what’s happening and as he comes over to give me a hug, he says:
“Mrs. Holtzman, you almost gave me a heart attack!”
I walk out of the infusion room without looking back, tired and spent. The IV is in my vein and I am ready for the CT scan.
The tests came out negative. I am free for six months.Finding respite from woes of life under my new hat