It’s amazing how quickly my life shifted from the break-neck pace of “figure out what the hell is wrong with me” to the post diagnosis frantic rush of “kill it with fire.” On the heels of a both a bone marrow and lymph node biopsy I was now going to have a port implanted into my chest. That’s 3 medical procedures, two of which involved twilight anesthetic, within the span of less than 20 days. In between all the slicing and dicing my days were littered with doctor’s visits, surgical consultations, and phone calls tracking down the various test results.
I was on over-drive trying to keep my head above water after being thrown into the deep end of the cancer pool. There was never a moment to reflect on what was happening to me or how I felt about it. All I could do was go through the motions as the events unfolded around me. When my first chemotherapy session was scheduled I didn’t have time for questions or even fear. It was just another step in the marathon I was blindly running through.
My first chemo session was the day after my port surgery which sadly landed on February 14th. Definitely a buzz kill. My surgeon had assured me that the port was safe to use soon after its installation, going as far to say that I could have used it the very same day it went in. Call me old fashioned, but I was glad that at least 24 hours had passed before they started pumping poison directly into my heart. Going to a hospital for my first chemo didn’t raise any red flags because honestly I assumed that’s how the process started. In hindsight maybe I should have raised my hand and asked a question.
The room they put me in was nice enough by hospital standards. My expectation, and that of the nurses setting me up, was that I’d go through my chemo in less than a day and then be released back into the wild. Fun fact about chemo, it’s poison in a bag that’s shot into your veins to destroy cancer cells (and the occasional healthy cells that get in the way). Let me re-iterate, it’s basically poison and even though its purpose is to cure you of your cancer there are some nasty side effects that come along for the ride. I’m not talking about the usual nausea or hair loss, but the drug specific ones depending on the cocktail they’ve mixed for you. Steroids and other lovely substances were thrown into my breakfast blend, but the Billy Badass drug that was specially geared for my flavor of cancer was Rituxan. That sucker opened a can of whoop ass on my cancer cells. The only problem was that its side effects were severe on a good day and downright scary when it really didn’t like you.
Shit Hits the Fan
The chemo cocktail is put together by your oncologist based on the type of cancer you’re fighting with additional drugs thrown in to make the treatment more easily accepted by your body like steroids and antihistamines. As scientific as this sounds there’s still a lot of guesswork involved such as what order to administer the drugs in and how quickly to pump them into your veins.
The prep drugs were shot into me first (‘roids and Benadryl) to smooth the way and completed without incident. Then the aforementioned Billy Badass, Rituxan, was hooked up to my IV. They started with a 50ml push and after a while kicked it up to 100ml. 3 minutes after they upped the dosage my body temperature felt like it had dropped 30 degrees. Then I started convulsing. This wasn’t a “bite your tongue” seizure, but an equally painful and uncontrollable shaking known as Rigors.
Every single muscle in my body clenched with the effort of an Olympic power lifter while my teeth chattered like a wind-up toy. My body immediately curled into itself and I was unable to straighten myself out. The nurses, wild-eyed young things reeking of fear, threw blankets on top of me thinking it would help. They tried putting a heart rate monitor on my fingertip, but I couldn’t open my hands and they couldn’t pry my fingers apart. When it was finally attached I just watched as the numbers climbed… 150, 160, 170. My bed was surrounded by 5 nurses, all staring at me, as I flexed my jaw as hard as I could to keep my teeth from breaking on impact. I pleaded with them to help me through strained words that struggled past grinding teeth and by pouring my eyes into theirs, hoping they could read the thoughts frantically racing behind them.
One of them tried to hold me, but I rocked her like a mechanical bull. The others stood paralyzed. I honestly don’t know if I even registered as a human being to some of them instead playing out like a live action snuff film. The one sentence I remember being able to get out, over and over again, was “call my wife… call my wife.” The nurses assured me everything would be fine, but even in my state I could smell their bullshit. I was paralyzed with the fear that this would end me and I wouldn’t be able to see Ra one last time. They didn’t call and I was incapable of dialing a phone, so I continued shaking while they scrambled about like the Keystone Kops.
I don’t know how long the entire episode lasted, but Ra did walk into the room, having already been on her way to the hospital, to find me in the thick of it. She moved the nurse I had bucked off earlier aside and held me as tightly as she could. For the first time since the Rigors started my body slowed its shaking. If that’s not proof I was meant to be Ra’s I don’t know what is because my girl’s touch was a comfort unlike any I had ever felt before.
The lead nurse, aptly named Grace, was the only one to keep any semblance of sanity during the entire ordeal. She cut off the Rituxan and pushed delicious pain-killers, I think Demerol, into my twitching body. Between Ra and the narcotics my heart finally started to slow down even though the muscles still fiercely spasmed. At some point I was able to uncoil my body. After that I just focused on breathing. The doctors later informed us that my rigors were a well known side effect of Rituxan. I’m glad they knew, but it would have been real fucking helpful if the nurses and I had been let in on the secret.
And with that my one day of chemo suddenly transformed into a full-fledged hospitalization. I wish I could tell you that this was the worst of it, but the week that followed will forever go down as the worst of my entire existence.
Part two of this lovely tale will delve into the joys of hospitalization, fun with drug interactions, and further proof of the axiom “not all nurses are created equally.” Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter @gabrielnovo if you like. I can’t be the only person to have experienced this level of insanity. You can also have these nuggets of joy delivered directly to your inbox or share them with a friend using the buttons below.