I am not one for drugs, over-the-counter, prescription, legal, illegal or otherwise. However, after last week’s chemical on-slaught, I figured my track-record was so far gone that when the doctor asked me if I wanted to try something to “take the edge off” during Monday’s bone biopsy, I said why not?
As far as I see it, there are two groups of drugs in the hospital. There are the mandatory drugs – chemo, birth control, laxatives or anti-nausea under certain conditions, antibiotics, and other mysterious drugs with important internal functions. And then there are the optional hospital drugs. OHD. Beware of the OHD. Questionable outcomes with even more questionable side-effects. Even the doctors cannot quite be sure how they will affect any one person.
My first foray into OHD was a morphine related cocktail designed for eliminating anxiety and pain, recommended by the trustworthy fellow, Dr. X, who has been seeing me every day since I started, and who was going to be performing the bone biopsy procedure. From the outside it looked fairly innocuous – a small quantity of clear liquid they would inject into my arm port.
Just as the nurse was getting ready to hit go, Dr. X asked, “Have you ever had any kind of morphine before?” No, I said. “Nothing?” he asked incredulously. No. Dr. X raised his eyebrows a little, looked over at the handsome doctor-in-training from Florida and said, “Well you might feel a bit of a head rush.” Okay, whatever. I eased into a reclined position and waited.
Well, let me tell you when morphine is injected strait into your blood stream all at once it hits you pretty fast, like instantly. I sat up like spark, totally erect. I would like to have seen a picture of my face. I think my jaw dropped open and I know I sucked in a huge gasp of air. It felt like someone was strangling my neck with warm blood and pushing it into my brain. Pleasant wasn’t the word. More like scary. I know there was fear in my face because it was reflected in everyone else’s faces. Everyone was waiting to see what I would do next.
To their relief I said, “That was a surprising.” Just as fast as the morphine bomb hit, its warmth began to diffuse throughout my body. Everyone let out a sigh and said they would be back in a few minutes to start. I lay on my belly and listened to the relaxing nature soundtrack on the hospital TV, feeling like a hot blob of jello on a sandy beach.
The procedure was explained to the doctor-in-training in extreme detail, so even though they were operating on my back, I knew exactly what was going on. I suppose the cocktail did “take-the-edge-off” because my hands only went a little rigid when he explained how he was digging-in and grinding-off and drilling-through and what not. (Not usually one’s favorite verbs when one is talking about one’s own hip bone.) And I didn’t have too much anxiety when he began to wiggle and press on my back in the same motion you would use with a stubborn screwdriver for several minutes at a time. In the end they produced a very clean sample they shared with me, a cylinder of bone floating in preservative. Fascinating.
After the procedure, I had to lay flat on my back for a half hour to prevent bleeding. Listening to the waves over the TV intercom, I fell promptly into a deep, black sleep. More than two hours later, I awoke sober and dazed. How did I sleep until dinner time?
My next experiment was with Triple Mix. You would think I would have learned with my first cocktail, but my throat was hurting so badly I could barely swallow, and eating dinner was a true chore. “Some people like the Triple Mix,” the nurses kept telling me when I complained. “They drink it before they eat to ease the pain.” Like happy-hour, I thought. It never occurred to me most nurses have never tried Triple Mix. I now think trying Triple Mix just once should be a prerequisite for all hemo-chemo nurses.
I properly swished and slurped the purplish yogurt-like drink. Smelling and tasting like the dentist, I immediately knew this was a mistake. My mouth, tongue and lips were instantly completely, mouth blubberingly numb. Lidocaine. I knew I heard that word before. Dentists use it to numb you for drilling cavities. I waited and waited and waited for the numbness to reach my soar throat. It never did.
Great. I just ordered a good dinner – spaghetti with shrimp and alfredo sauce. I won’t even be able to taste it a bit and I will be drooling out the sides of my mouth, but it will still hurt like nobody’s business to swallow. What a joke. A good happy hour drink my foot! I’d like to talk to the patient who likes Triple Mix before dinner. And the nurses say it will last four hours. FOUR HOURS!! Somebody press the undo button.
For once I was not mad at the kitchen for being late. Dinner took more than an hour to arrive, and the nurses were wrong. Triple Mix, thank Ja Almighty, only lasts about 45 minutes.
This afternoon, out of the blue, my nurse came in with Triple Mix right before lunch. I shook my head with a grim look on my face. I don’t do Triple Mix. One look at my face and he took it right back. He knew I wasn’t messing around.
Now you would think I would have stopped there. (Please feel free to skip to the end if you are bored already, but I must continue. It is so satisfying to tell the whole story.) You must understand this sore throat thing is really bad. One tonsil in particular is very painful. It hurts so much to swallow, I often close my eyes to absorb the pain. Trying to move my tongue to the lower left corner of my mouth almost makes me faint. Eating is a really a trial.
So when the doctors rounded-up this morning, I asked them isn’t there anything you can do to help me here? I tried the lozenges, the Triple Mix (I still tremble at the name), salt water rinses, tylenol; nothing helps. The kind authoritative attending said “Try the oxycodone.” It turns out the doctors are the biggest OHD pushers of them all. “I’ve asked,” I say, “but I don’t think the nurses know it is for my throat.” Oh, she says with her German firmness, I’ll make sure they know.
When my nurse walks in I bravely ask for for the oxyC. (I am aware this can be a pretty powerful drug.) He hesitates a little, and then asks “How much do you take?” I say I don’t know. I’ve never had it before. He laughs. Okay then, we don’t want to knock you off your feet. He comes back with a little cup of clear red juice, looking and tasting like cranberry juice. Its not to long before I have the feeling of falling forward. Little pains from the biopsy and other pains I didn’t even realize I had fall away. It feels much more easy to do yoga and move about the room. But do you think that darn oxyC does anything for my throat? Not really. It takes swallowing down from an 8 to about a 7, and it is still really painful to eat. I give up, but enjoy a floaty few hours.
I am a strong believer in whatever works for you, no judgements. But I have developed my own list of remedies that work for me:
stomach cramps – warm compresses on the abdoman
anxiety – music and relaxation techniques
intense soar throat – continuously sucking and chewing on crushed ice; eating cold chocolate pudding, premium frozen juice cups, and thick cold yogurt smoothies (all conveniently available at no charge through room service); dining on soups and other liquid foods
cancer – chemo drugs
Yes, chemo drugs. Because today I found out the results from Monday’s bone biopsy. The chemo drugs worked for me! All bone marrow cells are dead, good and bad. This is very good news. It is not yet considered complete remission – CR will happen if the cancer cells don’t grow back in two weeks. But this success is the first step. These results are cause for real celebration. Who cares about some old sore throat. Raise your glasses tonight and have a smoothie on me!