My temperature is 103 and I haven’t thrown up in an hour. The last time my head hurt like this was when I had a post-myelogram headache; that is when cerebrospinal fluid is leaking from the entry point of a large gauge needle. I ache in the way I did after our car was T-boned in 1977. I missed a semester of school due to that accident. In other words, I am a hurting camper. The way I ended up in this condition was straight-forward, and, in essence, self-induced. I have osteoporosis, Despite my best efforts with diet, supplements and exercise, I continue to lose bone mass. Not particularly good news. The drug I opted to use to treat the osteoporosis, Reclast, has an excellent track record for stabilizing bone loss. Between hearsay and the doctor’s explanation before starting, I knew I might experience minor body aches and flu-like symptoms for a day or two. The rheumatologist had laid out two choices. First, I could ogive myself daily injections for two years, or second, once a year, I could check into an “Adult Health Day Spa” for an infusion of a drug called Reclast. The latter, with its three, large, overstuffed, leather recliners i. The doctor came in, expertly inserted the IV, and shortly thereafter, the medicine was dripping into my arm Deliberately, I did not read up on the drug prior to the procedure. I am so analytical that I did not want to reason my way out of doing the infusion rather than the injections; I might have gathered too much information to proceed.
While the infusion was going in, the video I was watching on my iPhone started to swirl and dance. I waited about ten minutes, then when the nurse came to check on me, I said, “I might be a little dizzy. Is that normal?” “It’s not something we usually see,” she said. “I must be imagining it. Sorry to bother you.” She came back in about five minutes. I said,”I really must have been imagining it, I feel so much better, now.” She grinned, “Maybe that’s because I turned it off the drip for a while!” When she restarted the drip, she did so slowly, and stayed with me. I went home feeling off somehow, but not in a way I could describe. I went about my day, but was relieved to go to bed...at eight o’clock. Around 3a.m., I woke up in time to rush to the bathroom. The siege had begun.
I talked with the doctor’s office and they told me so long as my fever stayed below 103 and I was getting enough fluids, I could stay home. Any change from that and I was instructed to get to the hospital. The nurse pointed out that this was a kind of chemotherapy. I need to let my body do what it has to do. There is not a “fix” other than time. She suggested I would feel better anywhere from 3-5 days from the day of the infusion.
Last night, day Two, I had vague feelings of hunger. I had not been able to bear food all day, but at 3:30a.m., it was on my mind. I felt too wobbly to get up and get something. I had a real surprise. By my bed, there was a bowl of cheerios and milk -- my uneaten dinner sat where I left it. The Cheerios had been sitting there since 8p.m., No mind, they were available. The soggy mass of Cheerios was sitting in a unappetizing mass at the bottom of a white cereal bowl. Reluctantly, I pushed a few of the gelatinous appearing O’s onto the spoon, then brought it to my mouth. The surprise? They were delicious. They had the consistency of Oreo cookies when they have spent too long in milk. They tasted a lot like oatmeal. With bird-sized bites, I worked my way through the bowlful. My head was still pounding, my hips felt like they were in vises, but, for first the first time in 12 hours, my stomach didn’t reject what it took in.
With a full belly, I started to dose off. My thoughts turned to every cancer-survivor whom I have ever known and every loved one I have lost to cancer. Was this what their weekly rounds of chemotherapy were like, I wondered. I don’t think that they set out to be inspirations to those around them. All they wanted to do was to survive. None-the-less, what this brief experience has given me is insight into just how miserable, miserable can be. What’s more, I am discovering, at an entirely new level, why cancer patients -- whether they win or lose the fight -- are heroes. Their desire to survive is far greater than I ever imagined or understood. To willingly, willfully, put themselves in the way of what feels like a speeding train in hopes that the science will be enough, makes them heroes to me. And if it requires eating soggy Cheerios to keep food down, so be it. Legions of cancer patients have shown a level of determination, acceptance and forbearance that the rest of us -- the lucky ones who have not yet lost the spin of the Roulette Wheel-- can not know.