The Infusion Center is painted blue which I guess someone thought would be calming, but they got the shade wrong. It is more the blue of the bottom of a public swimming pool than the pale blue sky color of a summer day. This is the kind of thing I had time to think about while I was confined to the uncomfortable recliner with a needle in my arm. We arrived at the Hospital at about 7:45 and we finally left at about 4:15. It was a long and entirely exhausting day.
From my vantage point right next to the nurses station I got to observe how infusions work. It seems like the patient has to sit in the recliner for a half hour while medical staff run around doing important things. Why these important things, like searching for pieces of paper, can’t be done before the patient arrives is a question I dared not ask. These people are going to be sticking me with needles forever so I don’t want to be the questioning complaining patient. Anyway, after the half hour of doing nothing the patient gets a hospital bracelet and the nurse asks a whole host of questions all of which are answered in the medical chart they have in front of them on the screen. They need to confirm that you are not trying to sneak in and get an illegal infusion of chemotherapy? I don’t know.
The nurse pokes and pats the patients arm looking for a “good vein” which can be a chore for people like me who have “crap veins” which is a medical term of art. It means my veins are deep and small and they like to roll away when someone attempts to stick them with a needle. Most every time I have to get an IV it is an adventure that ends with me being black and blue and a needle stuck in a place that makes it nearly impossible for me to use one arm. Thankfully the nurses at the Infusion Center are really great at finding a vein and my Nurse Kris got it in one try. Thank you Kris. I think I love you!
Eventually your medicine arrives and two nurses have to read a bunch of numbers to each other – serial numbers, stock numbers, possibly lottery numbers. I don’t know. Eventually everyone is satisfied you are indeed who you say you are and the chemo in a bag is the right poison cocktail for you and the infusion begins. Your chemo is attached to a pump which is programmed to drip the liquid into you at just the right rate. Rituxan is known for producing “reactions” in 90% of people according to Kris so they start the drip very slowly. We began at 50 ml/hour. Considering the dose is 750 ml I was a bit worried I would see Kris go home and meet the night nurse before I was done. After a while we upped the drip to 100 ml/hour.
After about an hour we went to 150 ml/hour and the fun began. At first it felt like the scratchy throat you experience when you have a cold. Then I was coughing non stop. Pretty soon the wheezing and closing throat happened and I got scared. Luckily when we went back to 50 ml/hour the reaction stopped. We got back up to 100 but when they asked me if I wanted to go faster I politely declined. I was afraid I would stop breathing entirely. I am told Rituxan gets easier to infuse each time so hopefully I won’t have any reaction next week.
Under the heading of things no one tells you about the Infusion Center — everyone has a personal TV which is cool except for the fact that no one uses headphones. So there can be as many as 4 different shows playing within 5 feet and everyone turns the volume up to drown out their neighbor’s TV. Add the loud talker who was reading USA today to her hard of hearing mother and the noise level was just incredible. I will purchase some noise cancelling headphones this week so I don’t have to tearfully ask the Nurse to speak to my neighbors about turning the TVs down. I do not deal well with unnecessary noise at the best of times. Hour 6 of an 8 hour infusion does not meet the definition of “the best of times.”
I still have lumps in my neck this morning. I don’t know why I hoped they would be gone. Lymphoma is the land of magical thinking.