Journal: January 2002
The holidays ended soon enough, too soon it seemed to me. The morning of my first outpatient treatment was dark and cold. Tish warmed up the car. We had packed a small canvas bag with essential items: my vial of Demerol, reading material, my CamPath information packet, and a folder with lab and CT scan reports. I had printed up a copy of the T-PLL teaching sheet that I had written, aware that the clinic staff would not know much about this rare condition.
It was the day after Christmas and traffic was light. The clinic is housed by the interstate highway, in a satellite medical center for Methodist Hospital. It is about eight miles from home but easy to get to. It is surrounded by a shopping mall, a movie theater, motels and restaurants. Restaurants? Maybe after treatment I naively assume. Two medical office buildings flank a lab, radiology department and outpatient surgery center, all connected by walkways.
We are to report to the lab around 8:00 for a complete blood count (CBC) to be drawn. We report to the receptionist then sit in the waiting room for our name to be called. At registration, in a routine that will become irritating by the following week, I show my insurance card as the registrar asks me about my wife’s name, my employer, my correct address, etc. She then asks what I am there for. “Labs”, I reply. “Where are your orders?” I state that all I have is an appointment card instructing me to arrive at the lab at 8:00 and the oncology clinic at 9:00. She seems frustrated and says that the lab will have to call the doctor’s office.
We wait in the padded chairs outside the lab. My name is called and I go in alone. I sit at a small school-desk with armboards. The technician draws blood from the antecubital, my “AC”, the place inside the crook of my arm. I am too tired to make conversation. I leave the lab and together Tish and I walk down the hall to the oncology clinic.
It is only about 8:30 so we sit down to wait. We seem to be the only people there. We later learn that the nurses do not begin until 9:00. The intercom is somehow permanently set on the most obnoxious local radio station available. Mindless banter and cackling interspersed with the worst music from the 60’s and 70’s. The magazine selection is sparse but includes a vintage 1992 Atlantic Monthly. Finally we are called back to the treatment area. It is a long room with a large window at one end. Five E-Z Boy recliners line one wall, each chair flanked by an IV pole, small rolling stool, and a stainless steel wheeled tray with gauze, tape, bandages, and other small supplies. At one end of the room, opposite the chairs, is a chest-high counter lined with medical reference books. Behind this is a workspace for the nurses complete with a laminar flow hood (an exhausted air hood for mixing occupationally dangerous chemotherapy drugs), a small medicine refrigerator, and shelves of IV supplies and medications.
The nurses seem to be expecting me, know that I am a cancer nurse with an unusual disease and an unusual treatment. I learn that, as at the hospital, no one has ever given CamPath before. I hand them my teaching sheet on both the drug and disease. This becomes a permanent part of my chart. I begin with what will be the beginning of my daily routine – weighing myself. The result, which will repeat itself for weeks to come, is that I weigh less than I did on my last visit the week before Christmas. Then I am given two Tylenol. Tish goes back out to the lobby to fetch a paper cup of water from the bottled water dispenser. We will learn to bring the water in with us in the future.
The window chair seems to be the most scenic but another patient has already occupied it. I notice that in the corner, opposite the last of the five chairs and sitting diagonally right in front of the nurses’ area, is a sixth recliner. I sit here. It will become my regular chair, Dennis’ chair. I like it because it is separate, is close enough to the nurses that I can hear them talk to each other or on the phone, and it faces the other chairs so that I can keep my eye on things. I later discover that at the clinic I will seek out small things that allow me to regard myself as a nurse and not a patient. Arguably an illusion on my part but it helps me to cope. (to be continued)