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For first time readers...my journey begins here: THE VERY FIRST BLOG POST (CC1)
Friday, June 19, 2009
The Cancer Chronicles 39
I'm In The Army Now!
As I ascended upon Houston Wednesday, my one goal was to have a fantastic dinner. It would be the only day I’m free to do so. Thursday and Friday are packed with appointments and travel. My very favorite Houston restaurant came to mind: Pappadeaux, with its own New Orleans French Quarter fla-va and hot jazz playing in the background to fill your tender ears. If you haven’t tried it, it is a must. Remember, this recommendation is coming from a man with ½ a tongue!
After arriving at the hotel and getting my bearings I found the nearest Pappadeaux, located at 2525 South Loop West, in Houston, only a short 4 block walk from the hotel. I called a cab! WHAT? You think I’m gonna walk that far?
It was 5 PM local time and the place was packed. I had a 20 minute wait that early in the evening. I’m not sure what their profit margin is, but the place looks like a gold mine to me! I’m a very picky connoisseur of restaurants having spent 20 years in the field. I know good food and good service! The General Manager is Zach, but tell the Night Manager, Brian (we’re everywhere!) that “Brian the tongueless cancer guy sent ya!”
I could already taste what I would savor for dinner. I shall begin with a bowl Lobster Bisque Soup, loaded with large dime size chunks of Lobster. Then bring on a Creole Crab Cake in a capered butter sauce swimming with New Orleans Crawfish. I know I had crab cake for lunch. Ya gotta problem with that? Not me! For dinner, ½ pound of freshly steamed King Crab resting over a bed of pasta. Accompanying the crab was a small candle lit Jacuzzi, filled with melted butter. Time for your bath boys! H-E-A-V-E-N!
With gas lights illuminating the packed house and soft jazz dancing in my ears, the meal was unforgettable. I didn’t finish until after 8 PM, because it takes so much longer for me to eat, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying each tasty "little" morsel. I was so full, I looked pregnant!
I had to get to bed. The morning would come quickly and I had a lot on my plate tomorrow. The kind of stuff you can’t eat! After such a relaxing flight and a jazz filled dining experience, I rolled into bed and mentally prepared for my 10 hour day of tests, scans, needles, and radioactive fillers.
BUZZZZZ and there’s the alarm! Off I go to MDA. Stay positive, stay strong, ah…stay awake! I’m so tired this morning. I catch the shuttle and arrive on time. First stop, blood draw. Last time this was done, they had trouble getting a good vein. The chemo tends to mess with them. Today I’m told I have good veins! Wow! That’s great news! Who ever thought I’d be excited about veins?
After a short wait I’m called for my X-Rays. Wonder if I have good lungs? Strip to your waist, don a hospital scrub and find an X-Ray machine to love. I’m sure many of you have been through this, but it always reminds me of elementary school when you finally get a girlfriend and your friends egg you on to hug and kiss her.
It’s awkward, as I hear the tech say, “Closer, chest flat to the screen…clo-ser. (He pushes me forward a bit, straightens out my hips.) Now reach around the back with your shoulders placed firmly against the machine and grab on to those handles. Place your chin in the space above.” This is getting pretty intimate…dude I didn’t bring any condoms!
APPLAUSE… now everyone reach for a cigarette! OK, I DO NOT condone smoking, but you get the idea.
I don’t have another exam until 4 o’clock. I figured I’d could go early and get the CT scans over with, but no, they would not take me early and suggested I have lunch. Got no problem with that one!!!
When you’re scheduled for CT scans, you’re instructed not to eat 3 hours prior. I’m closer to 4, so I’ll head to the MDA cafeteria. There is a great spread here. They have a Smoke House station with BBQ Chicken and Ribs, a Pizza station, an Asian stir-fry station, a Pasta station, a Home Cooked Meal station with meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and soups, a Grill station for the burger lover, a well stocked salad bar, sold by the pound, and a Chick-fil-A (Huh? What’s that doing here???)
Out of all to choose from, I thought a well dressed salad would be best after making a pig out of myself at Pappadeaux! I grab for the fresh baby spinach, add some romaine, red onions, black olives, carrots, broccoli, a helping of cheddar cheese, garnished with grilled chicken…Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame bun! Just kidding…no bun.
This will be my only meal today. It turned out to be a one and a half pound salad after drenching it with Ken’s Ranch Dressing. The dressing is a little on the thin side, Hidden Valley is thicker and preferable to me. Not that I’m that picky at this stage in my cancer career! Maybe I’ll become a restaurant critic.
A peaceful resting place
After allowing my stomach some time off, I return for my CT scans. I’m mentally prepared. This scan isn’t the rough one. The MRI after the CT is the problem for me. If you read the post about my first MRI, you’d understand.
I fill out the paperwork answering all the standard background questions. The very last one: “Is there anything we could do to make this experience better for you?” LOL… I wrote, “Yes, find someone to take the exam for me!” Well??? They asked@! Besides, that's a dumb question to ask BEFORE your exam.
About 20 minutes before I’m called to have an IV line placed in my arm, my phone rings. It’s mom’s neighbor. “I’m not supposed to tell you, but…your mother’s levels are off and her room is too warm. The nurse thinks it affects her breathing.”
Oh my God! What levels? What’s wrong? Her doctor added another diuretic this week because she was retaining too much water. I was aware of that. What “Levels?” All I got was, “I’m not sure, just her levels are off.” Now what am I suppose to do with that information at this moment?
PEOPLE! If you are ever faced with calling a cancer patient regarding their mother, knowing they are having a battery of tests done that day…DO NOT CALL, unless it’s an absolute emergency and then, second guess yourself! There is NOTHING that can be done thousands of miles away with an IV stuck in my arm, but worry!
ZING!!!! SPLAT!!! SHIT!! STRESS! Up went the blood pressure. Of course I had to call mom. She explained, “Everything is fine, just having another bad day.” I ask, “Is your room too hot? You do know how to use the thermostat, right?” “Yes,” she replies, “I don’t like it too cold; it’s bad for my arthritis.”
This is nothing new for mom; she’s lived with bad days for years. Many elderly do. She has a nurse that comes to the house and a caregiver to bathe and do some housekeeping along with a machine that wakes her up every morning and makes her monitor her blood pressure, oxygen level (O2 sat.), and weight, checking for water retention due to her COPD and CHF (Congestive Heart Failure.) Then the machine asks a series of questions about how she feels and if her doctor has recently changed any of her meds. This information gets transmitted back to a nurse’s station daily and reviewed.
Mom is well monitored and cared for. The water gain might land her in the hospital, if the diuretic fails to accomplish its goal, but it’s not the first time. This is just another day in mom’s long history with her medical issues. To be fair to the neighbor, I love her dearly, and this obviously new to her, but when you’re as sick and old as mom is…well it’s just another day. She’s lived over 80 years and smoked for almost 70. This is her payment and she’s taking it very well, I think.
I called the nurse to be safe. I was told mom is having difficulty with water retention and breathing. Mom has a tendency to skip a few of the doctor ordered 4 a day breathing treatments. Another price paid for being lazy.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program...
I’m seated in a comfy chair as a kind nurse places an IV line into my right arm. Once again I hear, “You’ve got good veins.” Could it be because my blood pressure is up at the moment!?
Bio-weapon "ARMED" and ready, SIR!
I wait to be called in a room with others prepping for their exams, mostly consisting of the lower extremities. Not the cramming you’d do to pass a calc. exam. More like: drink this barium crap that tastes like chalky shit and wait for the 30 minutes, then drink some more! CHUG! CHUG! CHUG! I guess it’s more like a college drinking game in the fact that you’re not alone. The main difference is…nobody cares about winning this game. Just get it the hell over with!
Fortunately, my CT exam is of the head and neck and I only have to watch the drinking game. I feel lucky because I get the warm and fuzzy exam that makes you feel like you have happy sunshine running through your veins, just before you get the sensation you're about to wet your pants! (Read about my first MRI in The Cancer Chronicles 2 and The Cancer Chronicles 3) The radioactive iodine used for contrast gives this feeling when injected. It’s primarily used to enhance and outline blood vessels or highlight soft tissues or organs in the body, so that they can be seen more easily.
A few hours after arriving to the college frat party, I’m off to the next, being the party animal that I am today. I’m still attired in my hospital scrubs with my IV line intact, ready for my next adventure. What a site…MRI’s here I come!
My MRI is scheduled in another building, still part of MD Anderson. This one is for my back and lower lumbar. As always, a wait. I check my mail and blog with a few friends to try to relax. I’m so nervous about this one. It’s like being placed in a coffin for two hours and forced to hear all kinds of loud, obnoxious sounds.
The last time I had an MRI, I was in the process of first being diagnosed and it was a grueling procedure. The only thing that made it bearable was the music from the headphones. Some people opt for a sedative, which if you’re claustrophobic, I suggest. But, if you are alone they won’t administer one. So, I'm SOL. Until the phone call, I was doing well with my stress. Now…not so good.
The enemy's lair - CLASSIFIED TOP SECRET!
I hear my name and rise to the occasion. They check my IV line, make sure I’m stripped of all metallic objects, and whisk me in to meet my new best friend. Keep your friends close and, your enemies closer! I’ll be in my tomb for two hours. This is no picnic. Small problem, where are my headphones?
“Oh, we don’t have headphones, Sir.”
WHAT?? I SAID…WHAT??? ONE MORE TIME…WHAT??? Big problem! Crap! You expect me to be sentenced to lie still for two hours encased in a tube you can’t budge in and be subjected to the obscene noises it belts out without the distraction of music?
The sweat beads off my brow. Not only am I leaking, it’s hot in here or maybe I’m still flush from the radioactive iodine still swimming in my veins from the last E-Ticket ride. Anybody remember what an E-Ticket is? HINT…Think Disney.
I cannot believe a hospital such as MD Anderson, with their reputation, and money (some of it mine!) can’t take a simple measure to help ensure a patient remain stress free. TWO HOURS! SHIT! Remember the question BEFORE the exam: “Is there anything we could do to make this experience better for you?” HA!
I lay flat, my IV again checked, carefully shrouded in a blanket as if being prepared for my funeral and slowly I enter what will be TWO HOURS OF HELL without music! For me, music has always helped me leave a currently bad situation, and place myself on a beach somewhere having a cocktail with Jimmy Buffett in Margaretville. But not today, there will be no cocktail hour.
As I enter the coffin of doom, the room is warm, I’m told not to move. FOR TWO HOURS! Less than an inch from my nose is the sarcophagus from hell. I’m hot, and oh so tired. I fall asleep for the first half. I awake to a friendly voice, “Now, don’t move. I’m going to inject the dye for the second half of your exam. Don’t move, please!”
Move? Did I move? Is it over? Did we just start? OH, we are half way through it, not so bad.
Fifteen minutes into the second hour, I begin to sweat profusely. Still shrouded in my burial blanket and I can’t move. I feel an eyelash or something ticking at my left eye. My left leg flinches uncontrollably. DON’T MOVE BRIAN! I’m fine! I’m fine! Just turn up the music. I’m fine. SHIT, NO MUSIC! Aw crap! More sweat.
The sounds of my enemy become louder. Bumping and grinding, ratta-tat-tat, machine gun fire, jack hammers. Buzzing…I swear I hear the NBC theme tune, Ding-Dong-Ding. AK-47’s, tank fire, rockets, ratta-tat-tat, BANG! Now, a washing machine out of balance? SMACK! Ding-Dong-Ding (NBC calling.) Ratta-tat-tat!
Legions of little green men army men approach in full force. Mortar fire! "INCOMING!" More bumping! More grinding! BANG!
"Shall we return fire, Sir?" My leg flinches.
"Stay still! Do not move!" More sweat, my nose itches! When the hell is this going to be over?
Dead silence. Thank God! With each silent pause, the technician utters the length of the next scan. “Six minutes, Sir.” Rapid machine gun fire! "Fire in the Hole!@ Run for your lives!" Don’t move Brian! OMG!
Silence...Is it over? “Twelve more minutes, Sir” SHIT! Something about the word “more” sends a quiver down my spine under inspection. I don’t think I can last…PLEASE! Release the bio-weapon!
Silence…Is it over? Check for casualties!
“We are all done, Sir.” What’s with the “we” shit? You just pushed buttons. I won the fucking war!
I emerge from my containment, victorious! Overheated and soaking wet, I bolt like a caged animal, staying long enough to allow the IV to be removed.
It’s now 11 PM. I’ve been here for twelve hours and all the hotel shuttles have stopped running hours ago. Don’t these blood suckers at MDA ever sleep? In the lobby, a very nice security guard calls the Campus Police to take me home, as if I was drinking and driving. Which at this point I think my drinking buddies at the CT had a better party than I.
While I wait for the pokey-man, the security guard introduces himself. He is from India and moved to Houston 25 years ago. He hands me his business card for his second job: “Srinvas Koumounduri – Sitarist” He’s only the second person I’ve ever met that plays a sitar professionally.
As the police arrive, Srinvas opens the door of the van with a slight bow, hands pressed together, palms touching, fingers pointed upwards in front of his chest, and with peaceful respect he whispers, “Namaste.” I reply in traditional fashion, “Namaste.” A fitting end, to a rather stressful day.
Namaste, my friends.
**The origins of “Namaste” are derived from Hinduism and in Nepal. It has multi-religious and cultural meanings:
1. I bow to you.
2. I respect that divinity within you that is also within me.
3. I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace.
4. All that is best and highest in me greets/salutes all that is best and highest in you.