Friday, 18 June 2010

Chemo 1. First Sip of the Devil's Brew

The first person I saw when I got to Garry for my chemotherapy was old fat knees again, still in his shorts. I scowled at him. He was not hard to spot as the chemo clinic is just the other end of the corridor to the alcove where we had all waited the day before.
The patients sit in a row of chairs tightly packed together in a right-angle along two walls. It could be three walls but some helpful person has put a very large, dingy fish tank against one side, taking up space for about six more seats.
Little can be seen inside its Stygian gloom and its view is interrupted by a forest of intravenous stands, giving the patients their brew. There are not enough sockets along the wall, so nurses have to grapple behind the tank to find more plugs.
Above it is a large flat screen TV, showing the World Cup, also obscured by the tall stands. No one is bother about that, as all the patients are women apart from Fat Knees who keeps his head in a book.
There were tea making facilities, and every so often a friendly looking lady came round with fruit and very stale sandwiches, which reminded me of the old days of British Rail. Guests, standing and hovering or sitting on hard chairs, were not allowed to share the food.
The room is partly divided by a curtain. Beyond the first bit most of the space was taken up by two large beds, with two middle aged Indian women lying on them, looking as if they half dead. They were surrounded by anguished but rather helpless looking male relatives.

I sat there from 10am till 4.30pm, patiently watching my two bags of chemicals empty. The Paclitaxel, which causes all the nasty side effects was in a red bag to protect it from the light and took longest, the Carboplatin took only an hour to go in, so I watched it keenly as it dripped away.
The whole thing took slightly longer as I decided to try out the scalp cooling treatment which is supposed to prevent hair loss.
This is a large plastic hat, shaped like a Mongolian helmet, which they press down on your head and fill with ice.
“It might give you a headache,” said the nurse vaguely. It felt as if I had just smashed a frozen lake with the top of my head. The pain was intense for about ten minutes and I thought I was going to vomit. The nurse stroked my hand and cooed encouragingly. My friend noticed that I’d gone totally white and that no one else was doing it.
I held on gritting my teeth until the pain abated as my head adjusted to the cold. It was then just heavy, and damp down the back of my neck. Later I had big ridges in my forehead.
I don't know why I went in for this rather hair-raising experiment as I don't care much about going bald that much, but I am curious to see if it works.

After this freezing you are not supposed to treat your hair with colour, use any products, or a hairdryer. So my hair will probably turn grey and look awful anyway. It will be interesting to see what colour it actually is. A leaflet about it also says you should also sleep on a silk pillow case, and rather sinisterly, “If you choose to visit your hairdresser whilst you are having this treatment this may lead to increased hair loss.”
That usually happens anyway when you see the bill.

When I got home, feeling perfectly well, I got an e-mail from one of my oldest friends telling me he’d just taken a school party to Canterbury Cathedral and said a prayer for me. He’d “taken it to the top.”
I also had a message from my Japanese friend in Ealing saying they had prayed for me in their church that morning, and another from a friend in Poland who seems to have set up a whole praying network for me across Poland and linking up with Polish churches in the UK.
I have stopped praying for myself as I’ve said all there is to say, so hearing that other people are doing it for me is a comfort – a kind of spiritual meals-on-wheels/ Home Help service.
Perhaps partly on account of this I decided to be nice to fat knees when I see him again in three weeks time.

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