Down the Tube….again.

Our transport is late.  Eventually I have to resort to ringing the ward to find out where it is. K has spent a fruitless watch at her bedroom window for what has seemed like hours, her coat already on, knelt up scanning the cul de sac outside for signs of our transport. Finally it arrives and we make the journey to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and my eventual venue, Ward 3. It’s not a Ward in the true sense of the word, and seems to be divided into two entirely separate parts by a door half way along the corridor, the first part is the Oncology area and the other is for Haematology. A reception desk greets you as you enter staffed by a friendly receptionist who ushers me into a side room filled with comfortable looking recliner chairs, two of which are currently occupied a lady and a gentleman who, judging by the colour of the contents of the bags slung atop the pumping equipment are both receiving some blood.

We sit down to wait for one of the nurses to fit me with a cannula. I am already late. I note that these particular chairs are actually superior to the one’s in the McMillan unit’s chemo ward, they are higher backed and much larger. Trying out the controls, I am horrified when the chair begins to rise up in the air. It turns out after trying out the controls, that they ‘tip up to help you stand’ as well as reclining. S comes into the room and asks me to place both of my hands in a bowl of hot water in order to bring my veins to the fore. She’ll be lucky! I think silently to myself.  An attempt has been made to make the room look more attractive to be spending time in by the inclusion of two large prints on the wall, the right side has a poppy’s in a field print, and the other a very large map of the world which K is very interested in, spending her time asking me ‘Where’s Spain, or where’s Australia?” as we wait.

A lady of American origin complete with an enthusiastic smile comes bustling in to ask us if we would like a drink.  

“Coffee? Tea? Orange Juice?” she asks, and goes bustling out of the door to a trolley parked outside in the corridor. When our drinks arrive, K has  to resort to holding my cup to my mouth seeing as both my hands are otherwise occupied soaking in the bowl of hot water. At last S returns and pulls up a stool to sit in front of me, and after placing my left arm on top of a bleached white pillow, she begins inspecting my veins in the back of my left hand. She seems to be taking her time, tapping each one carefully as she goes.

“Its a large needle.” she offers in way of explanation, “and I need the best vein.”

“S, you shouldn’t have told me that!” I reply. Eventually she chooses to try a vein which runs along the side of my wrist, stating that it looks the best out of the bunch. I am left handed, but the veins in the back of my right hand went AWOL last year in protest at all of the cannula fitting they had to endure.

In order to take my mind off the ‘big needle’ I ponder to myself how we have become a like a kind of big happy family during the course of last year and this. The staff have become so familiar because they work here at the Huddersfield Royal Chemo department as well as at the McMillan unit, spending their time toing and froing between both, and their days are filled with fitting cannulas in various veins, supervising chemotherapy or blood transfusions for patients who are anaemic, and occasionally dashing to the aid of a patient who has had a bad reaction.  At last the cannula is fitted and the bustling American tea lady escorts us down to the CT department waiting room. (I am not familiar with this hospital, and certainly not this area we are currently in.)

I try not to move my hand because it hurts at the wrist bone where the cannula is inserted. There are a few other patients sat waiting along the sides of the small waiting area, a woman and her husband over in the far corner and whispering to each other, and an older black man. They are both having to drink the aniseed tasting liquid that I have also usually had to drink on my previous visits to have a CT Scan. I wonder if I will also have to drink some as I contemplate the old gentleman sat across from me. He is so thin that his skin looks like tanned leather stretched across his skeletal frame, his fingers as they hold the cup are more like long thin claws, and his legs look to be merely bone through his trousers.  Atop his head he wears a flat cap with small tufts of curly grey hair peeking out at each side, and because his face is so thin and skeletal, his eyes seem to be popping out as he gazes around him.

I am called in by one of the CT staff. They always wear maroon overalls. I don’t really notice much about this scanner, I don’t notice which make, or anything much about the room as I am ushered onto the bed. By now its an all too familiar routine. Head on the raised pillow. Arms placed behind your head.

I’m just attaching the contrast dye” she states “Let us know if it feels uncomfortable.”

The table containing my now prone body complete with hands stretched out above my head, moves backward and through the doughnut shaped contraption.  It begins to hum and spin around.  A familiar female voice states

Breath in and hold.” I comply. “Breath normally.” I comply. The table and I go forwards. The spinning slows. The hum lowers. The table and I again reverse through the doughnut.

“Breath in and hold” Again I comply. That’s strange! I think to myself, I haven’t experienced the awful metallic taste in my mouth and the feeling that my whole body is on fire when the dye is injected. Perhaps they use a different one here! “ Breath normally.”  I also ponder why these machines always use a female voice and why its the same voice no matter which make of scanner you happen to be under. Must be the same actress used by them all, or perhaps  its a certain member of the medical profession?  My heart sinks as one of the staff states over the tannoy,

I’m injecting the dye now Mrs L, so let me know if it feels uncomfortable won’t you?” I wonder to myself what they would do if I began screaming at the top of my voice. They would have to come dashing out of the room that they always retire to. I feel a cold sensation running past my wrist, a horrid metallic taste in my mouth and suddenly my whole body feels as if I’m stood in the middle of a fire. Its a good job that it only lasts a moment or two.

“ Breath in and hold” the machine instructs. I and the table move backward. A whirring sound and the doughnut is spinning above my head.  The whirring stops slowly. The spinning stops. My table containing me moves forward and out from under the machine.  A member of staff helps me to get off the table and I re-join K outside.  Although we are supposed to wait for the American tea lady to escort us back to Ward 3, my cannula is hurting and I need the toilet. We decide to throw caution to the winds and find our own way back.

SOMATOM Perspective

On our return to the ward, the lovely American tea lady bustles around our chairs, asking which sandwiches we would like for lunch, and which pudding, a jelly or a yoghurt? We choose a sandwich apiece, K chooses one of the jellies and I choose a yoghurt. She also brings us a drink in the form of tea. No one arrives to take my cannula out. No one seems in any hurry to see the back of both of us. We both eat our lunch, by now K has adjusted the chemo chair that she is sitting in so that the leg rest is up and I am pretty sure that once she had finished her lunch, she’ll be asleep. The lovely American tea lady is so helpful to everyone, I tell her that she can transfer to the McMillan unit.

I am thinking to myself that the reason why no one is in any hurry to remove my cannula is probably because they are waiting for the CT results to come through before allowing me home, and I prove to be right. Some time after lunch, the registrar visits me and informs me that he has got the CT result and yes, it shows blood clots on my lungs. I have therefore to continue with the daily Fragmin injections (sigh) until further notice and that he has given me a months supply, and also that he will inform my GP that I will need the injections in the future on repeat prescription. As is usual, I tell him that I am not keen on this make of injections, not that I had any love for last years Clexane, but these are not as easy to administer yourself seeing as the needle does not auto retract inside the casing, and I am going to have to be careful not to accidentally touch it when placing it in the sharps tub, and anyway, why have they changed it? (This is why medical staff aren’t keen on me, because I speak my mind on every occasion and ask endless questions about everything.)

It’s exactly the same thing, just a different make we have decided to use, that’s all.” he reassures me, probably silently thinking that he hopes to never have to deal with me again. He also informs me that because this is the second time I have had blood clots, when my chemo is completed I will have to take Warfarin for the rest of my life. Sigh. As soon as he has been to talk to me, S suddenly appears and promptly removes the cannula from my hand, and at last I am free to take a toilet break! We can now wait for our transport back home, and the receptionist kindly escorts us to the waiting area below. Eventually our transport arrives and we are taken home. That’s most of the day gone and I am back jabbing myself in the stomach every day for the foreseeable future.

(P.S. I am not really keen on doing blog posts about my cancer treatment etc, as I am pretty sure that some won’t be keen or interested to read about any of it. However, because its become such an integral part of my life at present, it equally seems silly not to mention it, and besides, some who might be having to begin the same fight might find it useful. I am willing however, that if my readers don’t particularly want to read about any of my treatment, to post all of my Cancer related stuff in a separate blog that you could go to and read if you wanted to, or ignore if not. Please can you all let me know, and then I will keep this blog for my other light-hearted moans and groans about other subjects? Thanks.)