Despite what you are about to read regarding my first dance with chemo, I am still excited that I have begun treatment. Everybody knows that chemo has side effects, but I personally should always look at the “rare” section for possible adverse reactions. For some reason, I get the good stuff. My wife jokes that I’m “one of a kind.” I am not naive, so I knew I wasn’t going to be feeling so hot for awhile; however, I experienced a few things that I will never forget, but wish had never happened. In the spirit of disclosing all pertinent facts, I will take you through my last couple of days.
Thursday morning started out pretty normal; breakfast, shower, a few minutes with the dog, and a solid 30 minutes watching baby Einstein with my precious little man. Then I got to mosey on over to the fertility center for my second “deposit” of the week. That’s right. Just in case the chemo or surgery messes with anything, my wife and I decided to have some of my men frozen. Should you or a loved one ever go through this, don’t forget this factor, it’s can sometimes be part of the process. Then I headed back to the house, scooped the wife, and took off for the cancer pavilion. Things were moving along smoothly and pretty much without a hiccup. Actually, after anxiously waiting for what seemed like two days (a half hour), I miraculously scored my own private room with a bed. Check me out! My nurse was great, too. I don’t know what I thought the moment was going to be like when the meds got started, but it did seem a bit uneventful. After I got comfortable in my bed and got the TV tuned in to SportsCenter, the nurse came in with the IV stand and the drugs. All the drugs cannot be given at the same time, so the sequencing is explained to us again. The shirt comes off, a two inch needle is jammed into my port, and the chemo starts to flow. Four and half hours roll by and we don’t experience a single problem. I actually took a little nap and the wife was able to spend some time catching up on emails, phone calls, and of course FaceBook. After all the IV bags were complete, they set me up with my super stylish chemo pump. This pump, still connected to the port in my chest, allows me to take one of the drugs home as it will dispense a small amount of meds continuously. In fact, it was about every few minutes and it sounded a bit like an old Polaroid camera, not really an issue until it was time to sleep. To transport this high dollar piece of medical equipment, I got a $1 black fanny pack to carry it in, don’t be jealous. All in all, it was a good day and the only thing I felt was exhaustion.
Friday comes and goes with very little to discuss besides some pretty nasty nausea and a little fatigue. Saturday morning and we’re back to the cancer center to return the pump and sweet fanny pack. Needle comes out of my chest, and we’re heading home completely unaware of what is about to happen over the next 24 hours. Here is where the la-tee-da story starts to get interesting. We arrive home from the cancer center at about 10am and it is getting close to Hudson’s nap time. As he’s sleeping, the wife and I to lay in bed and chat for a bit. 11:00am, Hudson needs some coaxing to get back to sleep, so I zip upstairs to grab a drink. 11:15am finds us having a nice relaxing talk again, but then 11:30am… I am hit in the chest. Not a little hit, but more like a sledge hammer crashing into me at full speed. At first I thought I drank my drink too fast, but it wasn’t just a one-and-done thing. The pain persisted as if somebody decided to let their pet elephant park it right on my chest. I had no idea what was happening, so I rolled around on the floor in agony hoping it would just go away. The wife got real concerned, so the call to 911 went out. Rescue workers showed up and the next thing I know, I got an oxygen tube shoved up my nose and my mid-section is smacked full of these sticker things with little silver buttons on them, like those on a baby’s onesie. Wires are clamped to them hooking me up to a heart EKG machine and I am being whisked to the hospital via ambulance. A few minutes into the ride the pain subsides and I start to feel like a big boob and think we made a huge deal out of nothing, but since we were already on the way to the hospital, a few tests wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The back doors to the ambulance open up and I see the wife standing there. I had no idea she was riding shotgun, so I got a little emotional as they wheeled me into the ER. Once again, got my own private room in the back because chemo makes me more susceptible to infections, germs, etc, so that was nice. Several people came and went, trying to figure out what had happened. At this point, I had what seemed to be another 50 wires hooked up to me and I am feeling a bit like I’m trapped underwater in a big fishing net. A second EKG was taken and came out completely normal. All vitals looked great, but a chest CT is still performed.
I get back from the scan, it’s happening again, the sledge hammer and Dumbo are back. I grab my chest and the wife darts off to get the nurse, who pages the doctor, but apparently feels that eating her muffin takes precedence over responding immediately herself. My blood pressure and heart rate were threw the roof on the monitors. When they finally come in and find me shaking uncontrollably from the pain, they tell me to lay completely still, not an easy task at all, so they can get another EKG reading. The doc says it appears as if I might be having a heart attack, so they grab me and my bed and literally start running me up for a cardiac catheterization. We are cruising through the hospital wings and it seems that just as everybody pops their head around to see what the commossion is, they have to dive out of the way. This is happening just like in the movies. For the first time in this whole process I get scared and start to wonder if I will ever see my wife or child smile again. Wow, just thinking about that long enough to type it, brings a tear to my eye.
In the operating room I am injected with a local anesthetic, although it doesn’t seem like they wait for it to start working before they tap into my femoral artery and thread a catheter up into the areas around my heart. The nurse in the OR is telling me lay completely still and instructing me not to lift my head up for any reason. I swear, I could not grasp this concept and every few seconds the nurse is smacking me on the forehead telling me to keep my head down. The procedure is over pretty quickly I think, just in time for the local anesthetic to really start working.
I am taken to a recovery room and again instructed not to move or lift my head or I could cause enough internal pressure to blow the plug in my leg. Four hours of lying perfectly still on my back was not a good thing for ol’ Trudy, but I made it through. We come to find out that I was having spasms, more specifically called cardiac vasoconstriction and it was hindering the blood flow to my heart. A rare side effect of probably THE most important chemo drug that I’m taking for colon cancer. They admit me and keep me overnight for observation.
When I wake up the next morning, I think the worst is behind me and that I am in the clear, so I start preparing myself to go home. As I go to sit down, I feel an explosion in my leg, almost like a cork popping free from a champagne bottle. The pain is so intense and immediate. I look down at the incision sight and this thing is throbbing with every beat of my heart and is growing larger by the second. It looked like an alien was hatching out of my leg. I call for the nurses and luckily they respond very quickly. They react without hesitation and the one nurse places the palm of her hand over my incision and then presses down with all of her weight. As one nurse is keeping my leg from filling up with blood, the other nurse injects me with as much pain medicine as she can. At this point I am told that I am not looking so great and that the grayish-green tone to my skin is a good indicator that I might lose my breakfast soon. To avoid this, they tilt my bed back (head low, feet high) right as my wife walks in prepared to take me home. The pain starts to let off a bit and the nurse explains to us that I have developed a hematoma and that she must hold pressure for 30 minutes. What a crazy unexpected event, but needless to say, I’m there for another night.
It’s Monday and now I’m home. The “normal” side effects of the chemo meds are setting in. Nausea, fatigue, and just complete icky-ness. My oncologist will consult with his colleagues to determine if I should try a new cocktail of meds because of my pseudo heart attacks. Through this process I know I will experience many highs and lows, but I trust that God never gives us more than we can handle.