Friday, October 10, 2008

So Far Away (Part I of III)

Continued from “My Cancer Story": Fix Me (Part IV of IV)
Read "My Cancer Story" from the beginning: The Golden Age (Part I of III)

I was frigid, shaking and terrified. The six blankets, a couple straight out of the hospital’s blanket incubator, weren’t effective. I wished I had my own giant hen to sit on me. Or I could set myself on fire. I felt chilled at 100, cold at 101, freezing at 102, and at 103 there was no worthy adjective.

Every ten minutes I buzzed the doctor. “What happens if my temperature rises? Will I have to take a cold bath? Can I go into a seizure?”

My skin was irritated, inflamed, dry, red, flaky—you name it and I had it. I was supposed to slather myself with triamcinolone ointment, a topical steroid. Using the ointment would trap my skin’s heat and warm me. But in order to use it I had to get out of bed and away from the minimal warmth I’d collected. I was in the arctic and could either dive into the frozen river to reach the bear hide, or stay by the fire and hope that would suffice. It was one of my most difficult short-term decisions.

Among other things, I developed a staph infection in my central line that caused my temperature to rise five degrees in just as many hours. It was not my healthiest year. I had just returned home from four months in Minneapolis, halfway across the country, where I received a stem cell transplant. Minneapolis was a difficult journey, and I thought being home meant I was on the path to wellness. Somehow I was worse off.

At 103.3 my temperature started declining. I did use the triamcinolone. I thought my bones would shiver themselves shattered before I reached the bathroom. The infection went away with the help of vancomycin, a powerful, broad-spectrum, “last resort” antibiotic I’ve received countless times over the years.

Nobody could diagnose my skin, the largest and most underrated organ. I visited the dermatology clinic and stripped naked so doctors, nurses and even medical students could peek. That wasn’t unusual for me, but facing the wall, spreading my legs and bending down was. I was in a different kind of prison, but the body cavity search remained.

While waiting for blood results one day, my brother, JD, brought me a pulled chicken sandwich, coleslaw and potato salad from the cafeteria. My nurse practitioner, Arrogance, said, “I bet that’s 800 calories.” I ate an eighth before feeling full.

If my meal is 800 calories then I just consumed 100. How can I continue surviving? Without the help of Boost and chocolate milk, my daily caloric intake would’ve been under 500.

JD drove me to many of my doctor appointments. That morning on the radio we heard So Far Away by Staind. I’m not good at understanding lyrical meanings, but to me the title said it all. I couldn’t have been further away from my goal, with the exception of being dead, and I was trending that way.

I was so far away from my beautiful university that Thomas Jefferson founded, and from the college life I was supposed to be living. I was so far away from my friends, who were accelerating past me not just in credit hours but also in social experiences, maturity, and new friends, the tangible college credits. During my battle with my first cancer there had been so many positives, but now I was so far away from even them.

Keep reading: So Far Away (Part II of III)


Anonymous said...

Was this blanket you're talking about an electric cold blanket? They put one on me one time my I had an infection so high during chemo that I was in so much pain from the coldness of it all I begged for pain medicines.

Benjamin Rubenstein said...

I hope they were oxycodone. Those may be worth the chills.

Daniel Dickey said...

Keep it up!