learning new things every day

Every day in life, there are new things to learn, and every experience–even the most mundane of them–can teach you something important.

Several days back, having completed my chemotherapy program and an approximate three week break from medical routine, I reported to the hospital for a CT/PT scan which would tell us if it had been successful. I reported to the cancer hospital blood lab to have the intravenous line necessary for the test inserted.  After my relatively long break from needles, I generously held out both arms to the phlebotomist and tried hard not to think about anything while they poked around.

Then I was taken to a small room not much larger than a closet where I settled into a huge reclining chair. I hardly had time to wish I’d brought a magazine when two technicians entered. One inserted a syringe containing what he called “medicine” into the blood catheter while the other explained the procedure to me. The “medicine” was a radioactive sugar and an ionized contrast material that allows doctors to see detailed images of internal organs and other parts of the body.

In layman’s terms, cancer cells love sugar and being greedy and all, they absorb it more quickly than normal healthy cells so they light up like neon on the images created by the scanner. Hopefully there will be no neon lights on my scan. Before the scan could proceed, it would be necessary for me to lay quietly in the little room and wait for a hour so the medicine could get evenly distributed into my body.

My only question was “do you have a magazine I could read while I’m waiting?”  I was informed that they did not want me to read. In order for the medicine to evenly distribute through the body, I could do nothing but relax. Reading or conversing, which ruled out both catching up on PEOPLE or Hubby waiting with me to alleviate boredom, was out of the question because the organ of the body doing the most work for an activity–the brain in the case of reading–would absorb more of the dye and they didn’t want my brain to eat up all the dye (my wording, not theirs).

After they left, there was nothing to do but to turn the overhead lights to dim, adjust the recliner to a comfortable position, put my feet up and look around the room. There was nothing particularly interesting to look at–a few machines of some sort, the usual monitors that could be necessary in a medical facility, a gray medical cabinet with lots of narrow little drawers in it. Then my eyes were drawn to a small metal plaque on the wall where words were inscribed. “Mustn’t read,” I instructed myself over and over, but try as I might curiosity got the better of me. The words gave me something to think about:  Please be advised that this room is being monitored by security cameras for the safety of our patients.

Well! I hadn’t even thought about security in a hospital examining room before. What could happen in those closet sized rooms with dim lights and relaxing, maybe even sedated, patients. I couldn’t help thinking of every nervous fuss and fidget I’d done so far that could embarrass me. Had I picked my nose like some I’d seen waiting at traffic lights? Didn’t think so. Tugged at a wedgie? Nope. I was pretty sure that hadn’t happened either since as a mature adult I only wear comfortable underwear that doesn’t ride up like bikinis and French cuts. I was blackmail free, I decided, so I began to relax and think about all the other implications of those security cameras. Like, I’d read once about patients under sedation being molested in rooms very much like this one.

Of all people, ex-hostage Terry Anderson popped into my mind. I couldn’t remember the names of all the others, but I wondered if the room they’d been kept in was even smaller than this one. They had invented games in order to keep from going crazy in their isolation. I thought of many things of similar nature, and from time to time I worried that my brain, in spite of my not reading, was getting lighting up from all the thinking. Then I realized something about myself I hadn’t really known before.

I, who always thought of myself as a fairly relaxed being, did not know how to relax. What I’ve been doing all these years is called distraction. There’s plenty to distract you as I think about it. If I’m not doing some chore or other, I’m going someplace where I have things to focus on. Or I read. Books, blogs, for information online. I play card games online. I’m always busy, going from one thing to the other all day long. I have to work on that. I think most of us have become very adept at distraction, but most of us probably need to work on learning to relax.

Postscript: The scan was a good one–no cancer cells detected–so the final part of the treatment, a 20-day regimen of radiation at the tumor site–has begun. Today session was number two, and I’m already well into the routine which requires about an hour and 45 minutes of my day and puts me on a first-name basis with some of the hospital staff. I’m trying hard to inject my own little procedure into all the others used during this fight with the cancer that I’ve designated with a lower-case c. I project positive images while I’m in position on the table in the radiation oncology lab. As the radiation equipment delivers its beams into every direction of the original tumor site, I imagine each little rat a tat tat noise the machines makes in several spurts as tiny little replicas of me dressed as soldiers with machine guns, and I’m inside there machine gunning every little greedy, sugar loving, cancer cell, mowing them down even if they were too small to have shown up in the good scan. That ought to kill them all I think.

6 thoughts on “learning new things every day

  1. Oh God Alice, if I knew how to relax I’d be dangerous. So glad to hear you weren’t lighting up the charts with neon cells and hoping this part of the procedure is smooth sailing and you can get back to your busy life. I dont remember where your kids were going in India, but I’m sure you saw the Moaist attack that derailed that train – I wrote a friend/colleague who lives in Pune that I hoped she had no family aboard – she wrote back that it was incomprehensible to her that someone would willingly hurt others. BTW I wrote your hubby back when asking for a Hindu prayer to recite in my yoga class – meaning in Hindu, forgetting the language is Sanskrit – thankfully I didn’t make the same mistake with my reporters in India. Now I just learned that gypsies are from India – why am I so clueless? I never knew Rom was Indian – good lord. Anyway glad you are better.

  2. Oh you made me laugh out loud with all your thoughts in that little room when you were supposed to be relaxing. I think it is much harder than it sounds to the technician, especially when you are waiting on a medical procedure. Then … you made me gasp as I realized that I myself must be a cancer because I gobble up sugar too! I hope the treatments go well for you and that there is no more sickness now that your little soldiers are so busy killing off the little “c’s”.

  3. Delighted with the good news! You are well on the way to full recovery and free to let your mind wander wherever you want. Did you see my spider on Wednesday? I think it was you Alice who asked for it!

  4. That’s good news! I don’t know how you relax with something like that – unless you know how to meditate I guess. Or does that also use a higher part of the brain? How cruel, to tell you not to use your mind.

    I’m really pleased to hear the results, though!

  5. Hi Alice, I’ve finally got around to reading your last two posts. My life has gotten very busy with art competitions, a funeral, and a chest cold. I love reading your descriptions of the details of your experience. I’m hoping I never have to experience any of this myself but if I do, I will use your posts as a road map to check my progress. I am so glad you did not get any neon blips and are nearing the end of treatment. Soooooon. Love ya.

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