Everything has been waning these last few weeks after my second chemo treatment. It was a bit touch-and-go before the second treatment as my blood count was lower compared to my original blood sample from before my first round of chemo. Dr. A had me draw blood three times in 48 hours just to see the blood count inch back up. The veins in my left arm were all bruised up which did not make Nurse Shanelle (her name might have been ‘Chanel’ but for some reason I saw it as ‘Shanelle’- will verify next time I see her) happy when I was finally approved to go forth at Chemo Daycare. I admitted to Shanelle that I remembered nurse Evelyn mentioning something important about using one arm for blood work and the other for chemo but I wasn’t really paying attention at the time as everything was all new. She reviewed with me that I am to only use my left arm for chemo, to preserve as many good veins as possible. My right arm, even with a couple of lymph nodes removed, is able to withdraw blood but never to be used for infusion. Got it! She spent a while heating up my left arm and looking for an available straight vein as she noticed I only seemed to have three straight ones whereas the rest of them were too tiny or too deep to get to. Half way into my treatment she gasped at my bare legs sitting cross legged in the chemo chair, “LOOK AT ALL THOSE VEINS!” I looked down at several blue lines encircling my calves and told Shanelle if she coveted my leg veins she was more than welcomed to use them if it made both our lives easier with this whole needling process. She would only be allowed to use my leg veins if she had a doctor’s note. I told her I would speak to Dr. A at my next appointment.
For the second round of chemo Helen had driven my mother to Toronto from Montreal. My mother had never met Helen before, so before their road trip, I questioned Helen on what she was going to tell my Mom about how we knew each other. I reviewed my memory banks back to my university days to try and remember if I had any glaring shameful moments I needed to remind Helen not to bring up during their car conversations. But realizing my not-so-proud-moments in the past would really pale in comparison to Helen’s not-so-proud-moments in her past I resolved I had nothing to worry about. It was good having Helen around during the second round, for one we had a fourth player for mahjong and with Helen we were able to get Mom, who hates the smell of cheese, to step into The Cheese Boutique with us as she probably wouldn’t have if Helen wasn’t driving us to T’n’T Supermarket afterwards. Mom promptly refused to walk into the “cheese fridge” with us at after catching wind of cheese mould stink wafting out. With chemo a lot of my taste and sense of smell is off but not for pungent cheese! We stood in there for a while sniffing it all in. It was the only scent I’m sure I got the full intensity of compared to anything else.
A couple of days after Mom and Helen left my taste buds were all out of whack. Nothing was really flavourful and my head felt all fuzzy. Stephen texted to see if I wanted to grab a bite to eat and all I could think of was having the Hot and Sour soup at Ding Tai Fung, in Markham. I could feel Stephen’s resentment as we drove through 45 minutes of rush hour traffic on the 401 just so I could have soup. I swore to him it was the best Hot and Sour soup in the whole GTA and it was going to be worth it. The dumplings were awesome too, I added, but I was really there for the soup. I could taste it in my head and couldn’t wait to have something tasty to eat. The hot brown broth arrived at our table and both of us in sync, we dipped our spoons into our soup bowls then up to our lips. We both looked at each other, at just the same moment and just as I saw Stephen’s face light up from the aroma and spices he first tasted, my face fell to a frown as all I could taste was a faint watered down version of what I was expecting. Stephen, all smiles and delighted with our order asked,
“Ohhh, you can’t taste it? It’s delicious! Sweet, spicy, flavourful. You were right it is worth coming up here for this?” I was a little disappointed and a bit sulky when I told him, I couldn’t fully taste the soup as I reached for more red wine vinegar and pepper from the table. “We’ll have to come back another time when you have all your taste buds again.” Yes, we will.
I had hoped losing my sense of taste would be the worst side effect of chemo. However, the most recent thing to decrease was my white blood cell count. My body temperature climbed to 101 degrees Fahrenheit. All my chemo literature stated to call the doctor if my body temperature reached 100 degrees. After pleading on the phone with the attending weekend oncologist at PMH, to not suggest I spend my Saturday at the emergency room, I was told the fever was an indication of an infection my body was probably not be able to fight. As I was very close to going in for chemo again, it was important to go to the emergency of Toronto General Hospital to take care of the fever and infection aggressively, as soon as possible, before the third chemo treatment.
Begrudgingly, I showed up to The Toronto General Hospital for the second time since I started chemotherapy. This time I didn’t have to wear a mask and sit with the rest of the riff-raff in the emergency waiting room. Instead the triage nurse led me to my own examination room away from any possible germs which might weaken my immune system. I changed into yet another hospital gown and waited on the examination table for a doctor to come by. In the course of 2 hours I was visited by a steady stream of young “hottie” female doctors, interns and 3rd year medicine students from the Internal Medicine Department of TGH. Do all beautiful young women go into studying Internal Medicine?! The first “hottie” doctor explained she needed my blood work to take a count, as the source of a fever in chemo patients is usually a low blood count. If this was the case, which it was, they would have to pump hardcore antibiotics intravenously into my system for the next 48 hours. A nurse (who was a young muslim woman and despite being covered by a head scarf, I could tell, she too was a “hottie”) came in to insert an IV and to draw my blood. I spent several minutes explaining to draw blood from my right arm and to insert the IV in my left if they were going to inject me with any drugs. It seemed like it was a foreign concept to her and I realized how separated the worlds of medicine were from department to department. I explained about my Sentinel lymph nodes removed from my right side and how there was a slight chance fluid might not drain in my right arm if fluid was infused into it but to draw blood was fine. She listened when I told her the nurses at Chemo Daycare would prefer my left arm not to be used for blood work because I had very few large veins which they needed to use to inject me with chemotherapy. She seemed unsure but she did what I told her to.
Felicia came by and waited with me while the young doctors interrogated my physical status and medical history. It was like these young interns were sent on a wild goose chase to figure out what was causing my infection. Did I have any mouth sores? Swollen legs? Meningitis? Difficulty breathing? I answered, no to everything. How was my skin? My skin has actually been beautiful since the start of chemo, no monthly zit break outs and really soft, I quite like the effects chemo had on my skin. All I had was a headache. So they gave me a chest x-ray…
Some of the same questions were asked again and the same answers were given. In between, Felicia and I had dinner (Chinese take-out) in my examination room and played with the medical equipment which hung on the wall to check ears, noses, and throats. We did all this since 3:30pm. They finally admitted me into a hospital room for the weekend at midnight on Saturday.