Thursday, August 02, 2007

A fallen woman

A while ago I joked with Steve that I was in no danger of fainting a la Dina, the guardian journo who got breast cancer and wrote about it, both in her column and a book. She fainted whilst ascending stairs, during her chemo treatment, when basically trying to juggle life, the universe and everything.

Ha! Thought I, that would never happen to me.

One, I'm on an easier chemo than she was. Mine is meant to be, broadly speaking, manageable. And certainly for the first three treatments it was. It was only over the last two I've really been feeling it.

Two, if I feel faint, I'll just have a nice little sit down and a glass of water. Simple. Although that does depend on getting a warning shot before I go down.

Three, well, three would be that old belief that It Simply Would Not Happen To Me.


Lets replay this week briefly.

Monday - wake up feeling awful and short on sleep because whatever I ate Sunday made me spend three hours running backwards and forwards to the loo during the night. Weak, kidney pains, aching, I stayed at home. Good call. Spent the afternoon asleep in bed and felt much better that evening.

Tuesday - wake up (slowly), go to work, feel alrightish. But by the time I come home that evening I'm exhausted again. Whatever energy reserves I've built up by spending Monday at home and in bed are once again depleted. Plus the mushroom risotto I chose off the menu at lunchtime as the plainest dish on the card has made my stomach the size of a full term pregnancy. Once again, food has proven a minefield and in avoiding the seafood I've shot myself in the foot with the porcini. I'm so tired I can barely lift my arms to poach an egg on toast for dinner. Collapse into bed, cry for a bit from sheer frustration (why is there one more left? why is it not just OVER?) and then sleep soundly, but dream of the office, set in a schoolroom, like some sort of parent's evening. It's coming off the Lorezapam that does it - I'd only taken half a pill rather than the usual full mg.

Today, Wednesday. Get up (very slowly). Feel rubbish so have a bath to go gently on the morning routine. Club my stuff together and get on the bike to ride in. Arrive feeling exhausted just by the 40 min bike ride. When I walk in the door my phone goes. It's my Dad wondering if I've fainted and tried to call him but am unable to speak because all he can hear is rustling. I reassure him that I've merely left my phone off lock and hang up. For some reason, am suddenly terribly emotional again (I have a theory on this which I'll share in another post) and end up venting my tears and frustration at a colleague and friend for half an hour. Calm down, back to my desk, do some work, then go see the new Account Manager to say I'll meet her in the boardroom in five to take her through the agency credentials.

I grab the empty glass of water off my desk (still feeling dehydrated) and walk downstairs with my notebook and a copy of our reel. I'm wearing flat shoes. I feel shit, but shit normal.

Somewhere, probably three or four steps from the bottom of our trendy metal industrial stairs, I black out momentarily. Next thing I know the trendy concrete flooring is rushing up to greet me, the glass flying out of my hands and smashing into a thousand pieces.

Oh shit.

And I feel sick with the pain. My ankles have taken the brunt of the fall and I'm on the floor, curling into a ball and clutching my face. Not sure why I was clutching my face, I think in retrospect it was the need to hold onto something, tightly, as everything from my knees down was hurting so much.

Later, my colleagues tell me they thought I was clutching at my face because I'd lacerated it with the glass and was busy 'stemming' the flow of the blood. As it turns out, the only cut I have is on the inside of my elbow and is tiny. Miniscule. But still it managed to stain my white linen shirt.

Back on the floor and it takes me an agonising five minutes before the so-much-pain-it-makes-you-feel-sick feeling passes and I bring my legs round in front of me. Neither ankle feels like it wants to move yet. All i can think is, if I've broken it/them, I'm buggered. My bone marrow won't regenerate under chemo like it would do normally. Shit, bugger, shit again.

I raise myself with my colleague's help into a chair and lift my legs onto another one they place in front of me. I'm still feeling a bit sick and light-headed but that feeling is passing. I wiggle my left ankle gingerly. That works. It feels weird, like I'm doing it for the first time and none of the nerves are well-rehearsed in the brain-ankle conspiracy of movement, but it works.

I try doing the same with the right one. Nothing but pain. No movement, just shooting pain from the centre of my ankle halfway up my calf. Someone gives me a frozen bottle of water wrapped in a tea towel to lay against my ankles and we decide to call an ambulance.

In the next fifteen minutes it takes for the paramedic to arrive, the pain gets so bad I am squealing with every wave that shoots up my leg. They are frequent and now reach over my knee. At one point I start to shake. My pain threshold is normally quite high so I'm really worried now. This must be a fracture, surely? A sprain would not hurt this much? The left ankle gets increasingly mobile as I sit there, the right one starts to hurt more and more. Funny, could have sworn that when I was lying on the ground immediately after it had happened that my left one felt in more pain.

The paramedic turns up. Surreally, he has a cameraman with him. "Do you mind if you're filmed for ITV?". No, not particularly. I've lost all sense of the personal when it comes to medical treatment over the last four months, so a camera filming when I'm in agony, with a bald head, tears in my eyes and curses on my breath is not going to make any odds.

I tell the paramedic that I know some of his colleagues, two paramedicas we've met on banger rallies. So he'd best behave. He's lovely though. Keeps offering me morphine, and gas. I decline, as the two ibuprofen he's let me take are kicking in quite nicely and the searing pain is being gently subdued. Plus morphine and gas both make you nauseous and the memory of vomiting on the last chemo is too recent.

He radios for an ambulance (he came on a pushbike - it's a London summer thing) and two new paramedics take over. I've never been in an ambulance before and suddenly, with the pain now stable, the novelty of the experience takes over for a minute and I phone Rich, we work out a plan (he gives up cleaning the house for the day, gets into town, picks up the motorbike and will come and meet me at the hospital) and I get driven to St Thomas' A&E.

At the hospital, hours pass, I get cold, I get hot. I negotiate some crutches so I can take myself to the loo. No commode for me. I listen to mad old ladies the other side of the curtain and strange groans coming from the curtain opposite. Usual hospital stuff. Just much more graphic and dark than the private healthcare experience.

I chant at every single person that picks up my chart, in an almost religious way, "I'm on chemo, my last treatment was last week, my blood counts will be low, you cannot use my right arm for bloods or pressure or anything because I've had partial node removal, if you need to do anything serious like stick a drip in, I have a portocath, and if you want to know what drugs I'm on I have it all written down just here...". They're nearly all different people (apart from the ones who are the same, of course...) so it feels pointless, but it's my mantra and I'm sticking to it.

I think, it would be just my luck to break my ankle (bone marrow problems) and then contract some infection from the hospital because I broke it when I was on days 7-10 of my cycle, when my immunity is at its lowest.

A nurse relents and lets me have a cup of tea. It's now 3pm and I've not eaten since breakfast. She agrees that it's either a bad sprain or a simple break, as my foot is not blue or hanging off at a rakish angle. The nurse brings me a cheese sandwich - which is nice of her but makes me feel sick again. Not sure if it's nausea from the pain of the ankle, or associated nausea because of the smell of hospital equipment or the smell of hospital sandwiches (all things I associate with chemo and have resulted, last time, in strong feelings of anticipatory nausea - I can't even tell people about how i had to banish R to the other side of the chemo day care ward to eat the chicken sandwiches last time before getting a wave of bile rising at the mere thought of it...).

Then Rich arrives and I commandeer him to get me some biscuits. Ginger nuts are brilliant hospital food. All that sugar, and a bit of ginger to settle your stomach. Perfect.

Eventually I am seen by the doctor and then it all happens quite quickly. It's unlikely to be a break because i do not hit him when he touches it. But they x-ray just to be sure. Into radiography for my seventh and eighth x-rays of the year. He studies the x-rays and comes to see me.

The good news? It's just a really really bad sprain for which I am sent home with crutches, strong painkillers and instructions to elevate it and take it easier next time. To try and avoid blacking out in the first place, he might have added.

(In fact, this is a clear lesson in taking it easy and not being hard on myself. Stay at home more. Do nothing more. There is only one treatment left, there is no point in killing yourself over this. And if I was worried that others may think me a shirker, at least this is proof that maybe, just maybe, this chemo stuff is quite nasty and just because I look okay on the outside doesn't mean I'm feeling okay on the inside.)

But the not-yet-clear-what-it-is news? Some dark spot on the x-ray. The doctor assured me it looked nothing like a metastised cancer looked like, but there is a dark blob in my ankle bone. His money is on some benign cyst that I've probably had forever, but it's routine to check it out, and certainly with my medical history he wants a radiographer to look at it tomorrow and give his point of view.

It can't be mestatised. Can it? My lymphs were clear, my bloods were clear, my chest and lung x ray was clear pre lumpectomy. So I'm pretty sure I'm ok in that respect.

But it's the way he looks at me that upsets me. I recognise that look, and it brings back scary diganosis memories. I'm so tired of it. I do not want another member of the medical profession to look me in the eye with sympathy. Ever again. I've had enough of that.

In the meantime I have to wait for them to check the films and then call my GP for an appointment at the end of the week to find out what's what. Do I have a cyst? Or do I have some weird cancer of the ankle? Or did someone just smudge the films?

R keeps telling me it's nothing to worry about it. Which it isn't. But I am.

Lets face it, last time I was in a similar situation I was all confidence and "Ooh, 9 out of 10 are benign so it won't be me". And then it was me.

So it does worry me.

So there.


Dr Jude said...

Stairs are scary enough without chemo. Be careful out there you!

I bumped my head into the door frame today in sympathy.

Let us know what happens with the x-ray. I know you can't help worrying, but maybe you can distract yourself with ice cream and a movie?

dk said...

pretty normal sort of day then...


get well you goof, honestly, if your foots not on an accelerator you're hopeless