Monday, 10 November 2014

70. Never stray too far from the chemo ward

"I am back at my desk this morning and should manage 3 working weeks now," I emailed my manager today. "Unless I pick up an infection."

I have been given a week's grace before the final cycle of chemo, because of a conference I am due to chair at the end of the month. So instead of three weeks, I now have four weeks in-between my poisonous sessions in the VIP lounge.

It is an unexpectedly cheery prospect. I am slowly emerging from the battlefield, but instead of having to go back for more chemo next week, I can now wait until the week after that. I hadn't quite realised how relentless it has been since the start of chemotherapy in early August. Never more than a handful of good days before being knocked down again. Having this extra week feels like being given an unexpected day off school.

Hence the optimistic email message. I glossed over the slowness of work. Sitting at my desk is tiring, but at least I've got a part-time job that can be done in stages, stretching my three working days across the entire seven-day week. (How on earth do people on chemotherapy manage more demanding, full-on day jobs?)

And, stupidly, I glossed over this morning's niggling symptoms of a urine infection.

I had been planning to take myself off to the south coast today, along with my laptop, to spend a few rejuvenating days in the countryside. My husband had worried about me being there by myself, but I was feeling fine, so what could possibly go wrong, far away from the sniffling crowd? I was unlikely to pick up an infection from rabbits or foxes.

I hadn't counted on bladders misbehaving. Hm. Better give the hospital a ring then, reluctantly. They won't share my "wait and see" approach,"  I grumbled to my husband. They'll want me to come in. Left to my own devices, I would just have drunk gallons of cranberry juice and hoped for the best.

At least it was weekday hours, so I got the lead cancer nurse instead of the on-call doctor. She summoned me into the VIP lounge rather than into A&E, which was far more efficient.

My email message was not so much Wishful Thinking as a failed attempt at a Self-fulfilling Prophecy.

Two hours later, I was back on the chemo ward.

Blood sample, urine sample, temperature, etc etc. Thankfully, none of it was too alarming. No need for IV antibiotics this time; tablets would do. Five hours later I was sent home again with a week's worth of pills.

What seemed to alarm them much more was the sight of the vein in my arm, which started reddening after someone took blood during my hospital admission three weeks ago. "Don't worry," I was told at the time. "Just keep an eye on it. You don't want it to track all the way up your arm." It hasn't tracked up, but it's got redder and redder, as if the vein is trying to break through the skin. In fact yesterday it seemed to have reached that goal.

Saviour Nurse, busy with someone else, spotted it from afar. "That's not from taking blood," she said to the nurse tending me. "That's the chemo. It's caused by the Docetaxel." And to me: "You'll need steroids for that."

She was right, of course. She always is. So along with the antibiotics, I now have steroid cream and must take pain killers. ("But it doesn't really hurt!" I protested, reluctant to take pain killers at the best of times, let along at times when there is not much pain. No matter. I need it for the anti-inflammatory properties, apparently.)

So here is today's lesson, which I've been taught before but keep forgetting.

Don't plan anything. Things can change within a matter of hours.

On the way home from hospital, I bought six litres of cranberry juice. I've cancelled the trip to the countryside, but I'll be back at my desk tomorrow morning. In London, within spitting distance of the hospital. Better be safe than sorry, I suppose.

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