Three weeks on from my first chemo session and it’s time for Round 2. Visiting a hospital is a bit like being on the tube in London – you are surrounded by people who don’t talk but you can study them and try to guess what they are doing. Going in to Wycombe Hospital the first impression is “Oh dear, these people look ill”. Going in to the CCHU at SMH (sorry Cancer Care and Haematology Unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital – home of the Paralympics) the impression is a little different – you know that everyone is a cancer patient or their partner or friend, but you have no idea what form of cancer or what their prognosis is. Initially I assumed that every male had prostate cancer but soon got over that misconception.
We arrived a little before 10am giving me time to feed the parking meter and to get a chit from the reception desk so that we could stay over the allotted two hours. Then past the waiting room and down to Room 10. “Hello Tim, you are in Bay 2”. This is the same bay as last time so I find a vacant chair and get myself comfortable. There are three recliner chairs down each side of the room each with a drip stand and at the end a kitchenette where tea or coffee can be made, and a toilet. One of the volunteers comes over to offer us a drink (coffee for Liz, water for me) and then the cancer nurse comes over and places a heat pad on my chosen hand. Liz thinks I look a little warm, I say I am merely comfortably warm but my temperature is still checked and found to be an acceptable 36.2 degrees C.
After a while the nurse selects a vein and inserts the cannula – just a slight prick and it is in. A quick check to ensure that it is located properly and that the vein hasn’t ‘blown’ and the cannula is taped to my wrist. I was warned last time that pulling the tape off would probably be the most painful part of the process. Next a bag of saline was run through before the real cytotoxic stuff. It had been prepared yesterday and will be out of date tomorrow. It was placed in its Darth Vader cloak (well a small black cover) because as well as being very short lived, it is light sensitive, a mayfly of the night. It was swapped into play as soon as the saline had run in. Now it was a matter of sitting for an hour or so while the docetaxel entered my system. At one point there is a very slight stinging near the cannula but this may just be the tape pulling on the hairs on my wrist. Actually I didn’t need to sit – I could stand up and walk around, even go to the loo, as long as I took my drip pump and stand with me. I could watch as the time remaining reduced, or read the paper or even talk to Liz and to other patients.
I asked the nurse about my blood test results – obviously they were OK otherwise they would have delayed this session. The key was whether my neutrophils had recovered from going a.w.o.l. ten days ago. They should be between 1.7 and 7.5 per one thousandth of a cubic millilitre of blood and the results made encouraging reading. The day before my first chemo session they were 2.8, when I went into A&E they were 0.0, two days later they were 0.4 and by last Tuesday they had recovered to 3.8, better than before chemo started! Also my PSA level, which was measured at the start of the investigations, had dropped from 17 to 1.3. Again a move in the right direction.
After an hour the infusion pump (posh name for drip pump) beeped and a nurse came over and checked the bag. There was a smidgeon of docetaxel left so the bag was squeezed and the pump set for another ten minutes. Eventually the bag was empty and it was swapped for some more saline to flush it all through. The sandwich I had ordered earlier was bought over by one of the volunteers. Then it was time to disconnect me. The bags and tubes were taken down, the tape ripped off (I didn’t even wince) and the cannula gently pulled out. A pad was taped over the site and I held it tight for a few minutes then off to the car with my half eaten sandwich and home. This at least allowed me to finish my lunch at home while taking my lunchtime tablets.
Now for the next cycle and this time I will endeavour to behave myself particularly during my immunosuppressed period. I want to avoid impersonating a beetroot and having to go into A&E again in 10 days time.
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