Nurses and Doctors and The ER, Oh My!

By May 3rd, Day 14 of Radiation, my parents and I had settled into a workable routine. Depending on their schedules, either my mom or dad would transport me to therapy as I was too nauseous and exhausted to drive myself. I would rise at 7:00 a.m. in order to shower; feed myself through the tube and get in a quart of water along with an anti-nausea pill and Claritin (an anti-allergy pill), before making the 45 minute commute to the clinic.

At 9:30 a.m. on the days of treatment, I had the lovely privilege of receiving a shot in my lower hip/buttocks area. The shot was called Amifostine, and at $250 a pop (thank the Lord for County insurance!) the purpose was to try to help save some of my saliva glands that were in the process of being destroyed with every new Zap. For the next 30 minutes, I remained under the watchful eye of one of the nurses who checked my blood pressure and heart rate before and after to make sure I was responding appropriately to the shot. Every day, I was asked the same questions to ensure I wasn’t having an allergic reaction. The nurse would look over my skin to see if I was developing a rash anywhere near the site of the injection and gave me clear instructions to let them know immediately if I became nauseous or developed a fever or a rash anywhere as this was a sign my body was no longer accepting the medication. By 10:00 a.m. I was ready for my zap. My Radiation Therapists were completely amazing as they would ask how I was feeling every day and would encourage me along the way. They would talk to me as they strapped me into my mask, asking me questions about my life and would turn on the music of my choice in order to help distract from the uncomfortable situation. I could not have made it through without their obvious care and concern for my individual well-being.

By 10:20 a.m. most days we were back out the door; however, on Mondays we met with my Oncologist to check my progress and discuss any pain issues or side effects from the treatment. Occasionally, we had to pick up a new prescription or run an errand, but on most days we were home by noon, at which point I would crash out for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. By this time, I had lost all motivation and strength to read or write and found myself doing what I could just to make it through the day. Sleep became my constant companion as it passed the time and nurtured my weary body, but I soon developed a steady habit of waking up in time to turn on Oprah when 4 O’Clock rolled around!

Around Day 20, I developed Thrush on the roof of my mouth so the doctor prescribed an antibiotic. The first antibiotic came in liquid form but burned the inside of my mouth so badly (definitely did not need ANY more pain there!) that he switched me to a pill. On Saturday May 15th, I mentioned to my mom that I felt very itchy but we paid little attention to it and I once again succumbed to a long nap. In the early evening, after I woke up, I noticed a large rash beginning to develop over different parts of my body, and I began to have a hard time breathing. We called the advice nurse through my medical provider who told me to come to the emergency room immediately. After another 45 minute drive, I was rushed back into a room where they immediately began pumping me full of Benadryl and Zofran (an anti-nausea medication) in order to stop the swelling and potential danger to my airways. The doctors said they were hives, but he was unable to determine if they were a result of the Amifostine shot or the antibiotic I was prescribed for the Thrush. The doctor ordered me to stop both immediately, and I was discharged once the hives were under control.

Three days later, I was back in the ER with the same symptoms; however, this time, the hives had spread over my entire body, reminding me of Will Smith’s swollen face when he had the allergic reaction to shellfish in the movie “Hitch”. I was again rushed to a room where they again pushed Benadryl to stop the swelling. When my lips finally returned to the size of a normal human being, I was released and sent to complete my dose of Radiation for the day.

By this time, we were counting down the final days of treatment and praying that the remaining 5 sessions would be without incident. Little did we know, this was just a small taste of what was to come!