Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Day After...

*The following is a harsh account of a post-chemo episode. Some images may be disturbing. If you are sensitive to such images, please discontinue reading. - JM
Saturday morning.
The night was rough. My ribs ached. My mouth was sandpaper. My throat was full of razorblades.
I would begin to get queasy a few days before. It was always right on schedule. Every three weeks.
Friday would start in the clinic. Drab grays and dusty tile. Old, throwaway toys littered the corners. The same old nurse who I figured out years later must have been a chronic smoker always welcomed me in. She always had a candy in her mouth and her hair was ridiculously red even though she was probably closing in on 60.
The long narrow hallways was a waiting area. I would be with other kids - all of us waiting our turn.
One by one the children in the clinic all disappeared into the single rooms. You had to wait for the call. Someone would poke their head out and yell your name, and like a prisoner to the gallows, you trudged into a small antechamber before hitting the brightly lit, still all gray, patient room.
There was always another unfortunate, usually a younger child, screaming somewhere in some closed doored room. It was definitely unsettling. A mass of nurses and doctors would head in the general direction of the screeches. It was a common symphony but one I didn't dwell on. All that mattered was when the door opened to the inner clinic. It was showtime then.
The doctors knew who you were. The schedule dictated everything. Every three weeks. Mazzenga.
Typically a doctor would poke, prod, and question. It was the preface to the sonnet. He or she would disappear behind the door and once again, I would have long moments to ponder the inevitable.
One of my parents was always with me, usually my mother, but conversation was minimal. There just wasn't much to say - this was business.
The door would push open finally and one or two nurses followed by the same doctor would come in. I don't remember anyone ever smiling.
A plastic spit tray held a syringe and an IV pole rolled in with a few bags of magic Drano ready to be poured into my veins. My stomach would lurch at this point. I couldn't help it.
I learned during my chemo trials that it didn't matter whether I ate or not the day of treatment. I was just as nauseous from not eating than I was from having a full day of food. It all came out later, literally.
The struggle to find a vein was hard to deal with. One. Three. Six sticks later the Drano begins to flow. I feel a small burn and the bile in my throat begins to well up. I learned to 'disconnect' from pain this way. Just cut your arm from the rest of your body, mentally. Let it go. Let them do their damage.
The whole process lasted an hour or more. I was usually one of the last to leave the clinic and I always remember the walk back to the parking lot. I always felt 'changed'. Like some sort of poison was inching its way through my body.
Queasiness took over with sudden quickness. Sometimes I wouldn't even make it home. My mother learned early on to have bags and small containers ready in case I vomited before getting to the house.
If I survived the ride, I was met with what should have been sweet smells of dinner cooking. I would simply walk to the couch. That was my home for the night. I rarely made it to my bed.
The couch was a shrine for the evening. 6 pm and my dad would be arriving from work soon.
I would just lay there. I would shun sudden movements. Anything to avoid the unavoidable. I was so nauseous that after a short time, I avoided swallowing my own saliva. I would slowly spit into a large bucket.
My head would begin to swim and headaches were commonplace. The rush would come and no matter how much I steeled myself it was always more savage than I could expect.
The vomiting, itself, was violent. Whatever food was in my system would simply not exist within me any longer. There was a putrid acrid odor that would swirl around me as the hollow sounds of a bucket filling up with my insides resounded through my skull. My ears would be plugged and my nose would often fill with body fluids cascading into a container of mess.
I would imagine I was a monster, transforming each time my innards exploded. My parents worked tirelessly to empty the bucket only to be filled with material that wasn't even food after a point.
After the first hour, my body would convulse. Nothing left to come out but nonetheless, the convulsions continued.
My ribs would squeeze and I could only gulp for air just enough to dry heave again.
Funny enough, I remember the television in the background. I threw up past the evening news and then the Friday night Prime Time shows would start their run. I just kept my eyes shut through it all. Light sensitive. Smell sensitive. Just plain over sensitive.
It was usually around 10 pm or so when the tide began to ebb. I was toast. It was a bad college party for a 7 year old. Sometimes I simply slept on the couch for the night. Others, I actually made it to bed.
It was the morning after that was most sobering. My stomach roiled still - scared to touch anything to do with food. Breathing was killer. My ribs and stomach muscles were shot. I would be hunched over for the day, dehydrated. The taste of bile lingered. To this day I still get flashbacks with certain foods and aromas from the day after episodes.
Yeah I thought I was still tripping once the cartoons began.
It would take most of the weekend to return to 'normal'. Summer weekends meant back to baseball, and winters, spoke of playing football in the middle of the street.
I still remember, and sometimes feel, the recovery. My ball of twine that I eat for breakfast now pales to the Cocoa Pebbles I eventually gulped down during those recovery mornings.
I had weathered the storm. In a few weeks, I would be a mess again. I don't remember how long the trial went on but it was long enough. It defined me and at times, I resent that. I still live with the scars.
And I still remember the day after. With luck, I'll remember many days after this as well.


  1. You should have called me back then. I would have ridden my bike over and brought you a wash cloth and held your head.
    What a terrible episode! It seems you got the cancer back recently? WTH? The pieces of Joe are coming together.
    Thinking of you...

  2. Powerful.. as always. A true survivor and mentor to many.


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