Thorne Takes July 2010 094On my last visit to the Oncology clinic up on the hill, the sky was full of blue and the curving stone path leading there was lined with Azalea bushes sweeping up and around to the front entrance of the Physician’s Pavilion. The front doors open automatically into the lobby. Taking a left down the wide hallway pressing through another set of double doors I am, once again, in the light, southwest facing waiting room with its wall full of windows, the Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic at the Center for Hematological Malignancies at prestigious OHSU. Patients and their respective care givers sit together in assorted groups, some have face masks on, some have snug caps over their hairless heads. Being bald is surprisingly cold.

The mood in the room is cordial with a mild and remote heaviness. Some people are here for their first visit and it shows, heads full of hair and a face full of questions. This isn’t somewhere you would ever hope to be. Once you’ve checked in, you wait and when your time has come, the nurse comes to get you. Then off through the next set of double doors leading down the wide hallway lined with private exam rooms and the Doctor’s offices, the social workers office and ending, at the infusion room.

Three rows of cream reclining chairs stretch out just past the nurse’s station. IV bags full of various things including medication, blood, platelets, water and chemotherapy, hang on silver holders with wheels attached to the patient in case there is a need to visit the laboratory. I saw familiar faces here, those kind eyes and sincere smiles on the faces of such kind, worthy and remarkable men and women who show up, everyday, to foster better health. I don’t know how they do it. While many of us who are afflicted with a crummy case of cancer do survive and go on to live out our “new normal” lives away from the tugs and pokes of IVs, the compassionate and very capable nurses and doctors and social workers, live with it. I met who nurse who told me twenty-five years ago, when she started her work in Oncology, the only treatment they had for nausea was a plastic bucket. She had seen it all. Whenever I come here I can’t help but remember that this place has seen a piece of me. The memories of the many days spent here as a patient sweep down the hall like songs from another time in life. As I’m sitting in the exam room waiting for my Dr. to come tell me I am on the path to health and well being, I can’t help but remember…

I woke up one morning in the weeks following my stem cell transplant, it must have been a Sunday and my nose started to bleed, slowly at first but steady. I remember being really irritated holding one hand over my eyes and the other on my nose. It just would not stop. My mom, advocate of many folk medicine cures had taught me things like; a generous sprinkle of pepper will stop a bleeding cut and does not sting; a piece of grocery bag or newspaper folded in half and small enough to fit under your lip helps stop an insistent nose bleed. I had had several nose bleeds in the weeks prior to this day and I remember being so irritated at that moment. Bloody noses are messy. I just really wanted to go back to bed. I tried the newspaper under the upper lip thing to no avail.
And then, my mom who has a solid and genuine intuition arrives, unannounced. She knocks on the front door and lets herself in. She just showed up (!) while I was feeling exasperated and gross. This was not a grateful moment for me, I was not thinking about how positively cancer had engaged a change in perspective, I was not grateful for having found the life saving help of an unrelated donor in a foreign land. I was unable to look at the bright side in that place. I can only hope it didn’t show. I am rocked with the sense that I might never feel better and the inconvenience of a persistently bloody nose becomes overwhelming mentally, physically and emotionally. I feel out of control.

My mom does her damnedest to get it to stop, it does not. She wants to and is required to call the nurse because this is one of the three big red flags; bleeding, fever, vomiting, these all mandate a call. Rema, the nurse, wants to call an ambulance. Mom knows I don’t even want to go to the hospital and so she carefully navigates a plan to bring me straight away, safely. She doesn’t tell me she’s made a deal until much later in the day. For now, we get rolls of toilet paper stuck to the front of my face and head up the hill.

As I remember, it was a Sunday. Nurse Jana led us to the back of the clinic into a private room with a large reclining chair for me, a sink and space enough for three helpers. All of the attention is focused on the nose. The lights are bright. I feel sick and really just sick of feeling sick. The blood that has been running down my throat is heaved into a bin held in front of my tired, cranky café. I am not a morning person, even in the best of times. I’m smiling now at the memory of this because, the plot thickens. While waiting for the platelets some-one friendly healthy person in the world has donated I find it’s time to use the bathroom. You should know that the normal range for platelet counts, the cells that help your body clot blood (extremely useful during a nose bleed) is somewhere between 170-400 units. Mine is at 3. The sharp eyed nurses help me up and walk me across the big room and I enter the bathroom just opposite the nurse’s station. I enter and for some unknown reason, I lock the door behind me. Mom is standing just outside the door. This is where it gets good. They told this story around the clinic for several weeks after it happened.

I shuffle across the bathroom floor, one hand on my nose and sit on the toilet. Next thing I know, I’m waking up. Lost consciousness wake to a pool of blood between my feet, this is not good I think to myself. I have never passed out before except maybe after a drinking spree but those few times I don’t remember. I was stone cold sober and passed out on the toilet. What! I remember getting to the door, opening it and falling face first, into my mother’s open arms. I come back to consciousness again staring up at my blood which has splattered all over the nurses pants.

It all worked out. And there I am in the clinic this season, years after this fateful day looking like a normal person, back to worrying about the things that really, probably, don’t matter much. Do these pants make my butt look fat? More than at the time, I appreciate what I’ve been given. I accept it. I have moments of sincere gratitude and aspire for more of those. The clinic reminds me that I’ve had my moments and on the days now, every few months, when I go to visit that particular place, it resonates in me.

Written Sept 2009

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