Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hickman=My Man

I don't know who this guy Hickman was, but he could sure make a mean catheter.
No no, not that kind of catheter. I'm talking about the central venous kind. Still don't know what I'm talking about? Well you're probably not the only one.

During my stay in ICU, it became apparent that I would be needing a lot of things pumped into me over the coming months. Most obvious would be the chemotherapy I'd get, but then also there would be pints(and pints and pints and pints) of blood, platelets(even more than the blood) medications(three cheers for morphine), and fluids. This would be way too much for a regular IV line to handle, and the veins in my arm would probably be "blown." I don't quite know what that means, but it sounds unpleasant.
So, on my last day in the ICU, when I was feeling relatively(relative to what, I don't know) better, they transferred me onto a stretcher and rolled me down to the surgery wing to get a Hickman central venous catheter inserted into my chest. I was informed that the procedure would be done while I was awake, and would take around 45 minutes, so I wasn't too excited about it.
When I got to the surgery wing, I was greeted by a male nurse who looked like a black-haired Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. I'd come to learn over the coming months that lots of male nurses work on the pipes as much as possible. Are they overcompensating for some kind of potential reverse-sexism thing? I hope not, because being a nurse is a noble profession, and the world needs great nurses. I met more nurses than I can possible count or remember, and just about all of them took great pride in their work, and were excellent at what the did.

Anyway, on to the surgery. Thankfully, it sure didn't seem like 45 minutes, and it didn't hurt a bit. When it was over, I had something stuck in my that looks like the picture at the top of this post...only in colour...and in HD...and with a bit of blood seeping out from behind a bandage.

So I was all set for what was to come. I was feeling stronger, I had my brand new catheter that would mean no more stabbing from insane vein hunters, and I was to be moved to a brand new room with no monstrosity behind me, my own bathroom, and no windows on the door for anyone's viewing pleasure.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


It was about noon that a porter came by to transfer me to the ICU. I remember because they had to bring my lunch with me. They didn't really have to bring it, since I didn't eat it, but they did anyway. In fact, i didn't eat lunch or any other meal for the next 5 days or so. My room in the ICU was a lot different than the one from which they had brought me. The ward room had been to seem comfortable, homey. It had a couch, it had closets and cupboards, and a little bedside table with a phone on it. The head of the bed was set against the wall, and there was a curtain you could roll across for privacy, as well as a big door to the room. The ICU room was set up differently. There was no couch, nor were there any closets that I could see. There were cupboards, but they were obviously only for medical supplies. I couldn't see a phone, although I never looked very hard for one. The bed was in the middle of the room, with the head up against a monstrosity of machinery with all sorts of plugs and knobs and readings on it. It was humming as well, and would start beeping when I was hooked up to it. I got a look at it when i was wheeled in, but didn't really look at it again. There was also no curtain to roll around the bed, nor was there a big door for privacy. There was a curtain, but it went over the large glass sliding window that served as the opening to the room, and even when it was rolled closed, there was a little window so the hospital staff could keep an eye on things.

Once safely deposited on the bed, I was connected to the monstrosity behind me. A blood pressure wrap was put on my right arm, and it would automatically take my pressure every hour for the length of my stay on the floor. I was also hooked up to a bunch of little sticky things on my chest that measured my heart rate and heart beat 24 hours a day. I would hear beeping and whirring from behind my head constantly for the next few days.

A nurse was at my side almost immediately, ready with a syringe of morphine and a rundown of the way things were gonna work. I was to be in what they were calling amongst themselves "reverse isolation". i was to be protected from infection, but I could still have visitors. These visitors must sanitize themselves before they came in, however. If for any reason I was to leave the ICU for tests or anything like that, I was to wear a mask. I wasn't to use the washroom. It was shared with the room next to me, and they didn't want to have to sanitize it every time my next-door neighbour used it. There was a little commode rolled in next to my bed with a lid on it, and I was to use that and call the nurse each time I used it. This was fine with me, because with how weak I was feeling, the bathroom looked way too far away to get to anyway, at least without a wheelchair, or a complicated set of pulleys.

I didn't read, or watch much TV, or even converse with my constant companions, Tiffany and my father, during the first few days. I don't remember much of those, so addled was my brain with drugs and whatever else was going on in my body. I remember my father reading to me from Spin magazine at one point, and watching Cheaper by the Dozen 2 on TV with Tiffany at another(there really wasn't anything else to watch). Tiff had managed to somehow weasle herself a little seat thing that she could almost stretch out on, and then somehow managed to talk the nurse into allowing her to spend the night(which was apparently against procedure in the ICU). Fearing for my health, Tiff spent that first night wearing a mask and gloves. She tells me she didn't sleep, and I believe her. Not only did she have the germ-hindering paraphernalia to contend with, but she apparently stayed up all night watching my heart-rate reach bizarre levels while I slept. I, in turn, slept in 15 to 20 minute intervals, waking every so often to check that I was, in fact, in the hospital, or to drag myself with much grunting and difficulty to the commode. When I moved myself the foot and a half off the bed to the little seat with the whole in it, apparently my heart-rate would jump even higher, and this would give Tiff even less reason to sleep. Unfortunately, the anti-biotics I was taking were causing me to need to use that commode several times a night. So, I wasn't happy about having to exert so much energy just to take a crap, Tiff wasn't happy because she was(rightfully) scared, and I'm sure the nurse wasn't too happy about having to clean up the potty every time.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Morning: January 19, 2007

Throughout all of this stuff, I was taken for a test or two on my arm(x-ray, I believe) and had some more painkillers. Tiff had given my parents the news about probably having to be in the hospital for a few days, so my dad had offered to hop on a flight the next morning to keep me company for the stay. It was around 3:30am on January 19th by the time they wheeled me out of the ER and brought me to a ward to settle down for the night. I was placed in a private room(or at least a room with no one else in it) with a little couch-like thing that Tiff stretched out on. I have no idea if she slept, but with a head full of morphine and body finally off of a stretcher and into a decent imitation of a real bed, I was able to conk out.

I don't know what time we were awakened at, but it was early. I'm pretty sure it was still dark out when the infectious diseases doctor came in. After my last entry, Tiff assures me that the doctor who came in the morning was a different doctor than the one who spoke with us the night before, but with the amount of doctors I saw in those few days, I remember them as being the same. There's almost no doubt that Tiff's right, of course. Anyway, this doctor confirmed(again) that I had an infection, and that I'd be treated with more anti-biotics, and asked me all those same questions I was asked the night before. He even did the injection move, much to my enjoyment. He didn't really have anything too new or exciting to say.

It wasn't until later that the excitement started. That morning, and the next few days after, are quite a bit of a blur. Things started happening quickly, I had a lot of medication, and a lot of people were in an out of my life quickly. I doubt that after the ID guy left Tiff and I would have gone back to sleep. There was just too much going on. At some point very early, Tiff's dad Ted stopped by for a visit, probably on his way to work. There were a few doctors in and out, nurses of course, and then my own Dad came, I'm assuming mid-morning. He had an overnight bag with him with a few changes of clothes since he was only planning on staying a few days. He'd come right from the airport.

I was in a "regular" hospital ward, where they treat people who have common-enough issues, like, I assume, infections and serious fevers and broken legs, and things like that. At some point, someone decided that whatever I had wasn't "common" at all, and I'd have to be transferred to the ICU. I even had the doctor on call for the ward I was in at the moment tell me that he really wasn't comfortable treating me because he only dealt with "family" medicine. Great to know I was in good hands.

All this time, we were under the impression that I had an infection, I would get treated for it, and I'd be home in a week or less. No one had mentioned anything further than this since the ER doctor mentioned the "L" word as being a possibility. But sometime that morning, someone came in and dropped the bomb. There would be further tests done, but the bloodwork and whatever else they look at to test for these things, pointed to a high likelihood that I had some type of Leukemia. I wish I could make the moment sound more dramatic, but like I said, things were a blur and I don't even remember who gave us the news. I'm sure when I heard the words I looked over at Tiff to guage her reaction, but I don't remember what it was. I was a bit shocked, having previously thought myself invincible, but I got over it pretty fast I think. I knew nothing about Leukemia, and I recall asking the question, "Is that a type of Cancer?" I'm sure we had a lot of questions, but I don't think the doctor who gave the news had many answers. An oncologist would be by to see me later that day, apparently, who would go over everything in detail that I would need to know. After a bit, the room cleared of everyone but me and Tiffany. She came over to the bed, and gave me a big hug. We both shed a few tears, her out of fear for me(I'm assuming) and me out of fear that she was scared. I think I'd kind of already decided that I wasn't going to be scared of anything regarding myself. Some people might call this brave or heroic or something, but it was nothing so noble. It was probably something closer to denial, and I've been living off it for 14 months now.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Back To Our Story: January 18, 2007 cont.

During this time, while the nurse was coming back and forth and I was being hydrated, Tiff was not sitting idly by, and nor were the doctors. Tiff went back and forth to the waiting room to call the various parents to keep them updated. She was also keeping me company of course, but I doubt I was a very interesting conversationalist.

I remember waiting for quite some time to see a doctor, but eventually, not long after my blood was taken, a female doctor came in wearing a mask. She explained that she was wearing a mask because she was pregnant, and she was dealing with patients with various unknown ailments, and didn't want to risk anything. She did what I imagine to be the usual doctor routine, checking pulses, blood pressure, sticking the little light thingie into my mouth and ears, and all that sort of stuff. She also checked out my arm by picking it up and rubbing it up and down pretty hard.
"Does that hurt?"
"Umm...actually no, not while you're doing that."
"Or maybe you're just really tough?"
"Umm...actually no. Not really."
She was fine with continuing on the pain "regimen" the nurse had started, and said she'd come back when the blood results came in. She was of the opinion that I probably had some type of infection, and I'd need to be on antibiotics.

When she came back, she had my blood results and asked a bunch of questions about my behaviours, even miming sticking a needle in her arm while asking if I used drugs. I'm pretty sure the answer was "no" to just about all of her questions.
"Okay, so...I'm going to get an infectious diseases specialist to come in and see you, because you probably have some sort of infection."
Hmmmm...okay, that didn't sound too bad.
"The other thing is...and I'm not a specialist so this is probably way off base, but I'm going to have someone else look at your results, because, and I repeat, this is just a precaution, you may have Leukemia."
The nice doctor looked distressed when she said this, but it didn't bother me. I knew I didn't have Leukemia. I had an infection.
Tiff didn't seem to distressed either, or at least she didn't show it if she did. She went out and called around about the news, including the phony Leukemia suspicion.

Eventually the disease specialist came by to talk to us. He looked like a stereotypical doctor. Dark hair, nerdy glasses, all he needed was a white coat and a stethoscope...of which he had both of course. He asked me all the same questions the previous doctor asked, and he also did the needle in the arm motion. I guess they teach that in medical school. After all his questions were asked and answered, we were still at a loss as to how I might have contracted whatever this condition was. He then looked at me a little fearfully.
" I just have one more question...I'm sorry to have to ask this...I'm sure it'll come up negative, but we have to check everything," I'm pretty sure he was sweating at this point, he was so nervous, "so we'll probably end up doing an HIV test...again, just to be sure. Is that okay?" He looked embarrassed, and scared that I was going to freak out on him.
"Oh, that's fine." He seemed relieved that I didn't get indignant about his "assault on my character. I didn't bother pointing out that even if I did end up having HIV, it could have been all Tiffany's fault as opposed to mine, couldn't it?
He finally confirmed that I did, indeed, have some sort of infection, and he'd be starting me on some antibiotics. He didn't know the exact type of infection, but he would be back in the morning with more information. I asked him how long I'd have to be in the hospital.
"Oh...I'd say maybe a few days, but probably closer to a week."
I'm sure the look I gave him made him feel like he'd shot my dog.
"A whole week? Oh my god, this sucks."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Interlude: February 25, 2008

I had a shower this evening. That's not news in and of itself...but it was an interesting shower nonetheless.
Since I still have very little hair, it's not really practical for us to buy me my own shampoo, or to waste space in the shower with my own bottle, so I use whatever's there.
Tonight, I used a shampoo with a label that said "Hey 2-in-1 princess, get ready to protect your precious colour-treated hair."

Cancer takes away so much...including, apparently, manliness.

January 18, 2007, cont...

So I got all trussed up in my green and white gown, leaving my socks and boxers on of course, and crawled into the little stretcher thing set out in the centre of the room. Tiff plunked herself into the little plastic chair off in the corner. Like I mentioned, I’d never been myself admitted to the hospital, but I’d waited with Tiff and Gabby before in the ER when they were sick, so I knew a few things. One: despite our relatively quick admittance, we’d be waiting a long time to see a doctor; and two: Tiff’s butt was gonna be sore from that chair after about 15 minutes. It might have been unjustified, but I felt horribly guilty about both of these things. I didn’t want to cause anyone else discomfort.

A male nurse showed up pretty quickly though, and took my vitals again. Still, they meant nothing to me. I was pretty sure even if they were bad, it was just the flu doing its thing. He didn’t say much, but came back a short while later with an IV drip. Oh great. I hadn’t had a needle stuck in me since I was a kid, and now I was going to have a whole tube shoved into my arm. Luckily, he found a vein pretty quickly (more on my veins later), and hooked me up to the IV, which apparently only contained fluids, with as little whining and complaining from me as I could possibly manage. He reassured me that in a little while most people with my symptoms would start feeling better just from the hydration. I believed him, although my arm was still killing me and I didn’t think the fluids would help that. He left and came back with some kind of “super-acetominophen”, as he called it.

Somewhere during this time, a woman with a rolling cart holding all sorts of unpleasant looking tubes and syringes showed up to take my blood. I really hadn’t been looking forward to this, but since I’d seen Tiff have blood taken and give birth, I figured I should just suck it up and let the woman do her thing with as little fuss as possible. So, I stuck out my right arm, looked off to my left, and followed her instructions to flex/breathe/whistle/whatever. I’m pretty sure I didn’t fully cry, but a single drop might have found it’s way out and splashed on my new gown…but it also might have been a tear of joy…because I was so happy…

45 minutes after I was given the "super-acetompinohpen", (I know because I was timing it) my arm was still killing me. In fact, it was getting worse all the time. Luckily, the nurse came in around that time, and I was able to explain to him in the nicest way possible that I would really appreciate something that can actually help with pain. He almost looked like he didn't believe me, but came back with a syringe...and a syringe, I knew, meant business.
"This is morphine," he said. "Just a little bit, but it should take care of your pain, but it also might make you feel nauseous and drowsy."
He said this while I pushed it into my IV line. "Okay, you should be feeling drowsy now," he said almost immediately after he'd finished. Strangely enough, I'd been feeling sleepy all day, but I sure didn't at that moment. He then said it would take about 10 minutes for the morphine to fully work. I was definitely going to be counting down those minutes.

10 minutes later...and my arm was freaking killing me. 15 minutes...freaking killing me...20 get the picture. I can't remember if at this point I called the nurse or if he just happened to come, but I ended up getting another shot of morphine about an hour after the first...and my arm was still freaking killing me. Eventually I got a third morphine shot, after which the pain finally subsided, but this didn't happen until much later in the night.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Since the writers strike is over...

I figured I should maybe get back to my story. Sorry about the long time between posts...but I really have no excuse, so let's just move on, shall we? We continue on January 18, 2007:

The ER was pretty busy when we got there, and there was no way I could stand while waiting in the long line to check in. I shuffled off to an empty seat, got my arm as comfortable as possible, and Tiff went to line up. Diane had taken Gabby home. I sat and watched as a young man holding a bandage to his head checked in, and thought that my issues were nothing compared to that guy. I figured gaping headwounds would take precedence over fevers and sore arms when it comes time for the triage nurse to decide who needs to be seen first.

Tiff was at the front of the line within only a few minutes, so I hauled myself out of the chair and joined her at the desk. The nurse behind the desk asked some questions, and with each one she asked my head seemed to pound even more. It was the most I'd stood for a couple days, and I wasn't doing too well with it. I still tried to downplay my symptoms, thinking that most of the people around me probably had "real" problems, but Tiff, being the paranoid overprotective crazy that she is, she "upplayed" what I tried to downplay. At some point, the nurse asked me if I always looked so pale. I told her I did, since as a lot of you know, I'm the whitest man in the world, but Tiff pointed out (correctly) that I definitely didn't look this pale all the time.

We quickly were put through to another nurse who took my vitals. This was a new experience for me. I'd never had my vitals taken before. Blood pressure, temperature, and an O2 level were taken. Other than my temperature, I had no idea what any of my readings meant, or if they were good or bad....but within minutes we were ushered into a small private room ahead of a lot of people that were in line before us, including the guy with the head wound. I was given my very first hospital gown to change into for the very first time I'd ever been admitted to a hospital.