I really hate hospitals now.
When I was 9, I was in the hospital for 17 days because of a ruptured appendix. I was in for a week, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong, was out for 3 days (sang in a choir concert) and after another round of tests, they promptly brought me in for surgery and 10 days of recovery there. But the funny thing is, I didn’t hate hospitals after that. Sure, it wasn’t my favorite thing, but overall, it wasn’t so bad. I’ve had quite a bit of experience since then too – 4 more surgeries, 2 of them were knee reconstructions, and still hospitals didn’t really bother me.
This summer I’ve gotten to spend some time at the Massey Cancer Center at MCV, while my sister gets chemotherapy. People often talk about chemo as this sorta sterile, mundane thing – sure it makes people feel terrible and their hair falls out, but it’s like this one injection and then they’re done… or at least, that’s the way I used to think about it.
The whole process is an ordeal in itself – checking in, getting a wristband, having a nurse get bloodcounts… waiting, more waiting, getting vitals checked, see if you’ve lost any more weight… waiting, waiting, more waiting.
Finally, we’re going back to the treatment room (why do they say treatment, as if it’s a treat?). It’s a big room with 12 teal recliners – full of people attached to their IV drip machines, and their loved ones nearby. Tiffanie, her friends, and I look out of place, like we’re crashing an AARP meeting – most folks are much older. Some people are REALLY sick, super-thin, and listless. Others peppy and talkative.
More waiting while all the anti-nausea, anti-anxiety, anti-histamine drips go in – to help these toxic chemicals go down easier. The syrupy mary poppins song ” a spoonful of sugar” runs through my head. The nurses are very careful not to get it on the skin as it will give one a chemical burn. We wait as the IV drips in the “medicine” and hope to God that each little drop will do its work in killing cancer cells, and not kill any more good cells. Chemo patients can feel the medicine going in, and feel worse and worse as the medicine gets in there.
The one bright spot are the nurses. No offense to the doctors out there, but I think maybe the nurses are the ones who deserve more prestige. Everyone knows which ones are really good – the ones who care a little more, anticipate some need, are ready with a smile (not fake or overly perky like the candy-striper type soccer mom offering cokes and crackers – really, if the patient looks like she wants to throw up, she reallly doesn’t want your snacks). Charlie is the best one in this particular place – he’s got long hair tied back in a ponytail, a “wage peace” button on his ID tag. He listens to NPR and asked me about the Old Testament class I took this summer. But besides the fact that all those things are cool – the real reason is that he cares for people really well.
Maybe I don’t hate hospitals so much really, it’s just I hate what the medicine is doing to my sister. Watching someone puke their guts out a coupla times is no fun, and it’s really hard for me to watch her get her bloodwork done. When I’m the patient, it doesn’t really bother me, but watching someone I care about deal with it all… that’s pretty crummy.
I’m glad I came home this summer, in some ways it’s gone by way too fast – I go back to Austin in a few days, to what seems like a whole ‘nother world. No more actual hospital visits for awhile, and plenty of work to keep me preoccupied. Having been here and lived the family life for almost 2 months, I’m more emotionally vested now than ever.