I didn’t blog yesterday because I spent Saturday night in the hospital.
Right, now I’ve got your attention, here’s the story…
The thing they stress about chemotherapy is that it shrinks the cancer by stopping the cells from dividing, but this also affects your normal cells, including the ones responsible for the immune system. This means you have to be ultra-careful about avoiding infection, because even something apparently trivial can rip through your system and become life-threatening. The hospital has a 24/7 Acute Oncology number which you can ring with any question at any time, and they give a list of symptoms which they recommend you check and call about. One of these is temperature outside the range 36-37°C (low temperature can be a sign of infection as well as high).
This was all explained at a ‘Demystifying Chemotherapy’ talk that I went two a couple of weeks ago, and it is pretty damn scary, but I put the number into my phone, (telling myself I’d probably never need to use it) and bought an electronic thermometer.
On Saturday afternoon I was sitting in the kitchen at the laptop, feeling a bit chilly, though I knew that it wasn’t really that cold, in fact it was warm enough for the thermostat to stop the radiators coming on, the first week it’s been that warm. I took my temperature anyway and it was 35.8°C, which is below the bottom limit, but then, it was only a cheap thermometer, maybe it’s not that reliable. And the heating was actually off at that moment, it would be coming on again later. So probably not really worth triggering a phone call to the hospital. No, not really. I put an extra cardi on.
I kept checking my temperature at odd times through the afternoon and early evening, hoping that it would have gone back into the normal band. When it dropped to 35.3°C, I decided maybe I should call that number after all.
I explained the situation to the nurse who answered, then she spoke to another nurse, and called me back, and at last said that I should pack an overnight bag and come to the hospital. This was about 9.00pm. I explained I’m on my own and there was no one to bring me.
‘You can call 999, but it will probably take about 2 hours, so if you can afford to get a taxi, do that.’
In a panic, I grabbed my backpack and threw in a nightie, dressing gown, change of undies, tablet, Kindle. Rang for a taxi, which arrived almost straight away, and sent me further into panic as I tried to think of what else I needed to take with me. The text told me the driver’s name was Eugene Ionescu, which was pretty weurd in itself – who gets driven to hospital in the middle of the night by an absurdist dramatist of the French Avant-garde??? The whole situation felt disturbingly surreal, especially when I got into the back of the huge minibus and couldn’t find either my cash purse or my phone, and continued to rummage through my bags while we drove through the Saturday-evening streets.
At the hospital I explained to the driver that I had cards but not cash – he couldn’t take the card, but was happy to wait while I went into the hospital and withdrew cash to pay him – in fact he was really nice and kind and had the right change ready when I rushed back and thrust the tenner into his hand, quite a contrast with my past experiences of Romanian taxi drivers (in Romania.)
I went up to the Acute Oncology ward where a lovely Fillipino nurse called Ana took me to a private room (‘the one with the nicest view!’), smiled and laughed with me and was kind, took my vital signs and a blood sample, brought a cup of tea and penicillin on an IV. Suddenly all the fear was gone. It was out of my hands, I was here with people who cared and would look after me, who knew what they were doing and what was needed. I relaxed. I’d done the hard part – the phone call, the packing, the getting the taxi, the paying the taxi, the finding my way here. That was all terrifying, because it was down to me, my responsibility – but here I was safe, all I had to do was do as I was told and all would be well – or if not well, at least as well as it could be.
A young doctor came and I spoke to him about the slight chestiness and dry tickly cough I’ve been feeling the last few days, we talked about managing my asthma and the fact that I’ve had a flu jab – ‘Excellent! You’re one of the good ones!’ was his verdict – they x-rayed my chest and that was clear. They kept me in overnight but in the morning one of the oncologists from my consultant’s team came and spoke to me and said everything was fine and I could go home. I found my phone in my backpack (but not the charger), and I’d forgotten to take my chemo meds with me, so must remember to do that if there’s ever a next time – but they weren’t unduly worried – ‘…you’ll be okay to miss this once…’ (actually I had them when I got home). No one was impatient with me or made me feel that I’d wasted their time or was a fraud – as I said to nurse Ana ‘…sorry if this is a false alarm… but actually I hope it is a false alarm!!!’)
I came home with another friendly taxi driver, thinking: I can do this – even though I live on my own and am a long way from my family (my choices and I don’t regret them), I can do this because there is a system and procedures and people who will help me, and there are things I can do to manage situations like this better next time.