By Gideon Schneider
October 24, 2008
I arrived at the hospital for my first chemotherapy session. This appointment was about as appealing a prospect as cleaning for Pessach. The dreaded ‘c' word has so many negative connotations it makes ‘colonic irrigation' seem poetic in contrast. Admittedly, my fears were not grounded in any actual knowledge of what the treatment involved. But in any event, it didn't seem like the type of thing anybody would include on a list of ‘try before you die' experiences.
The ward looked like a 1970s hotel lobby redeemed by leather easy chairs far more comfortable than anything I had at home. I looked for a place to park myself, but all chairs were occupied by other patients. Note to self: next time, turn up early to guarantee a window seat. While waiting, a woman in uniform passed through the ward with a trolley brimming with free sandwiches and a cornucopia of fruit. Singapore Airlines could not match this level of service.
A silent version of musical chairs was being played in the ward. When one person's treatment finished, his vacant spot was greedily filled by the next candidate. I took my seat and was told I'd have to wait, since the expensive chemotherapy drugs could only be concocted after my arrival, like a pricey Gordon Ramsey dish too luxurious to be prepared unless specifically ordered. My sister had come along to keep me company. She found a small table and laid out the playing cards for a stop-gap game of poker. Her hand was stronger so I wasn't exactly put out by the interruption of my attending nurse's arrival.
"Let's get you hooked up." I turned my head away and winced as the nurse jabbed an intravenous line in to my left arm. You'd think with the number of blood tests and operations I've had of late, I'd be used to being treated as a human pin cushion. But the mere sight of a needle is enough to send me curling up into the foetal position and sucking my thumb.
First, a course of anti-sickness drugs was dripped in to my blood stream. This would hopefully counter the effects of the chemotherapy in the upcoming days. No such drugs were offered to counter the effects of the tuna sandwich I had eagerly seized as it was wheeled past. Realising too late that I was the only person in the room who'd actually eaten one, at least I now understood why the trolley is always brimming.
I was next told that I would be receiving a course of drugs known as ABVD. I was also told that each letter stood for a different drug, but the names were less memorable than your average X-factor winner. I do remember that one of the liquefied drugs would enter my body bright red and that I shouldn't be alarmed when it left my body in the same colour.
Two hours and four drugs later, the nurse returned for one final time, to unplug me. That was it. All done. I asked her a further three times if she was sure I could go now. I think by my last request she was worried that the drugs had also affected my hearing. "yes you can go. See you in two weeks for your next session." Part of me felt short changed. I had built this up in my mind so much, I felt I was owed something more dramatic than a pin prick and a bad tuna sandwich. Where were the fireworks, the fanfare? What, in short, had all the fuss been about?
At first I didn't realise how relieved I felt. I arranged to meet a friend that evening. At the last minute, when I had already arrived at our meeting point, the friend called to apologise that he would have to cancel. Oddly, I found myself welling up with tears. Not since Rachel finally got back together with Ross had tears so unashamedly gushed to the surface. Those weeks of pent up frustration, anger and fear had burst my emotional dams, and the petty annoyance of being stood up was all the pretext I needed to cry like it was an Olympic sport.
With my tear ducts more dried than the Treasury's coffers, a sense of triumph swept over me. I felt like I had been up Everest and back, though I'd only been as far as Warren Street. And in a fortnight I'd be doing it all again. Only this time I'd be bring my own lunch.