Saturday, October 29, 2011

Round One in the Ward

Chemotherapy. The very word sounds lethal, conjuring up painful visions of cancer patients suffering through nausea, and hair and weight loss in their fight for survival.

The only treatment known for MGUS, the blood disorder I've been diagnosed with, is chemo. But the good news is that it's a "chemo-lite" called Rituxan. No nausea. No hair loss. The only long-term casualty is my immune system, which will be seriously compromised for at least one year. This means I'll need to avoid air travel, crowds, bubonic plagues, things like that.

o there I sat in the chemo ward as the nurse prepped me about what to expect and things I should do. I may experience flu-like symptoms for a day or two after each treatment. Okeefine. I should drink at least 32 ounces of water to help flush out my system. No problemo. Oh, and speaking of flushing:
"Be sure to flush your toilet twice for the next 48 hours," she told me. "This stuff is bad for your pipes."
Pipes? PIPES? What about my pipes? If she saw the look of horror on my face, she ignored it as she inserted the IV tube and exited stage left. The slow drip had begun.
And it was fine for the first four hours. When my best friend, Pam, learned I was planning on doing the treatment alone, she took the day off work and insisted on accompanying me. Yeah, she's that kind of friend. I hadn't wanted to bother anyone, but found myself grateful for her company. We were discussing diets, men, work, fashion, flipping through store catalogues and stuff like that. We might have been enjoying a conversation over an espresso at Starbucks, if not for that bag dripping the toxic sludge into my arm. Then the nurse came by.
"Just 15 minutes left," she chirped. "You're doing great." Hey, I was!
Her words were still floating through the air when I felt a back ache developing. Probably from sitting in the recliner-type chair for so long, I figured. So I stood up and stretched, and noticed the ache was extending down my legs and up my torso. Then I started to shiver, first a little, then a lot.
Ruh roh, Scooby Doo. Something wasn't right.
Can you get the nurse? " I asked Pam and sat back down. Suddenly my entire body started shaking uncontrollably, like Lindsey Lohan in front of a judge. When a nurse tried taking my temperature, she couldn't find one. Another took my blood pressure, which had dropped to 80/50. I started worrying I might see that infamous "bright light" as a flock of nurses rushed to my side. They heaped heated blankets on me, yanked out the IV and began flushing my veins with a saline solution to cleanse the chemo while pumping me with drugs to counteract the reaction.
Me? I semi-conked out.
And when I awoke a short while later, all was dippity-do-dah-dandy. The shaking had stopped, my temperature was normal, and the chemo was resumed to completion. Almost six hours later, I was done.

Until the next round, that is. Every Friday for three more weeks. It'll be fine. Really.
Let's just hope I can say the same for my toilet.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Very Nerve

Leave it to me to strike that one-in-a-million jackpot. Although in this case, I'm not sure it's a prize that anybody wants.

A couple years ago, I complained to my doctor that my toes were numb. She blamed it on poor circulation and said it was nothing to worry about. Okeefine.
But when I noticed that the numbness and tingling were spreading up my legs, I made another appointment with Dr. Ravishanker. This time I caught her eyebrows raise in concern as she referred me to a neurologist. Have you ever been in the office of a neurologist? They keep scary tools that involve safety pins, cables, water and electrodes. All of which he used on my feet and arms.
I felt nothing.
What followed next was a bone marrow biopsy and CAT scan, a plethora of blood tests and weeks of worrying. Was this Leukemia? Myeloma? Lymphoma? Cooties?
Not a very sexy name. It sounds like a fungus or the name of some military SWAT team deployed to the Middle East. But MGUS Antibody is actually a rare and incurable blood disorder in which my blood is producing proteins, little Pac Mans if you will, that are eating the sheaths of my nerves. Considered a high-risk precurser to Myeloma and Waldenstroms, it's a slow-moving disorder that typically strikes older people in their late 60s and 70s. MGUS isn't thought of as especially serious, since seniors won't usually live long enough to experience repercussions that can include the inability to walk (due to lack of feeling in the limbs).
But as a mere "child" of 53, I will live long enough. God willing. And that's the problem.
To be honest, I'm still not quite grasping the severity, or lack thereof, of this diagnosis. Initially, I didn't tell many people because a health announcement is usually made when there's something serious to announce, like cancer. I'd feel pretty stupid making this grand dramatic statement that, "Oh fiddle dee-dee, I'm withering away from MGUS," and worrying all my friends, only to find, ten years down the road, that my right pinkie is a bit numb, but hey, other than that I'm fine.
Uh, sorry for the needless concern, folks. My bad, ha ha.
That's why I asked my neurologist, who bears a startling resemblance to Bee Gees brother, Robin Gibb, if I should be worried. "Give it to me straight, doc," I said. Just like in the movies. He hesitated and then shrugged. "It's not terminal," he finally replied, "but it's definitely a drag."
And there's no treatment for MGUS, except for one: chemotherapy, which only boasts a one third success rate. Chemo won't cure the disease, but if I respond, it might slow the progression and possibly even regenerate damaged nerves.
Which means I had a decision to make: with just a 33% chance of success, did I want to pollute my pesticide-free-organic-vegetarian body with such a toxic treatment? I wrestled with the decision for several weeks.
And have my first treatment this Friday. Stay tuned for details.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Forgive Me, Bessie

So I did it. Pulled the plug. Finally succumbed to the siren song of high-def TV and threw out my TV of 16 years, Old Bessie. The guys from Video Only installed my new flat screen amidst a plethora of cables and wires, promised me I'd be ecstatic with the enhanced picture, and tossed Old Bessie in the back of their truck.

"Be careful with her," I told them. "She's been good to me." They looked at me like I was nuts. And off they drove, leaving me with my slick new 32" inch Panasonic flat screen high def TV. Whoohoo, party time! I nestled on my sofa, turned it on and awaited nirvana.
Or not. Colors were muddy, faces were orange, and every program on every channel looked like it was filmed in the the dark and dank cave of Saddam Hussein. What the heck?
After making a few panicked phone calls, I learned that a high-def TV is not enough to provide a high-def picture: I must have a high-def cable service as well.
Don't I already have that with DIRECTV? Uh, turns out no.
Okeefine, fine. So I made an appointment for the installation of a new high-def receiver and high-def satellite, all at an additional high-def monthly cost, mind you. But hey, to express their thanks for my customer loyalty, DIRECTV threw in free HBO for three months. This will enable me to watch premium classics such as Police Academy IV, The Wedding Singer and more recent favorites like Knocked Up and Dude, Where's My Car?
After suffering through Oompa-Loompa-colored faces for three days, the DIRECTV technician arrived and made the necessary swaps. Finally, the moment I'd been waiting for! I nestled on my sofa, turned on my slick new 32" inch Panasonic flat-screen high-def TV, and awaited nirvana.
Or not. There they were, the same muddy faces, same dark and dank colors. My slick new 32" inch Panasonic flat-screen high-def TV obviously needed adjusting. Okeefine.

when I retrieved the TV remote to look for any buttons that might provide a clue, I winced and gingerly set it back down. The damn thing resembled the cockpit of the Colombia Space Shuttle. To touch anything on that remote would be to invite hell's fury.
Which might be an improvement. Because right now, in some electronic recycling center, it appears that Old Bessie's having the last laugh. She's reminding me, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Sigh... Amen, Bessie. Amen.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The RCA That Wouldn't Die

Where's a poorly made appliance when you need one?

That's the problem I'm facing with my 16-year old RCA TV. A relic from the previous century, the clunky 600-pound heifer still works fine. Oh sure, channels are slow to change, colors are muddy, and all ethnicities sport an orange complexion, but other than that, Old Bessie keeps pluggin' along.

Damn such fine workmanship! Because I want a flat screen.

But how can I justify buying one? I can't just toss Old Bessie out on the street. I mean really, what kind of thanks would that be for all her years of service? And so, I've been patiently waiting...and waiting for her to go gently into the night so I could make my coveted purchase. However, much like Dick Clark and Cher, I don't think Old Bessie is going anywhere, anytime soon.

To make matters worse, the Panasonic high-definition flat screen I'm lusting after is now on sale. This means that with one quick swipe of my credit card, I too could be privy to every single lurid, detailed aspect of an actor's face, where facial pores look like craters and wrinkles resemble sand dunes. Cool.

And so, I'm bidding a fond farewell to Old Bessie. She's been a grand old dame, but sometimes in life we have to recognize when it's time to hold 'em, fold 'em, and pull the plug.

In this case, literally.
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