Sunday, May 26, 2013

Oh, The Places You’ll Go (with apologies to Dr. Seuss!)

This is my sixth hospitalization since I got the stunning good news that I was part of an exclusive club of cancer survivors.  It’s my understanding that the day you get your diagnosis, you are a survivor the same way you are an alumnus even if you don’t graduate.  That doesn’t sound so good, does it?  It applies nonetheless.  I’m both, yet of different institutions, I guess. So, I’m in the hospital for my third round of consolidation chemotherapy.  That keeps the cancer in remission and ready to receive my bone marrow transplant should an approved donor be ready to step up to the plate and pass on some stem cells to me.  According to the transplant unit in Seattle, that should be happening roughly within the next 5-9 weeks, but since this is the VA, it might take a bit longer. Suffice it to say, I’m really, really ready to get this process over and done with and return to some modicum of ‘normal,’ regardless of what that new normal looks like.  Simple things like going to work, enjoying a night out, and all the many things I took for granted would be really nice.  I’m still looking forward to seeing what’s on the other side of this tunnel as well. You don’t go through this kind of ordeal and not find the silver, gold, platinum, and other linings that have precious little to do with metals and everything to do with character.

I think it has quite a lot to do with patience and perseverance if my current experience has any bearing on the long-term. It would be far easier to put up with the endless needles, medications, inquiries into my bowel movements, institutional food, and the waiting if the weather was cold and miserable outside, but the spring has sprung, the temperatures are perfect, and well…I’m staring at the four walls of a pastel pea green hospital room. And when you’re looking at the same sorts of things day in and day out, your mind wanders to many places it wouldn’t otherwise go.

Oh, the places you will go!

If you’re a Dr. Seuss aficionado, you’ll recognize the allusion. I think it’s one of his finest books because it applies to both the young and old at heart.  I’ve given it as a gift to graduates and have treasured it myself because it’s not just the silly, whimsical pictures and rhymes, but a story of experience. So, while I have the luxury suite at the VA again – damn the bad luck! – I have done a lot of observation.  Now, without further ado, here’s the fun that I found out about room 2C16!

-          There is apparently a ghost haunting this room. I’ve been asked if I saw him since I tend to be awake in the wee hours of the morning…but alas, no, I have not seen anything other than the usual, although I have to admit, it would be pretty cool! One of my night nurses insists he has seen him and there are two other nurses, one of which is on a different floor and one that works this one that tell the tale of how the ghost moved a chair behind a patient who would have otherwise fallen while the attending nurse was getting the bathroom ready for the patient’s shower.  Side note: the ghost was attributed to monkeying with the nurse call in a locked room down the hall the other night (cue the spooky music). I’m tempted to throw on a sheet, take the walker off the wall, and after hitting the nurse call, just stand out in the hall until he sees me…just for shock value. Then again, it seems to me that he’d get the last laugh at my expense!

-          Although I am one of the very few patients who is up and around and walking, I was labeled a ‘fall risk.’ It was this pretty star outside my room and I thought I had been promoted to admiral, but alas, no.  The safety tsar was out and about and we were all fall hazards.  I found out if it’s a shooting star, you’ve fallen at some point during this hospitalization.  No special notation this time around.

-          Chemo has the same special property as asparagus and coffee:  can you guess?  OK, it makes your urine smell really foul. And I note that my average bladder capacity is 200 cc’s, maybe 250 if I’ve had to hold it.  When you have to empty the contents into your bladder for constant monitoring, you note these lovely details. Aren’t you glad you now know that?

-          The Salt Lake Tribune sells out about 6:00 a.m., earlier on weekdays.  If you want a paper at the VA after then, you are out of luck!  Note to the Trib: you could sell more papers, especially at the lobby where people are waiting to visit patients!

-          It doesn’t make sense to put salt on my food trays but to withhold ketchup. Ketchup and eggs, it’s what’s for breakfast!

-          My hair is starting to come back in on my arms, chest and moustache area.  I’m not sure if the hair on top of my head will look like Gollum or just be thin at first.  The jury’s out there. When I voiced this to my hem/onc, she said in her most diplomatic and matter of fact voice, “Well, it will probably fall out again.” How’s that for encouragement? And…she’s probably right.

And that’s where my mind has wandered during this rather quiet and medically boring week at the VA Hospital. The medical and hem/onc teams are both in agreement that I should be discharged in a matter of hours and I like it when everyone’s on the same page!  I had the great good pleasure to spend my time with my friend, Isaac, whom I met when I was inpatient during my last consolidation chemo.  He introduced me to his wild and crazy American Legion cohort and sparked a real desire to be around other veterans helping veterans.  It’s more than just a nice sounding slogan (and I honestly don’t know if it is or not), but rather it just feels right.  In chatting with each other, even though there is more than 20 years difference in our age, the patriotic values we could share were authentic and not the ones defined by bumper stickers. Although I’d far rather not run into him or other vets in the hospital, I was happy to run the course of my 3-hour chemo infusion with someone who shared my values devoid of politics and loaded words. With the Memorial Day weekend here, it meant all the more as I take a look around the hospital and see flags everywhere. It feels good to be a veteran and that, at least here, my service has stood for something real. That’s not to say that it doesn’t outside these walls, but here, I’m reminded of it daily and although I can think of almost any other place to be, I’m very, very grateful to be here.

I have some thoughts on this weekend that have precious little to do with fashion sense and the official opening of the community pool. In the meantime, I hope you’ll take some time and find a veteran or the family of one and thank them for their sacrifice. I can tell you that it means the world to have someone remember you. My sincerest thanks, gratitude, and sympathy go to the families of servicemen who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Be well, stay strong, and much love to you all.

The YouTube video today is an interpretation of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go. It’s from Burning Man 2011, so it’s a bit avante garde, but I like it.
You can look at this one, read by John Lithgow from the original book.