From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

Staying Strong

Walking through a quiet field on a dewy morning, you spy a wild horse. Slowly you walk up to him, and to your delight he doesn’t run away. He lowers his head for you to pet and then motions with his snout for you to climb on his back. You ride away, hair and mane blowing in the wind behind you. You hear a voice, quite faint. You cannot tell what it is, but it is getting louder . . . louder . . . louder.

You awake abruptly from a relaxing sleep to the sound of your mother yelling, “Come on, we’ve got to go!” You wipe the gunk from your eyes and roll over to look at the clock. Seven A.M. It’s time to leave for chemotherapy. You really don’t want to go, so it is a struggle, but you make yourself get out of bed. Making all of the lovely “I’m not really awake yet” noises, you drag yourself to the bathroom. It is almost a ritual now, with no thought really involved. You step out of your clothes, turn on the shower, wash, step out of the shower and dry off, all the while wishing you were still asleep. You find your most comfortable clothes and put them on haphazardly. You’re only going to the hospital, so who cares what you look like?

“We’re going to be late if we don’t leave right now!” you hear from down the hall. Walking down the hall you realize your stomach is growling and remember that you have yet to eat anything. Guess you’ll just have to ask Mom to stop somewhere; what a pity.

You’re in the car now, reclining and squinting to see through the sunlight in your eyes. You get your breakfast, and after eating, you perk up a little bit. Forty-five minutes later you arrive at the hospital clinic. Parking is an adventure in itself, so you get Mom to drop you off at the main entrance. You’re not quite in the mood for battling blue-haired ladies for parking spaces.

As you enter the clinic, the first thing you notice is the smell: doctors, latex gloves, saline drips and disinfectant spray. After checking in, you scout out a nice seat to relax in. After settling on a brightly colored plastic couch, you realize that it is incredibly cold. Good thing you remembered to bring a sweater. You wrap it around your shoulders and wait for your mother to arrive. Once your mother returns from the parking lot battle, your nurse for the day comes into the waiting room.

“You ready?” she asks. “Oh yeah, you know it,” you reply.

She leads you to the check-in room where you are instructed to stand on the scale. Oh boy, it looks like you’ve gained two pounds since last week, so you make a mental note to lay off the Twinkies from now on. The nurse takes your blood pressure and asks what medicines you are taking. You recount the oh-so-familiar list once again. You think they could at least remember twelve medicines from last week. She takes you into the “access room.” You climb up on the lovely examining table, all covered in disposable paper. Lying back, you lift your shirt to reveal the semipermanent IV that is under your skin, located right below your bra line. This is more commonly known as a venaport, or to other patients as “the poison-control center.”

You peel the Tegaderm off the area on and around your port, wincing all the while, as it pulls out the little hairs on your stomach. Taking a tissue, you wipe off the Emla cream that had been applied earlier to numb the first two layers of skin. You watch as your nurse puts on her latex gloves and begins the procedure. She opens her “kit” and arranges everything the same way she does every week. Three syringes, the access needle and betadine—all waiting to be used.

She walks over to where you are lying and begins. First she uses a giant cotton swab soaked in alcohol all around your port. Following this, she swabs you three times with betadine, each time with a new swab so that she won’t counter the disinfectant. Once again she swabs your port with alcohol and then waits fifteen seconds.

She prepares the needle and asks, “Are you ready?”

“Go for it,” you reply.

You have done this so many times before. Still though, right before she presses the needle through the skin, your stomach clinches. You take a deep breath, close your eyes, and exhale as the needle goes in. A sense of relief comes to you; it didn’t hurt this week! Your nurse places two cotton squares under the “butterfly” part of your port (the area up against your skin) and places a sheet of Tegaderm over the entire thing. She then screws a syringe into the tube attached to the needle, which is now in your port, and takes some blood. Now she takes a syringe of saline and slowly pushes it into your port; you ask her to do it faster because you want to get a head rush. After the head rush, she flushes your port with heparin. You begin to taste it inside your mouth as she pushes it in, and it doesn’t taste good.

You are sent to a back room with chairs, TVs, VCRs and a wide variety of board games. You choose a seat, and your nurse hooks your port line up to a fluid drip. Some time passes, and the doctor arrives to examine you. He makes jokes while prodding you and feeling for lumps and bumps. Then he asks you the same questions he asks you every week: “Have you been nauseated? Have you had headaches? Back pain? Diarrhea? Constipation? Blood in your urine?”

All to which you answer a quick “No, no, no, no, no and no.” He says you’re looking good and to let him know if any problems arise, and then he leaves. A little while later your nurse returns with a copy of your blood counts. Your ANC (absolute nurtaphil count) is over five hundred, so you can receive your chemotherapy. Yippee for you!

Your nurse gives you a small push of Zofran, so that the chemo doesn’t make you throw up, and then she hooks your port up to the bag of chemotherapy, or as it’s more fondly called, “poison.” You find it ironic that the nurse must wear special super-thick gloves to handle the bag of chemotherapy, yet they are pumping it into your body. You watch as the liquid runs through the IV line . . . slowly making its way closer and closer. Still tired from getting up so early, you doze off to the quiet sound of the IV machine pumping . . . pumping . . . pumping.

You awake suddenly to the sound of an alarm going off. The nurse comes into your room and messes with the IV machine, pushing buttons, and then the alarm stops.

“It looks like you’re all done! Let’s go de-access you.”

You willingly obey, anxious to get home and lie back down. Already you are feeling the chemotherapy’s effects on your body, and all you want to do is go back to bed. You lie on the table in the access room once again and peel the Tegaderm off from your port, again ripping out the little hairs on your stomach. The nurse puts on her latex gloves once again and flushes your port with some saline and heparin. Now it is time to take the needle out. She gets a good grip on the needle and asks you to take a breath and hold it. You do as she says, and as you hold your breath, she quickly pulls the needle out. You let your breath out, relieved that you finally get to go home. She places a Band-Aid over the port and says she will see you next week.

Your mother makes an appointment for next week while you stand there looking like you’re about to fall asleep. Mom goes out to get the car, and you wait in the main waiting room. After about five minutes you walk out to the garage area and see your mother pulling up. She brings the black van of comfort, waiting to take you home to your bed. Climbing in, you sigh—your life is so different from everyone else’s, yet so much the same. You remember with a smile that this will all be over soon, and then you drift off to sleep.

Deiah Haddock

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