On December 22nd I returned to the hospital for my final radiation appointment. I was exhausted from the pain in my bladder and bowel. The lab technicians had stopped covering my tattoos with adhesive tape as the skin around the tape had started to break down. I passed blood and blood clots each time I urinated. The medicines supplied to me were not strong enough to ease my suffering.
The radiation nurse sent me across the street to the Fantus Clinic for a urine analysis. It felt like punishment. I walked through an underground tunnel and rode an elevator to the third floor. I then entered a waiting room that reminded me of the waiting room in the movie Beetlejuice. Four staffers sat in a small space passing orders and personal information for patients. I eventually crouched over a toilet in a cramped space trying to fill a plastic cup with the murky red liquid fire that passed for urine. I left with a prescription for a weak dose of Vicodin. I did not feel like I had anything to celebrate.
The next day I received a call at 8 a.m. The radiation nurse wanted me to come back to the hospital. I had a raging infection in the urinary tract. She suggested that I might need to be admitted to get me through the weekend.
I could not drive myself. I was at my mom’s home and she could not drive me to the hospital and be certain she could find her way home. At seventy-five, she does very well, but she had yet to visit the hospital. She called for a cab for me even though the prospect of a $60 fare made her nauseated. It took quite awhile to find a cab. Once we did, I was prepared to go alone, but my mom was reluctant to send me off alone. We went downtown together.
At the hospital, I was placed on a gurney and the nurse wheeled me to the emergency room. I had to remind the nurse to slow down as she was leaving Mom in the dust. We spent several hours in the ER waiting for me to be admitted for tests. I rested on my gurney in a postage-stamp-sized curtained exam area. My mom sat someplace in the hall. When Mom had waited as long as she could, she found me and announced, “It is 1:30.” It was plain that she needed to get out fast. I explained how to reach the cab driver, who had offered to return for us. She had difficulty finding even the ER exit on her own. Nevertheless, she was eager to leave. It was all too much for her.
The cab driver, upon learning that Mom was waiting for him at the ER doors, sent two friends of his to pick Mom up and drive her home. He did not want her to wait alone or out in the cold. The two women who drove Mom home were not cab drivers. They were just Good Samaritans.
I gave another murky urine sample for analysis. Then the ER doctor decided to perform an internal exam–speculum and all. I alerted him to the fact that nothing had traversed that particularly tortured length of flesh since my surgery, but he felt it necessary to proceed. I nearly passed out from the pain. I managed not to swear, but I could not contain a long keening exclamation as my flesh faced new outrage. I have read about people experiencing a different state of consciousness during great pain. I did not achieve such a state of protection. I bled for some time after this procedure. My ER nurse made about seven tries at setting up an I.V. for me. She had trouble finding a vein and did not want to admit it. I can handle needles after three months of treatments, but I was on edge after so much painful poking and prodding.
It was after 6 p.m. when I was taken upstairs to a room. I was too late for dinner, had not eaten all day. I was helped into a hospital bed, hooked up to an I.V. of saline and another of antibiotics. I felt like something that grew in a petri dish. I still had painful bleeding in the urinary tract. I bled vaginally. I had post-chemo diarrhea. I was tied to an I.V. pole. I could not sit and hated to lie on my back. My socks were filthy from wearing them like slippers.
I ran out of toilet paper during the middle of the night and was told none would be available until the next morning. It was barbaric to handle my physical complaints with tissues and paper towels. By the next morning, I was feeling worse, not better. My torture had only begun.