On January 17th Kathy and I woke and prepared to drive downtown for my CT scan at the hospital. I was tired. I have not slept well in many weeks. Between hydrating, diuretics, stool softeners, and anti-spasmodic drugs like Vesicare, my body has no idea if it’s coming or going. Some nights I sleep ten minutes, sit on the toilet for ten minutes, then react to pain for ten minutes. There are nights when I wander my mom’s house because I cannot sleep at all. I do laundry. I fold towels and wash cloths. I check my email. I take my meds. I sway as I sit on the edge of the couch. I drop what I am holding. I pray that, if I fall, it will be back on the sofa and not on the floor. I would love to take a nap that lasted an hour instead of minutes.
Kathy drove downtown in the rain. It was the end of rush hour. Driving was slow. My diuretic had kicked in. We stopped at the McD’s on St. Charles Rd. so that I could run indoors and urinate. I passed enough blood that the toilet water was red afterward. There were several clots–all large. I sat in the car with both feet pressed to the floor because the pain was about 5 on a scale of 10 when I did nothing.
Once we reached the hospital we learned that the public parking garage was closed. We decided that Kathy would let me off and drive to Barb’s home to wait for news I was done. Thank goodness for Barb, her spare key, and Kathy’s GPS.
I went to the Fantus Clinic across the street from the hospital. It is a very sad place. The facility is old and filthy. It is packed with people requiring assistance to maintain their health. I did not have a precise destination–thanks to Robocall. Several people directed me to leave the building and walk around it to find another entrance. By that time it was snowing and I had left my coat in Mom’s car. I walked around the building until I found the CT scan offices.
They expected me. I signed some papers and was directed to a waiting room where we were seated a few feet from a TV that told the story of Robin Antim and the Pussycat Dolls. I am sick of daytime TV, particularly when the subject matter is “celebrity.” Beautiful women who can sing make it big by doing so in lingerie. Is this new? Are we impressed because a woman created the franchise?
A technician handed me an immense bottle of sterile water and a cup. “Drink it. All of it.”
My body flinched at the thought of so much water interacting with a diuretic and a wounded bladder. I guzzled it anyway. It was like watching a chemo drug drip into an I.V. port. You want to say, no, but what is your alternative?
I was instructed to take a seat in a nurse’s office. She asked me if I suffered from numerous conditions. Then she installed a port for an I.V. in my right arm, right where it bends. I was directed to a room with four dressing rooms. I took off my bra and put it in my purse. I went back to waiting.
By the time I was called to the scan room, I was sweating over the strain on my bladder. I sat on a table, reclined, put my arms over my head, and tried to relax. The technician hooked me up to the I.V. of contrasting fluid. The technician withdrew. Robotest instructed me to hold my breath and then release it while it moved me back and forth through a doughnut-shaped scanner.
I eventually tried to communicate with the technician that I had to urinate. He did not respond. When the exam was complete I scurried to the bathroom to relieve the pressure on my bladder. The janitor was there cleaning. When he left, he left a sink filled with opened wet wipes and used paper towels. The trash can was empty and some trash had been shoved toward corners. The floor was dirty.
The nurse removed the I.V. port and told me to try to flush the I.V. drug out of body A.S.A.P.
I put on my bra and sweater and braved the snow and wind to walk around the clinic to another entrance. I needed to go to the third floor to have a blood and urine test. I was in that lab once before Christmas. Now I was there after the Martin Luther King holiday. The room was packed. I was assigned number 424. The phlebotomist was calling people with numbers in the mid-300’s. I asked for the urine sample cup before going to the bathroom. The clerk, at first, wanted me to hold it, but relented. However, I would have to hold my cup until after my blood test. I knew I needed to catch the fluid when it passed. I have not yet learned to urinate on demand.
I entered a bathroom so filthy it took my breath away. Someone had consumed part of a sandwich but had thrown crusts on the floor. Someone else had smashed them beneath her shoes into the tile. An immense roll of toilet paper was tied with a garbage bag to the handle on the wall. The sinks were choked with used paper towels. A passway connected the bathroom to the lab. You could place a labeled sample in the passway for collection by technicians.
I hung my purse around my neck, collected my sample, washed my hands and left. I waited in the waiting room for nearly two hours. The clerks did not face us as we entered the lab. The one who checked me in looked like the mom on Everybody Hates Chris. She wrote with a pen with orange feathers attached to the end of it. It looked like a feather duster. It probably represented a whimsical personality, but, in that crowded, dirty, germ-filled environment, the orange feathers looked like a few strands of tinsel on a homeless man’s carboard sleeping box.
People coughed incessantly. At times it felt like the mass of people among whom I sat drew in breath and exhaled together, passing their germs like the wave at a sporting event. There was a woman with an unruly toddler and a baby in a car seat. She three times left the baby in line to run after the toddler. A man watched a movie on a DVD player. The noise was distracting. Two-thirds of the room was the pick-up place for prescriptions. Roboannouncer told us every two seconds what numbered customer was being assisted at what number window. The crowd was mostly African American and Hispanic. I counted four Caucasians–one wore his hair ZZTop length, tied with a piece of leather at the nape of his neck. He wore a cowboy hat and a leather vest. He wore a gold ring on every finger. A handsome young man looked fit in his navy sweats. Two other women wandered, seeming incapable of waiting in a seat. Many people spoke foreign languages. People shouted in English instructions that volume could not render intelligible to folks foreign born.
By the time my number was called, I was exhausted.
They lined us up on plastic chairs. Someone called out that we should take off coats, roll up sleeves, and have our paperwork in hand. I was called by number to a tiny room with a phlebotomist.
The phlebotomist verified my name and date of birth. Then she addressed me by my first name.
It was the first time I had been addressed that way in weeks other than when meeting with my oncologist.
I actually felt my eyes fill up with tears.
She needed to stick me three times to finish the blood test. She could not locate the label for my urine sample and kept me waiting while she obtained a new one, but I don’t care about any of that.
Most of us are judged by small acts. We do not often save lives or poison the town’s water supply. I spent the rest of the day thinking about the importance of a smile, a name, and a kind word. On January 17th I spent three and a half hours at the hospital to get three tests done. The healing I experienced was from a “prescription” handed out in the tiny room occupied by a phlebotomist. She handed out kindness like it was commonplace. It is not. But a little kndness goes a long way.