November 7th to 9th, 2008: Minutes before heading to the hospital, I open my mail of the day and there is a short card from my Mom wishing me well. “I’m sure,” she says, “that UCSF Mt. Parnassus will take good care of you this time, just like they did when you had the illness on your head 60 years ago.” How odd. The only two times I have ever been to UCSF were for life-threatening procedures and they happened some 60 years apart. Wondering what that might mean, I am comforted to remember that the first time, I sailed out with a cure that has lasted for a very long time. May it be so again.
It was easy to check in to UCSF Mt. Parnassus Long Hospital 11th floor. My first bonding experience was with my nurse Dolores. She has the great fortune of looking quite a bit like Michelle Obama. Wanting to connect, I asked her if she was happy about the election. She looked at me, smiled and said, “Well, I just moved to San Francisco, and I’m from Atlanta. So on Monday I flew to Atlanta to vote on Tuesday, then I flew back to San Francisco on Tuesday for my afternoon shift here at the hospital. I surely did not want to miss voting.” I told her that her effort was a heroic act. Modestly, she agreed, “The whole day was about heroic stuff.” Then we were giddy with sharing bits of the Acceptance Speech in Chicago and stories from around the world. Dolores really grounded me onto the hospital floor.
Chemo doesn’t start right away. Thursday night I was fitted with hydration infusions and basically pumped full of water until the chemo started on Friday afternoon. Of the chemos, Doxoyrubicin infuses for 21 hours nonstop. That startled me. I thought that the timing would be more restrained, but not so. The three 21 hour cycles of Doxo stretched out the hospital stay. Ifosfamide infuses for a three hour cycle. In addition, there’s an infusion solution that protects the lining of the bladder. Seems that Doxo can strip off the inner layer of bladder cells; definitely a bad thing. When you see my fully equipped tower of chemo delivery, it looks like this: six feet into the air are the four gelatinous bags of fluid—the chemos, hydration water, bladder protection—connected to plastic cording attached to the pumps located mid-tower that monitor the fluid rate into my body. There are also sub-drip containers that moderate the fluid flows. Because of the complex number of drips that are going through all lines at all times, the tower has the pleasant effect of sounding like a gentle, insistent rainstorm that’s happening right outside the window.
Normally, I’m in bed and the tower is next to the bed with a power cord going into the wall. In order to become mobile, all I had to do was take out the power cord and start walking around. All the fluids feed into two separate needles which had been installed into my chest port. Inserting the needles was an unpleasant surprise. Of course I wanted to have the chemo lines installed and in the next minute a very thick gauge needle was pushed directly into my chest! I was told that the skin covering the port becomes much less tolerant over time. That was not the case the first time. And there was another needle to go. Point being, because of the needles, I remained connected to the tower through my time in the hospital.
Over the first two days, I settled into my hospital routine. I met the complex layers of staff: nurses, medical interns, oncology doctors, medical doctors sometimes in groups, usually solo. I avoided television but found the patient services group that supplies DVDs. Most important, I finished reading Bone, and celebrated with Marion Woodman as she becomes cancer free and also discovers the archetypal resolution of her multiple desires to fly free and to live on the earth. Her solution at the end of the book is dance: airborne motion that springs from the ground and returns to the ground.
Throughout this time, when someone new came into the room for more than a few seconds, I would show them my invocation to the chemo. When I hand it over I am mostly in my adult sharing a technique and explaining about the group that is a chorus welcoming the chemo. But also I sense my child, about four or five, handing over something he’s created and wanting approval. Of course my child is in the hospital with me. When ever I feel him, I let him know that he’s protected and safe, that he can go home and play with his toys whenever he wants to. I eat well, I sleep well, I am off to a very good start.