I got two new tattoos and am now taking steroids. That pretty much sums up my last week. What did you do?
OK, so I’ll break this down a bit more. I started the week off with a simulation for the stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS). It did come with a few surprises. I knew that I was going to be aligned using the gold fiduciary marker that was just placed, but I had no idea that it would be done using a CT scan with contrast. I needed an IV put in for this and unfortunately because of how they had to arrange my arms, it needed to be put in my hand. Two things ran through my head when I heard this: 1. This is going to hurt. A lot…and 2. This aint gonna work. But let’s get on with it.
Not all needles were created equal. You need to use a larger needle when contrast is going to be pumped through it because it is a more viscous liquid. Everybody grimace on three – 1…2…3…FREAKING OWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!! Needle went straight in to the vein. We just needed to check for proper blood return and flush with saline. The nurse pulls the plunger back and I have good blood return, and then she pushes it back down with the saline and as my daughter is fond of saying,
BOOM goes the dynamite!
My vein blows out. We can’t use that one now and have to switch to the other side. Fan-freaking-tastic. The nurse runs out to get a second set of needles, cotton wipes, etc. and comes back with some Lidocaine. OK, I can deal with this a second time with Lidocaine. I’ve been stabbed countless times with needles, but I can never look at them when they put them in. So I look away, feel the pinch, but then there is no burning in my hand before the delivery of relief. Lidocaine will burn when initially injected but then it is almost immediately followed with the numbness. That’s when I realized that she put the regular needle instead of hitting me with the Lidocaine first. Oh, and she used an even bigger needle the second time. And I got the bonus – she had to dig around my vein for a while to make sure that it was in there properly. By now I’ve got a lovely purple blooming on my right hand. I’m very leery of this working, but the nurse draws and flushes again and this time the vein holds up. Off we go to simulation.
Dr. Care Bear greets me with the CT tech and sends me in. My next surprise came with at the price of a bit of my modesty. I was told to remove all articles of clothing waist up and to lay on the scanning table. Rooms with these scanners are always cold to keep the equipment from overheating, so I very much appreciated the warm blankets they brought me – because I could cover up before they came back in, but especially for making me feel like I was carrying laundry fresh out of the dryer instead of getting lined up for more radiation (even if it was only for one fleeting moment).
I felt like I was laying on a bed of beads. Kind of like the consistency of microbeads, only not micro. They put a triangle pillow under my knees and cradled my neck with a headrest. The headrest wasn’t quite right and they ended up spraying a smelly solution on some foam and customized on for me. I was quite comfortable despite the funny smell. A couple of techs came in with a different doctor (I knew him from when he ran the simulation for my first radiation treatment on the colon/rectum) and lined me up with very small adjustments (millimeters). They had me cross my arms over my shoulders so it was like I was giving myself a big bear hug and started to vacuum out the air from the pad I was laying on. This will be tagged with my name and will be used to hold me in exactly the same position as I undergo treatment. About half-way through, I realized that I was slightly “off.” The vacuuming process was drawing the pillow under my legs up and my headrest down so it felt like I had taken another potion in Alice’s Wonderland and was spontaneously growing. For my fellow cancer warriors, please don’t be the martyr if this happens to you. Speak up! This is the time for it. It’s not only OK for them to redo the work to reposition you properly – it’s important and they prefer it because you need to be an active participant. They stop the vacuum, I shimmy shimmy a bit to get comfortable, they revacuum, and voila we’re ready for the next step.
The team checks my alignment with the machine and place a thin sheet of plastic (similar to Saran Wrap) over my body. They had to cut a little hole over my hand so that the IV could be accessed. The plastic overlay was vacuumed, but not sealed. As I lay there a few thoughts drifted through my mind…huh, this is what it feels like in the womb…I will emerge from this cocoon as a beautiful butterfly…this FoodSaver bag has a leak! It was an interesting sensation. While my entire lower half was immobilized, the vacuum suction in the upper half of my body released slightly with each intake of breath so that I was as immobilized as possible while being able to breathe very comfortably.
The CT tech comes in to put the contrast in for the scan and gives me the routine comments – you may feel a slight burning initially but that should go away pretty quickly. Please let me know if you have any pain. Suddenly red-hot lava was flowing into my hand and all I can do is yell “OW OW OW OW OW OW OW!!!!!” He immediately stops the contrast and takes a look. Yup. The vein on my left hand blew out. He ran out for a nurse and a bag of ice. The ice was wonderful for relieving the pain, but it blew up my hand like a canned ham. They conferred with the simulation doctor and were able to rearrange me so that they could access the vein on the inside of my elbow joint. This is a much stronger vein and typically where I have my blood drawn from as well as where I usually have the contrast injected, so I was very relieved that they were able to set that up. I just wished that it was option 1 not 3.
We conclude the scan and just when I think I’m done…
I got a couple of new tattoos. I have 3 from the first round of radiation that I had on the colon/rectum so that makes 5. They look like freckles and you wouldn’t know that they were there unless you were looking for them. In fact, before they added the new tattoos the doctor wanted to see if we could use the previous ones and they had to resort to pictures on file because they had trouble finding them. Since their placement was too low, they dropped the ink and hit me with the needle. It’s a strange needle because it wasn’t just a poke. It was a poke then a hook. Not horribly painful, just odd.
One last surprise, although it didn’t come until my first treatment. Steroids! It’s only a low dose – 1 pill before each treatment – but man it’s got staying power. This last week has been filled with an erratic sleep schedule and insomnia, but it’s OK. I’ve made sure to make it up to my husband by being completely unbearable. It’s a good thing he’s got a wicked sense of humor. 🙂