Monday, November 13, 2006

November 10, 2006 - Under My Skin

Another monthly port flush today. After nearly an hour in Dr. Lerner's packed waiting room (cancer has never been so popular, it seems), I'm ushered into an equally crowded nurses' room. Today it's an oil change for me, rather than a transmission job – so, they've squeezed my appointment in amongst a half-dozen or so patients who are receiving other treatments. Chemo bags hang from hooks on the ceiling over some people's heads (evidently, their treatment is still not long enough to qualify for a lounge-chair in the infusion room). Others move in and out very quickly: they're just here to get shots (Procrit, Neulasta, that sort of thing).

Most of them are considerably older than me: seventy- and eightysomethings. I'm just a newly-minted fiftysomething, but I've got a bum set of chromosomes much like theirs. Or, maybe, not so much like theirs. Mine went haywire a decade or two earlier, in terms of lifespan.

My nurse today is one I haven't seen before. She misses my deeply-implanted port on her first attempt at the docking procedure. Ouch. She tries again, but with a longer needle. This time it works. Pressing the plunger on the syringe, she injects saline solution into the vein buried deep within my chest. My heart muscle dispatches the stuff in the blink of an eye. A second later, I taste the plastic and feel the bubbling sensation in the back of my throat.

The words of an old jazz standard drift across my consciousness. "I've got you... under my skin." Yeah, I've got this little button under my skin, all right. There it will stay, until it's either needed again, or until the doctor decides it won't be needed for a long time. Let's hope for the second of the two alternatives.

My neighbor in the nurses' room, it turns out, is the mother of a woman whose wedding I performed about ten years ago. Her daughter is an inactive member of our church: still on the rolls, although we rarely see her. The mother recognizes me, and tells me all about her grandchildren. We don't discuss her cancer (I assume it's cancer – although, in this office, it could also be any one of a number of blood disorders). Nor do we mention mine. Just kids and grandkids. Life, in other words.

On my way out, I learn that my appointment with Dr. Lerner must be rescheduled. It seems someone in the office miscalculated the date, booking me for exactly three months from my last appointment. This doesn't account for the fact that the CT scan has to happen first – and that, they tell me, would place the scan on the calendar fewer than three months after my last one. "The insurance company would never approve that," they tell me. "If it's a day under three months, they'll bounce it right back." So, we push the doctor's appointment back a week or two, in order to allow time for the CT scan. My scan is now scheduled for November 30th, and my doctor's appointment for December 8th.

"I've got you... under my skin." I hum the catchy Cole Porter ditty to myself, on my way out to the parking lot. So what's really under there? An implanted port, for sure. But is there still more cancer?

Who's to say?

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