In 2015 I spent this week of March in an Indianapolis hospital, where I underwent a biopsy that revealed I had non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Physically, that was one of the most painful weeks of my life. (I say “one of” only because weeks preceding and following it were equally agonizing.)
Some time after my admission, my nurse apologized for not being able to start pain medication before a doctor saw me. “I know this is super-suck, and I’m sorry,” she said. She later pursued replacing the inch-thick mattress that was on my bed. “We’ll get you something that’s not as craptastic as this,” she said.
The first day in the hospital, I ate a salad with my bare hands. Almost any movement of my right arm set off the alarm on the overly sensitive I-V machine, and I had ever-diminishing control of my left hand because of the location of the tumor. I refused an offer from my brother to feed me and instead dipped the lettuce, piece by piece, into ranch dressing and, with shaky left hand, guided it toward my face. More often than not I missed my mouth and ended up with ranch dressing on my cheeks and chin.
I was seen by multiple doctors — including a hospitalist as well as an oncologist, a neurologist, a neurosurgeon, a hematologist and countless medical residents. Soon, a chaplain, psychiatrist, counselor and social worker joined the rotation. In my journal I wrote that with “each new issue that comes up, they send in that specialist. I’m waiting for dental and eye care! Maybe they’ll send someone in to teach me to sew while I’m here.”
My bed got raised and the light over it got turned on every time anyone tried to stick one of my narrow veins. I never got used to that focused, brilliant light — more dazzling than sunshine on snow — and each time, the extreme illumination had me halfway expecting an inquisition.
When I went for my first MRI I was wheeled on a cot down long white halls in the basement, most of them absent any other people. A lone worker had the bare-bones MRI lab to himself, and shelves displaying what seemed to be spare parts for primitive equipment lined the walls. I’m not into horror films, but I thereafter referred to the MRI lab as “the wood shop.”
I am glad I had the good sense to document some of the bright-side and even humorous moments of my cancer-related experiences. My journal reminds me that the journey consisted of more than the insufferable pain that I recall most.