It took a few days, but eventually I was able to move around without needing to be bent over like a little old lady. Fortunately (or unfortunately for me), the time it took me to recover gave my mom plenty of time to spend in the family kitchen where she could talk to other people. And boy, did those people talk. Especially about their favorite topic: strength and stamina. The nurses love stressing the importance of being as physically strong as possible before starting treatment to better handle the side effects of chemo. However, the only way to “exercise” on the oncology floor is to walk. Endlessly. Well, that woke up the occupational therapist living deep inside my mom, and pretty soon there was not an hour that went by where I didn’t hear, “wanna go walk?” No mom, I want to watch Law and Order: SVU. But I walked anyway, dragging along my new boyfriend IV Pole for company.
The oncology floor at Hopkins is comprised of two sections. One side is for out-patients (which I had no idea existed at this point), and the other is for in-patients. However, the two are separated by a lobby and thick doors so you don’t see patients going into the out-patient clinic unless they specifically come to visit you afterwards. Located all the way up on the eleventh floor, the only window outside of the rooms is the big window in the open sitting area. It can feel extremely isolating at times. Walking in a setting like this gets boring fast because there’s not much to look at besides tan walls and my IV pole (although once the chemo started it got a lot fancier with all of the bags hanging off of it). And in case you missed the diagram that took me hours to make, if you scroll back up you’ll notice that the whole unit is one. giant. circle.
So you walk laps. And walk laps. And when you find yourself bored with nothing to watch on tv, well, there’s always laps to be walked. There’s even a white board chart where patients can keep track of how many laps they’d walked so far during their stay (15 laps is a mile!), so it becomes a kind of personal challenge to see how many laps you can do before you’re discharged. I’m not going to lie, I got competitive. Which is really sad and pathetic because I was currently living on the pediatric oncology floor so all of the other patients (except for one or two) were all at least a good ten years younger than me. But c’est la vie. I never met the patient – I only saw the numbers on the white board climb – but pretty soon I was actively striving to close the whopping 50 plus gap between myself and the top walker. As it turns out, he was a patient around my age who heard about my throwing of the gauntlet which only worked to spur him on even more (#patientshelpingpatients). So crisis averted: cancer hadn’t turned me into some heartless witch who thrived on defeating five year olds.
For the first week or so, when I wasn’t trying to aerobically destroy my self-proclaimed arch nemesis, I spent my time in my room. I didn’t really go anywhere else – even though I was allowed – I just stayed in my hospital bed and watched my favorite dedicated detectives investigate vicious felonies (dun dun). My mom kept trying to take me to the cafeteria courtyard to just sit outside and enjoy the fresh air, but I didn’t want to (plus it was still June at the time and I had the misfortune of being a lifeguard who hates the heat…). So I sat on my bed. I slept in my bed. I ate on my bed. There honestly wasn’t much that I didn’t do in my bed because sitting space was very limited. Besides the bed, there was a single chair in the room and a three person couch that – when the cushions and back were properly arraigned – turned into one big rectangle for my mom to sleep on. So the two of us were suddenly akin to college roommates, with probably less room than my roommate and I had had at Towson. Getting used to that was hard, but getting used to our location was even harder.
You see, when we were admitted to the oncology floor, we were put in room #1 (I’m sure I don’t have to explain why…just kidding), and that’s where we would stay until discharge some 30 days later. The best part about room one was that it was directly across from the hospital’s helicopter pad. So instead of a nice view of the city or the water like some other rooms, we got a rooftop and a helicopter. Except you couldn’t actually see the helicopter pad from the window unless you strained to look out to the side, so we had a rooftop. But we still got the helicopter sounds at all hours which made sleeping (already fitful due to chemo side effects and vital checks every four hours) even more difficult to come by.
Despite these inconveniences – which I eventually got used to – I still managed to turn the room into something more comfortable than four plain walls. Justin and my dad made quick work of bringing down various decorations (once they were recovered from bags and boxes since I never got a chance to unpack from college), and pretty soon I had the best decorated (mostly Disney, of course) room on the unit – or so the doctors say. Home sweet home.
That was my life: nothing but laps and Law and Order in my totally pimped out room while the chemo steadily pumped into my body twice a day for hours. Eventually I did find a keyboard in the Teen Room so I was able to play the piano occasionally, but other than that I had no real interest in doing much else. The chemo left me tired and nauseous most of the time, but little did I know it was only the beginning.
As they (mostly) say on the tv show, “well you’ve seen my crib, you’ve seen my hobbies. I gotta go get some more chemo so y’all need to get the hell out.” *mic drop*