Sorry folks, I’ve been crafting a lot. Which people seem to find amusing but I don’t see why. It was recently Big/Little week for the girls in Phi Mu, and even though I didn’t get a little this year, I’ve been planning for the future at least a year in advance. It also keeps me occupied, even though my mother would prefer I kept occupied by organizing and going through everything that was packed up in my room. Ah well.
Warning: Excessive Grey’s Anatomy references beyond this point. Proceed with caution.
According to the notes Jules wrote, at this point in my treatment my numbers were “progressing nicely.” Usually when I hear there’s some kind of progress, that means that something is improving and getting better. Better, increasing, going up, etc. What he really meant by “progressing nicely” is that the numbers that indicated the strength of my bone marrow/immune system were steadily plummeting until they reached zero. Zero meant no immune system whatsoever. A little misleading there, Jules.
There are no two ways about it: cancer is nothing like how the movies or television portray it, and that’s because there aren’t fifty million different forms of media out there. Based on what I’d seen before, I assumed that I would get to live at home, holed up in the comfort of my own bed, only to emerge when it was time to go to the doctor to receive a dose of chemo, before retreating home again. But I quickly learned that every case is different, and I would be stuck in the hospital until my “numbers” (or counts as everyone in the entire medical world calls them for some reason) reached a specific level again. So we wait. And while we wait, the chemo slowly breaks down my immune system until I’m at risk for a cold or infection whenever someone even thinks about looking at me funny.
The side effects are my favorite part, I think. Because I had no immune system, I was constantly feeling fatigued and tired, and anytime I left my room I had to wear a mask similar to the ones they wear on Grey’s Anatomy (so close, yet so far from my own McDreamy). There’s nothing really remarkable about the mask, besides the fact that it’s difficult to breathe through and it’s constantly fogging up your glasses. The chemo itself left me with fevers and feeling nauseated and just overall very blah whenever I wasn’t already throwing up. Plus, it eventually created sores in my throat and mouth which made it very painful to eat (but the nurses were very happy to see that none of this stopped me from walking my laps). At first, the mouth sores presented themselves as a white coating on my tongue and the back of my throat, which the doctors thought was thrush, so every few hours I had to gargle this pinkish medicine to try and combat it (Anytime someone hands you something and says, “don’t swallow it,” but you still have to put it in your mouth, it’s probably not good).
It took me a long time to get used to a routine in the hospital, simply because at first it seemed like there was no routine in place. It’s still kind of confusing if you didn’t live it for nine months straight.
The doctors: The doctors existed on the oncology floor in a two week schedule. Sometimes you wouldn’t even have a doctor on your team who specialized in Leukemia. For instance, the first doctor I saw when I was admitted specialized in osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. So right as you are getting to know a doctor and feeling comfortable with them, poof, they’re gone.
The residents: If you watch Grey’s Anatomy, you know that there’s a hierarchy of doctors, starting with the doctor doctors at the top, and the resident/intern doctors at the bottom. They’re all doctors, it’s just that some have completed more school than others. The residents are the ones who are technically doctors, but they’re also technically still learning. These folks switched off on a monthly basis. Gave you more time to get to know them, but (and I’m trying to be nice here) for the most part the first of the month was very refreshing…
The nurses: OH MY GOD. I still don’t think I’ve fully figured out the nursing schedule. It’s verrrrry confusing. To begin, you’re given a “team” (shout out to the best squad ever) of nurses. This also kind of works on a hierarchy. At the top is your primary nurse who basically is the one who was on duty when you’re first admitted and they become the head honcho of your team. No matter how many times you’re discharged/admitted to the oncology floor, the primary nurse is always your primary nurse. Same with the whole team, but the primary nurse takes precedent so whenever they’re working, they’re your nurse – no matter who else on your team is working. The rest of your team gets you on their “case load” for the day as long as the primary nurse is not working (and if more than one work at the same time then a battle ensues). The nurses work 12-hour shifts from 7:00-7:00 , but there’s really no rhyme or reason (that I can figure out) as to when they actually work. It’s not like an everyday kind of job, or even a Monday, Wednesday, Friday kind of thing for that matter, so you honestly have no clue who you’re going to have as your nurse on any given shift. It was always a surprise when 7:00 rolled around every night to see who would come strolling into your room with meds for you to take, or who would be waking you up for morning meds the next day. Eventually though, I fell into a rotation of nurses based on who was familiar with me and my medical issues, so then it became a game between my mom and I to guess who our night nurse would be as we walked laps during the shift change and saw who was coming in that night.
Needless to say, even though I surprised everyone with a killer memory when it came to all of the medical jargon thrown my way, I kind of sucked when it came to the names of all the doctors and residents (and some of the nurses even had different variations of the same name, so c’mon people). Also, to be honest I had a very short tolerance when it came to my situation, so as soon as someone annoyed me, I basically decided that it wasn’t worth it to remember their name. So there were a lot of nicknames being tossed around behind closed doors (oops).
That brings me to Bowtie. He was the first resident I met during my time at Hopkins, and although he didn’t always wear a bowtie, he very quickly became Bowtie guy. How to explain Bowtie? He wasn’t a bad guy – he was nice enough, but he was a little awkward in our interactions. For those that have seen Grey’s Anatomy, he reminded me of April Kepner. Not “badass trauma surgeon” April Kepner, but over eager “newly merged from Mercy West resident” April Kepner. (For you Marvel fans, he was a dead ringer for Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter Parker) And he was slightly over eager. I’m talking about the guy who heard about my history of broken bones and concussions and made me speak with him alone about whether or not I felt safe at home, and was very curious about my relationship with my parents. This is the guy who saw bloodshot eyes after my first bone marrow biopsy (actually it was like something out of a horror movie. The entire whites of my eyes were red. Completely red) and immediately ordered an ophthalmology consult despite my ophthalmologist father standing right there. And this is also the guy who ordered a sleep test for me due to dropping oxygen levels when I slept. So, I had to endure a night of sleeping with probes attached to my head while some stranger sat in a chair next to my bed all night. Believe me: I’ve seen every Law and Order: SVU episode, so I know that the “watching while you sleep” plotline doesn’t already exist. Dick Wolf, you know how to contact me…
Did I mention that the doctors liked to conduct their rounds, or visits, at 9:00 in the morning? Hello! Finals week had ended not that long ago for me, I was still trying to catch up on sleep, not to mention the fact that I now had cancer. I think that’s a pretty good excuse for catching some extra z’s, yet the doctors continued to be surprised every morning when they walked in and I was opening my eyes from a deep slumber to greet them. It’s called being nineteen years old, folks.
All in all, everything I’d experienced so far at Hopkins was basically straight out of TGIT and Grey’s Anatomy. Except for maybe the hot doctors and all of the scandalous on-call room trysts. Although, everyone who saw me watching the addicting show assured me up and down that their jobs were nothing like it (“The lady doth protest too much, methinks” – Hamlet, William Shakespeare). So, Shonda Rhimes, if you ever need a new medical consultant on your show, I’m just a phone call away.