Princess and the Pea

A chapter of a book that begins, "Once upon a time it was..."

Once upon a time there was a princess. She was lost. Or at least she didn’t know where she was. Or maybe she did know, and it was just too much work to figure it out at this juncture.

She found herself just passing from the state of sleep to the state of wake. Is it night or day, she thought. Did I just fall asleep or have I been sleeping for hours? Or even days? Where am I?

Clawing through the remnants of sleeping, her mind hit the bumpers of all of her senses like a metal ball shot from the chute and making its way down the lane. She waited and then hit the flippers to keep the ball in play.

She didn’t hear any bells, but there was the steady drone of machinery and the recurring squawk of a police radio. That radio was loud. Maybe that’s what woke her up.

It was dark, but there was a frame of bright light that must be from a door that was barely ajar. On the other side, in full light was the sound of the woman’s voice–the dispatcher–repeating the number ten. 10-12. 10-22. 10-23, stand-by. There were tall shadows of nothing or maybe something. On her right was a small round light hanging mid-air. Looking more closely the point was in some box on some type of pole. There was a window just behind her, to her left. She could see it at the furthest edge of her view, but she couldn’t see through it. Not that it mattered because it was dark out there, too. She was in a room. It wasn’t big. But even though the light on the other side of the door was bright, it didn’t illuminate her surroundings by much.

She licked her lips. They were dry, as was her mouth. She didn’t think that she brushed her teeth before she fell asleep. Her mouth tasted a little stale–maybe because of the dryness. Maybe, though, it was because she had thrown up. She wanted some water. Was there water?

A waft of staleness caught in her nostrils. That might be her. It wasn’t like work out sweat, but more like it had been a long warm day. In a ring or two outside of her, she could smell some chemical smell. It wasn’t like the astringency of Pine Sol, but it wasn’t far from that. There was less complexity to the caustic bouquet. It was less like northwest hops and more like laundry detergent with whitener. It wasn’t overwhelming, and she wasn’t either.

She did okay moving her head from side to side. She realized that she wasn’t lying down, more like half way between prone and sitting. She tried to sit up for real, but she couldn’t lift her head. Couldn’t lift her head. Why didn’t this concern her?

The door swung inward, and a shadow blocked much of the light. There was a clock above the door. It was 3:20, likely 3:20 a.m. The shadow pushed the door behind her. The shadow was accompanied by a rolling cart that she steered by a long pole. She approached the princess with a smile. Her greeting revealed her West Indian roots. She placed a cuff around the arm of the princess and put a probe under her tongue.

“Got it!” The princess knew she was in the hospital and was woozy from either the residuals of morphine or the peak of the percocet. The morphine did make her vomit. She remembered now. She asked if she was due for the anti-nausea meds. The shadow was named Carla and she said she would check with the nurse. She was the tech and was worried about the snow that was blizzarding down. She might have to work a double shift if the forecast held.

Carla checked the bulbs that hung from the princess’s neck. The bulbs were glued to two incisions to collect some post operative fluids. Carla was having none of the way they were hanging. She emptied them, after measuring the output and making positive clicking noises. She walked behind the bed and opened one and then another and then a third drawer. She searched in the dark and found some safety pins.

Carla walked back to the princess and pinned the bulbs to the princess’s gown. “This way they won’t pull. I didn’t like how they were.” She smiled again and helped the princess to the bathroom.

The princess felt queasy, so she swallowed to keep things down. “Is there a toothbrush?” Carla handed her one. She brushed her teeth and drank some water. After all that activity, she was tired. Or she was sore. Or maybe she was just high.

She shuffled back the seven shuffle-steps to the bed with her own pole-cart in tow. Carla had straightened her sheets. She backed into the bed and swung her legs up, schooched back and instead of leaning into the pillow her head dropped like a rag doll’s. She placed her hand on the back of her head to prop it up. She then used her hand to lower her head on the center of the pillow.

Her mind was clouded, but at least she knew where she was, now. She felt webs criss cross across her brain, behind her eyes and thought that she fell back to sleep. She wasn’t a princess. 

Just Dessert

Let me tell you what it’s like eating through a tube in your nose.

Wait. Backing up a minute.

As the surgeon was telling me about my upcoming procedure, he had my full attention until he got to the part where I would be eating through my nose for a few weeks.

My brain hit the brakes for a hard stop. The doctor said other stuff–I know because I saw his mouth moving–but I don’t remember anything else he said. (Fortunately the Spouse was there to collect the data I missed.) I was stuck on eating dinner through a tube in my nose.

Most interesting was the nonchalance of the surgeon. As if he was telling someone with a new cast to be sure to keep it dry in the shower. Or reminding you not to eat after 11 p.m. the day before the procedure. Or that you could be reimbursed for parking the day of surgery if you got your ticket from the garage stamped by someone at the information desk.

After the surgery, I woke up to hear the surgeon talking to Spouse, telling him that I would probably be out for a while and that I would likely be unable to speak for a few days. I asked why that was, and neither could hold their surprise. Spouse because I was awake, and Dr. that I spoke. Spouse expected the latter.

I had an IV for the morphine, antibiotics and whatever else they were giving me, so we weren’t using the tube right away. And then it was hooked to the IV stand. It would be 30 hours before my nurse briefed me on how to feed myself.

The tube was thinner than I expected and kept in place by two stitches on the side of my nose. It was in my left nostril, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. The big deal was ensuring that it went properly into my stomach. I guess the food passed wouldn’t do much good otherwise. Fortunately the surgeon took care of that. It had some length, almost like a long strand of hair weave. It was a hint of when I had long hair–or any hair. I could flip it over my shoulder. The tube, that is.

After I got unhooked from the autofeed, I needed my training. The nurse poured this thick muddy colored liquid into a plastic hospital measuring cup. She pulled out this massive (to me) syringe with a long nozzle that she dipped into the slurry and drew the plunger back to fill it. The syringe screwed into my tube and she slowly pushed the plunger in and the liquid was delivered into my stomach.

It didn’t taste like anything, since going through my nose it bypassed my tongue and tastebuds. It was room temperature, so I couldn’t feel in passing through. I bet if if was hot or cold the change in temperature would register through my throat or in my stomach. The only clue I was left with was the syringe emptying.

It was my turn. It took 3 or 4 syringe fulls to finish the bottle. It was weird, but I slowly emptied the measuring cup. After emptying the tube, I had to “drink” some water to flush it out. I also would use the syringe and tube to take my meds, but in the hospital I was still taking them by IV.

When I was released, I had my supply of Ensure, liquid tylenol and my hospital laboratory kit. I placed it all on this red square melamine holiday plate with a poinsettia design that I got from Target.

Three times a day I pulled the plate off of the server and onto the dining room table. I’d lay out my supplies and completely and absolutely feed myself and take my medicine.  And the surgeon was right. It wasn’t such a big deal. The weirdness wore off and the family began to take it in stride.

I even got outside and took a walk with my alien-like tube hanging off my face freaking out at least one neighbor who was too polite to ask what the hell was going on. He just stood there talking with us. It was kinda sweet because I really didn’t want to talk about it and he gave me a bye. I don’t care if it was a happy accident. I’m still grateful.

I am a super fast healer–no doubt abetted by my slavish adherence to all rules by my health care team. [Others in my life get no such obedience and at least one would like me to occasionally be more compliant.] I was able to go back to mouth feeding after eight days, and damn were those mashed potatoes good. As was the cottage cheese.

Thinking of this on the occasion of the two-year anniversary of my tube-feeding (I know, an odd celebration), my mind started playing Thru The Wire.

I drink a Boost for breakfast, an Ensure for dessert.
Somebody ordered pancakes, I just sip the sizzurp.
That right there could drive a sane man berserk.

I’m all better now. So I ate a steak.

Hating Waiting

my wedding and engagement rings

A friend asked me if I saw things differently since I found out that I had stupid cancer. I said that it doesn’t make sense to wait. Do things now. Remodel the kitchen? Cool trip? Just do it. My friend called it the tyranny of now.

But that really isn’t true. I’ve been waiting.

Time is suspended during treatment. There’s a treatment plan, but you have to wait to see if it’s working. You need to see if it knocks you out. Or not.

Do I start something that I might not be able to finish? Do I end up either having to push too much–setting myself back–or throw in the towel because I can’t do something?

So, I kind of hang back. Suspended in time. Waiting for this to be done.

I’m not tyrannized by any “now.” My tyranny is this stupid illness. It’s stopping me. But, I always knew there was an end, and, right now, I think I can see it.

One of the first parts of my treatment was to have the stupid tumor tattooed. I had to go to the hospital and have it done under general anesthesia.

When you go under general you can’t wear makeup or nail polish. And you can’t wear any jewelry. Not earrings. And not rings. Not a wedding ring.

My wedding ring is a small, simple gold band. I never took it off. And it was very comfortable on my finger. Very comfortable–in like it didn’t want to come off. The pre-op nurse and I bonded over the fight we had getting the ring off my finger. After we wrestled it off, she put it in a small bag. It was marked bio-hazard. She handed it to my spouse for safekeeping.

The next part of my treatment was the chemo, but I knew that surgery would follow. Since I had such grief getting the ring off, I decided to wait to put it back on until I was done.

A few weeks ago I had surgery to remove the tumor. Tomorrow I have another surgery to remove some lymph nodes. Then this stupid cancer should be gone.

I am bringing my wedding ring to the hospital. And I am putting it back on. Then I will be done waiting.