In case you were wondering where the fuck I am, I’m back from Croatia and having another kind of vacation at Mt Sinai hospital, in a room, by myself, where they keep changing the protection protocols from gowns, masks and gloves, to nothing, and back. For my protection.
Febrile Neutropenia. It’s what they worry about when you're going through chemo - that you'll get a fever and your white blood cell count will drop to a dangerously low level, and you’ll have no capacity to fight off infection. I seem to have some latent version. It’s been 3 ½ months since my last chemo.
Traveling in general, and flying specifically in a sealed tin can, with a man hacking beside me, can be sickening. 9 hrs in the air plus 3 on the tarmac waiting for a third refueling truck that actually has fuel in it, because the first two came empty. With the economy so bad, someone must have decided that driving around empty fuel trucks was a good job creation strategy.
I haven’t been well for weeks actually. A lot of snot, no other symptoms, but I’ll leave the clues that it was an infection to your imagination.
Feverish and feeling like crap, I went to my family doc on Tuesday. She took blood, because I looked so bad. She told me this the next morning, right after she reported that my white blood count was extremely low. Conveniently, I was standing outside my therapist’s office at the Odette Cancer Centre when I got the call. I had no fever and about 64 pressing how the fuck am I going to get my life together now questions that were immediately superceded by will I have a life to get together?
I promptly burst into tears – my go-to (not) coping strategy. My therapist suggested I redo the blood and talk to someone in hematology. Anyway, bla bla bla, they told me to go home, rest, and if the fever came back (anything over 37.5) to head to emerg.
I took my temperature about 49 times over the course of an hour and watched it climb. Then I packed my phone, my computer, and my chargers (the essentials), and walked over to Mt Sinai. I waited over 1 ½ hrs in the waiting room.
Yes, I have a little complaint letter prepared in my head about making someone with 7 white blood cells sit with a bunch of sick people. I told the triage nurse that it was my understanding that I should be isolated, or taken in, given the cancer and the chemo and all that, and that’s what happened the last time I was at emerg here. But she insisted that in all my 10 years on the job, I’ve never heard such a thing (seriously?). I asked for a mask.
Otherwise I have no complaints. Ok maybe one, about the food, which rivals Air Transat in supreme disgustingness. How do they do that to tomato soup? Doesn't salad mean there has to be one more thing besides lettuce? Can’t complain about the food in emerg though – there is none, or maybe you have to ask. 13 hrs wearing my mask. But at least I had a bed.
I lay in my curtained cubicle listening to the harsh stories of my fellow travelers. There is no privacy here. I was saddened but mostly panicked by the guy next to me who had been fighting a horrible infection that was proving to be antibiotic-resistant. They were hooking him up to an IV and admitting him. I’m lying next door with no immunity. A few minutes later they came to move me to a cubicle with walls for my own safety. The nurse assured me his infection, while bad, was likely not contagious. I'd have liked a bit more certitude, but I no longer live in the world where certitude is either possible or convincing.
It was 4:30 am when they wheeled my saline and antibiotic filled body, the bags of snacks, runners, t-shirts and technological devices I’d already managed to accumulate, piled around me on the gurney, to the 14 floor. It was too late for the sleeping pill they’d promised but it was silent and calm and I managed to sleep for a couple of hours.
It’s now Saturday. Here I am, no clue for how long, reading 100 Years of Solitude, regretting the decision to put the IV in my right hand, grateful beyond words (again) for friends and family, currently no fever, feeling fine, waiting for my white blood cells to change direction and head back above 1. Come on. Just give me a sign that you’re trying.
Antibiotics, anti-viral and anti-clotting meds. I’m the anti-girl. I’m fine with that as long as I don’t become the girl in the plastic bubble.
Post script: The doc just came by to tell me things have taken a slight turn. Uphill.