Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A day of some disorder: two notes from today's chemotherapy

On our way to Sloan-Kettering at 6:30 this morning, as usual with many other hardworking folks on their way into New York City, we heard sirens. Teresa pulled us over to the next lane to make room for what turned out to be a mini-convoy: a couple of SUV’s, and two or three smaller cars, all with lights flashing and at least one with a siren going. I’m not sure any of them were marked police cars. Who would have a convoy like this? Of course we don’t know, but one likely guess is that it was some public official, and the most plausible candidate (no pun intended) would be New Jersey’s Governor Christie. Was he on his way to some Trump event? Or to some function that actually involved New Jersey? Either way (and of course assuming that it was in fact Christie, and that he didn’t have some genuine emergency to go to as part of his official duties), I find myself annoyed. Lots of people on the road this morning had pressing business, Teresa and I among them. Why exactly does the Governor (if it was the Governor) get to shunt everyone else aside for his business? This doesn’t seem like public service; it’s more like a privilege of power.

Nevertheless we made it into the city without too much trouble, visited the hematologist (who suggests I go off the blood thinner and replace it with a daily baby aspirin!), then had blood work, saw the oncologist (who was attentive, as always, but seemed to be in a hurry), and then had chemotherapy. For me the treatment was pretty straightforward, though for some reason the infusion hurt more than usual. When the nurses realized this was so, they became quite concerned about the possibility that some of the chemotherapy drugs themselves might have leaked into my arm. That would be unfortunate – not terrible, because these particular drugs are irritants but not destructive for ordinary tissue – but the nurses didn’t think that had happened, and some hours later I don’t see any sign that they were wrong. So, in short, things went pretty smoothly for me.

But while Teresa and I were sitting in my treatment cubicle, the public address system called for emergency response – to the chemotherapy area where we were! As we learned, down the hall another patient, an old man, had been found unconscious and unresponsive. Apparently, in the end, this wasn’t some grave reaction to chemotherapy but something more mundane – he’d choked on a fig he was eating, and when the fig was dislodged, he recovered consciousness and appeared to be okay (though he was still transported to another hospital’s trauma ward). The lesson wasn’t that chemotherapy is dangerous, at least not directly, but that chemotherapy by yourself is dangerous. Who knows what can go wrong at any moment? There are all sorts of reasons not to try to deal with cancer by yourself – but saving you from unnoticed emergency turns out to be another. Don’t hike alone, and don’t get chemotherapy alone either.


  1. Love your blog. Thanks, Steve!

  2. or "don't eat figs." Thanks for updating us and isn't this your birthday?

  3. Thanks to you both. Kristin, my birthday was a little before all this, but thanks for thinking of that too!