Tuesday started off as another routine chemo day. I would be getting a new chemo drug, and I would have 12 weeks of this before I would be finished. Mentally, I had established my own inner countdown--four treatments down, 12 to go.
Except that it wasn't routine. As soon as the nurse inserted the needle into my mediport and tried to draw blood, nothing was routine. What was supposed to happen after the insertion of the needle? That would be blood flowing into the syringe. This time, nothing happened. No blood. Nothing came out of my body. The nurse didn't panic, but I certainly got anxious, especially when she immediately started pumping on the plunger that went with the syringe. It appeared to my untrained eyes that my nurse was pumping massive amounts of air into a major vein located right next to my heart. My anxiety rose rapidly.
Nobody really talks about the anxiety and the panic attacks that come with a cancer diagnosis.
We start to freak out about everything, just because that lump we though was "nothing" was something. We cancer patients can no longer trust ourselves to know anything about what is going on in our bodies. Any little thing sets off a chain reaction of "What ifs?" that would
drive anyone over the edge, but a person with an anxious
personality, like me? Amp that anxiety to 13. If I can't catch my
breath after climbing stairs, I'm dying. If my feet hurt, it's some
obscure cancer-related disease and my feet will have to be amputated. If my eye twitches because I'm tired, I think I'm losing my vision. Whatever is happening is THE. WORST. POSSIBLE. THING.
As I'm sitting in that chair, watching the nurse, my brain is remembering that I've seen all the cop shows. I've seen the movies where people are eliminated by some bad guy inserting a single air bubble into the IV of a victim in a hospital room. I know what an embolism is, fer cryin' out loud!
"Am I about to die from an embolism?" I blurted, ready to at least punch her for killing me. In my growing hysteria, I wasn't thinking about what the poor woman's motive might be for murdering me in a crowded chemo room with my husband standing right there. That would have required less anxiety and more actual brain. I was thinking of the movies, and the TV shows, and freaking myself out.
"What?" the exasperated nurse replied, still trying to get blood out of my chest. She laughed. "No, you aren't going to die from an embolism! Give me some credit here!"
She then explained what she was trying to do, and why no actual air had gone into my vein. Essentially, the needle was stuck in the port, having never exited to the other side as it is supposed to do. After a few more moments of fiddling with my mediport, she finally got it to work. I have never been more happy to see blood coming out of a syringe in my life. I was especially happy that the blood was red and looked normal. Routine.
"See, I do know what I'm doing!" The nurse teased me. I sheepishly smiled back.