It was a Wednesday, and I was feeling pretty good the day after chemo. Zane and his dad had gone to soccer practice, and I looked around for something to do instead of my usual nap. There were dishes in the sink that needed to be put into the dishwasher, but I looked around the house in vain a few more times.
I hate doing dishes. That's probably weird to most people, but I have my reasons, mostly tactile. It was my usual job growing up to wash the dishes before the invention of dishwashers, and I can still remember my hands in the soapy water, scrubbing the night's dinner from plates and pans. Familiar things feel weird when they've been in the water; that lasagna that was so tasty on your palate feels just plain icky when your fingers hit it and you're trying to clean it off. I still have nightmares about a particularly stubborn pan of leftover shortcake and the way the breaded mess felt like skin under the water.
Finally, I just bit the bullet, washed off the dishes in the sink and got the dishwasher started. I did not think about my hands, or my fingernails, which were detaching from my fingers due to my chemo. I did not think about any of that, because I've done dishes my entire life without wearing gloves and never had a single problem. Why would I think anything had changed? I wasn't thinking like a cancer patient, which is where I went wrong. When your immune system is compromised, every day normal things, like doing the dishes, can invite all sorts of microscopic critters into your body, which is no longer prepared to fight back.
I woke up the next day, and the index finger and thumb of my left hand were swollen and painful. I knew that was a possible side effect of the chemo drug, taxitere, but I called the oncologist anyway. Since I was already having the usual skin reactions to the chemo from Tuesday, I chalked the new symptoms to that and went about my business.
But they got worse. I did not sleep at all that night, because those two fingers were throbbing and painful and continued to swell. I did not go to work on Friday, but stayed home and slept. I put ice on my hand, trying to get the swelling to go down. I took my pain medications, hoping that would allow some relief. I couldn't even bend those two fingers. I was getting frantic, and then I hit my thumb on the wall and it exploded. The nail lifted just enough for the icky stuff that was underneath to escape. It was extremely gross, but I finally felt some relief, both physically and mentally. Now I knew what was going on, and I could deal with it.
I called the oncologist, and they prescribed antibiotics. The first round prescribed was vetoed by my husband, because according to the pharmacist there was a derivative of my old nemesis penicillin in it. The second round was finally brought home from the pharmacy that night. The swelling started to go down, and I got a good night's sleep.
All of my fingernails are loose, as the chemo does its work. They ooze sometimes, and I just have to let them. I have two finger nails that I have to prevent from popping up and scaring random children; those will likely fall off at some point. My hands, which are also shedding skin like a scaly reptile of some sort, look like they belong to someone else. My toenails are not nearly so bad, but they're now opaque and a pedicure is not going to help.
The good news is that I've been forbidden from doing any more dishes for the duration of my treatment. My reality has changed, at least for now, and I just have to go with the flow until I get the all clear. A new normal. I'm okay with that.