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It's everything I want to tell people when they make small talk and profound talk, but I often can't. Sickness, sex, and the process of dealing with aging parents feel unspeakable and sometimes unreachable, but they sure aren't here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fluid to Body Memory

nasty sink Originally uploaded by smalldogs.

Evidence of suffering may be reasonable and foreseeable; watch where you step. Today was a trip to chemoland, where I drove while dad talked about one of our fav subjects: boxing, the great boxers spawned by Philadelphia, and injury as a matter of course in a fighter's life. "Sugar Ray Robinson killed a man, Tim Doyle," Bobblehead said. "He even had to appear in front of a Senate committee where they were grilling him and asking him, 'Didn't you know he was in trouble before you hit him again?' "Sugar Ray was a smart guy. He said, 'Senator, my job is to get people in trouble.' That ended it." Today I leave my dad in the waiting room to get his bad local journalism fix. I glide into the treatment area where I never feel my feet hitting the floor. I can see things are stressful and terse for both patients and staff. They are short-staffed today, thanks to an oversight from an agency. Service is slower. Infusion recliners seem askew. Even with these problems, I have still found the best staff I have ever encountered; they actually find veins when no one else can, and they can tolerate my whiney responses to needles. I pick my recliner, the one between the pharmacy window and the nurses' station. I throw my coat on the chair before sitting. As I turn to plunk in the chair, I lower my purse to the floor. That's when I see not droplets, but a puddle, a true puddle, complete with a few splatter marks, of blood. I put my purse on my lap instead. It isn't bodily fluid anymore. It's a trip to my own infusions where vein after vein after vein deflated or ruptured, running dry and rejecting the IV. My worst was the day I screwed up my prednisone, taking it literally minutes before my IV insertion. It was my own fault. With each attempt at a vein, I screamed. One scream was worth the work: the IV took, and I squeezed my dad's hand through it. Later that evening, I overhead him say he thought I had broken it because it hurt him so badly. Pain begets different types of strength. The nurse wasn't sure whether that vein was a false hope, so she left the needle in a bit with my arm tied off at the bicep. The blood continued to ooze. The pressure was drowning; the air felt like water. It was the best and smartest thing she could have done for me. The point was to see if the vein could withstand the pressure and get a good blood return. Later I overheard my dad tell someone that he hadn't seen so much blood shoot from a vein. When I asked him about it, he said he wondered what was wrong, why they would make me bleed out like that into a gauze pad when my veins were shot and throbbing. He wondered about the pain, whether it would finally work and be worth the gruesome test. I could picture the nurse explaining the bleeding and pain: "My job is to get people in trouble." The bleeding had a purpose. I saturated the gauze pad. The nurse removed the needle to thread in the catheter. The IV drip started. Finally I had my meds for the next hours in that vein without it collapsing.

All of this I remembered, fingering my purse's zipper and carefully placing my feet out of reach of some faceless (and apparently nearly veinless) patient's frustrated suffering.

Photo credit: "nasty sink" by smalldogs (click on the photo to see more of this artist's work on flickr), who is a published writer and the owner of Small Dogs Press. Permission obtained for use.

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