When I first started this chemo gig, my infusion space at the hospital looked like party central. I invited friends and we gathered into the cramped space. We sometimes had food, we always had laughter, and I eventually ended up looking drugged because one of the anti-nausea meds made my facial muscles droopy and me unable to speak clearly.
Over time, the scene changed. We finally figured out that we could lower the dose of that face-altering drug. I stopped taking the steroids (which made me a crazy screaming person who couldn’t sleep) and replaced them with IV Ativan, which alleviated my tendency to vomit but put me to sleep.
Though we cut back on the party vibe, I was lucky enough to still have a friend to join me each time. They would support me through the port access and blood draw, and sit through the meeting with my doctor. After that, my nurse would administer the Ativan, which would shortly knock me out.
I always suggested that my friend leave right at that point. Why bother to stay only to watch me sleep? And what if I drooled or did other embarrassing or gross things – I wanted to keep my friends and some shred of dignity.
Recently though, an old, dear friend joined me for chemo for the first time. In her bag, she brought a shawl in case I got chilled, and a few other things. I can’t remember exactly what they were, only that every time I needed something, she had it in that bag. I was really touched.
We reached the point in the process where the nurse gave me Ativan, so I thanked my friend and told her that she could feel free to leave.
“I’m staying,” she said simply.
“Did you bring a book?” Her bag was shapeless and didn’t seem to hold one.
“No,” she replied. “I am going to sit with you.”
“I’ll be asleep,” was my weak but best response.
I didn’t have kind of time or energy to dissuade her, so that was that. I thought her idea was a little crazy but I was drugged and in no position to win with logic. And I love her whether or not she has a crazy idea.
So we moved to a room with a bed (for me) and a chair (for her), and I was out.
Some time later, the Ativan wore off and I opened my eyes. The first thing I saw was my friend.
At that moment, I was feeling nauseous and in pain, but my overwhelming feeling was the relief of, “I am not alone.”
I suddenly remembered: I do typically wake during chemo. And when I do, I grope around for the nurse call button. Eventually a nurse arrives who looks me over and asks what I want. I stammer that I need my nurse, she says that she will get her, and leaves.
Everyone is very kind. But they are strangers, and it takes effort to interact with them. After each chemo session, I block it from my mind as part of the whole event.
But today, I remembered, possibly because this experience was such a contrast. And not only did I feel so supported, but my friend looked at me and knew what I needed.
Firmly, she said, “I will get your nurse.”
No call button. No unfamiliar intermediate nurse. My friend left and I knew she would return with my nurse AND the medicine I needed. And she did.
She stayed with me until my chemo session was complete. Each time, when I finish, my husband arrives, and he and the nurse help me to put on my shoes and get me into a wheelchair. I never remember anything from there. But this time, I remembered that my friend was still with me. And that made all the difference in the world.