Kookaburra sits in the olde gum tree
Merry merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, kookaburra laugh, kookaburra
Gay your life must be.
for you twinkies out there.
Some thoughts (and whines) about chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is the hardest thing I've ever done. You don't go into the ER, you've volunteered your healthy (except for the cancer cells) body to be poisoned, intoxicated, [for some patients, irradiated] and in general be run over by a toxic truck. And you've hired an HMO, a hospital, and a team of health professionals to do this. All in the hope of running over those cancer cells, and in the hope that you'll be able to pick up the healthy pieces and put them back together again. The second is the hard part, and the most miserable (am I whining yet?).
Chemo destroyed my immune system, so I needed antibiotics and physical isolation to avoid infection. Chemo destroyed my blood system, so I needed blood and platelet transfusions from friends to live. Chemo destroyed my gastrointestinal tract, so I could not eat or drink anything for three weeks. Imagine, an ethnic Chinese unable to eat! Living on intravenous nutrition ( a yellow fluid, like beer. Or honey). The last struck me as especially bizarre. I found great difficulty (psychologically as well as physically) separating the act of eating food from the fact of being human. Eating is so much of what people are about, and I was not doing it.
The intravenous lines reminded me of an umbilical cord, which was not entirely inappropriate, for a chemo patient is so debilitated that he or she is virtually helpless, like a baby, or a fetus. Completely dependent on technology and on the competence and good will of others. Without control, you become a creature of habit, with no thought except whether taking those pills the nurse just ordered you to swallow will make you nauseous or not. And though I was reduced to so minimal a human being, people around me still called me 'Alan'. Sometimes I could not quite answer back.
Until now, I have had the good fortune of a very comfortable life, and I have taken all sorts of things, including my humanity, for granted. But having glimpsed an abyss, I have learned a little about what makes you fully human, and what does not.
It takes very little.
Ever been delirious? You know, where you have no idea what is going on in the real world, but instead are living in a dream world for days on end, a world which seems so real that you act upon it as if it were real. For a few weeks in December 1997, in Seattles Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, right after BMT, my liver and kidneys nearly failed, allowing the accumulation of numerous toxins in my bloodstream. This brought me very near to death (as I elaborated in my 1/8/98 entry under "Latest News" in the week around Christmas. My poor family, my poor Ako, suffered so. But I myself at the time had no idea how bad it was, as my intoxicated brain was continuously delirious for much of that bad time. I imagined all sorts of fantastic scenes and plots and events. Two years later, I still remember them. I list them in no particular order. The list is not exhaustive: this is merely what I remember.
1. Did you know that there is an entertainment/education complex hidden underneath the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle? You only get access if you are a patient. One night my bed sank beneath the floor into this complex, where Ako and I got to ride around in electric cars sort of like the ones in Disneyland's It's a Small World, except the exhibits were mostly about cancer. The system got jammed and we had to climb our way out.
2. Later, I was not in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, but in a counterpart institution in Japan. The most sophisticated technologies were used to treat me. The only problem was that I knew no one there except for Ako (and she appeared only occasionally, apparently visiting from Seattle), and I understood no Japanese. It was scary. I peed in my pants, which I apparently did in the real world. When that happened I was transferred to Seattle, which lay right behind a magic door.
3. Again I was in a Swiss counterpart to the Seattle Center. This time I could control the movement of my bed. But not the movement of my bladder. I peed several more times and was removed back to Seattle.
4. A jungle had grown up inside the hospital. My dad and I went off in search of water and various medications, apparently in competition with other patients. We found them all, and won the game.
5. In a very weakened state I found myself on a mountainous island that apparently was Hong Kong. I had to get to the lowlands and find a place to sit and be treated. It took much struggle and cajoling, but I finally got treated.
6. We were the flight crew for a Japanese space rocket hidden in a mountain. Half the crew was bad and we had to get rid of them, resulting in various James Bond-like escapades. My good friend Erwin led the bad guys, and I had to give him the boot myself.
7. My sister and I were French resistance fighters captured by the Germans. Our guard, who bore a very strong resemblance to one of my more caring, if also severe and robust nurses, prevented my escaping many times by ordering me to return to bed. Said nurse later told me that in fact I repeatedly tried to leave bed and she had to stop me. Sister also confirmed that many times I really did whisper to her Its time to escape. We never did.
I think that there were more than 7 delusions, but hey, thats enough for one Christmas week, no?
San Diego, back when I could do such things
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