Hallelujah, and whew

Confetti al cel, by Núria i JC on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Confetti al cel, by Núria i JC on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I went for an MRI this morning. I was worried when the train stalled in the tunnel just south of where I needed to transfer, taking me past the time I was meant to be showing up to sign in. I still needed to transfer and ride three stations. It was tense. I was listening to music but finally couldn’t take the stress anymore.

Facing me was a woman dressed in scrubs, also annoyed by the delay. I tried to will myself not to talk to her, because apparently now, fortified with steroids, I am become a person who speaks to everyone. I could not keep it in. I asked if she was a healthcare worker, and she said yes, a phlebotomist at a faraway hospital. I told her how much I valued Phlebotomist B at the cancer center. I tried, really I tried, to keep my steroid-fueled gregariousness in check. I could not. At least I only spoke to one person.

To think, at the beginning of the subway ride, I’d considered making an announcement to the entire car about an effort the NYC government is making to reach out to workers in manicure shops, following the recent NYTimes expose on poor health and labor conditions at many of them. I had just gotten an email this morning with information on how to sign up to be stationed at one of a dozen transit hubs on Thursday morning to give out literature to people who may be employed at these places. I didn’t think I could go to any of these faraway stations at 7:30 a.m., but I figured maybe if I announced it someone might take interest. I didn’t do it, though. Because I still have a very froggy voice from my unrelated-to-cancer spring cold/upper respiratory infection/reminder I am human and not some freakish cancer-fighting-eternally-blogging robot. Not because it was a crazy idea. I have had a few dozen of those in the past weeks.

Speaking of dozens, guess what? I found something out today. Something interesting, going back to last month. Back when I was writing to you from my hospital bed? And recorded my brain malfunctioning as it happened? I didn’t have three lesions on my brain then, as I had been given to understand. Today, I learned from Dr P and Nurse Practitioner R, their faces flooded with relief upon seeing a good brain MRI from this morning, I had actually had “a dozen.” A dozen lesions on my brain. That may not even be 12. A dozen is an approximative number. Like “several.” I understood I had several, but what I actually had was a dozen.

I cannot quite get over this past month. It has been one of the most transformative in my entire life. Even when I went through puberty or shot up to six feet by eighth grade, I don’t think I’ve been through this much in this short a time.

The elevators at the cancer center were totally messed up today. I race-walked from the subway to get to my MRI appointment ten minutes late, then climbed a steep flight of stairs to the office. Dr P’s office, though, is on the 9th floor. I wasn’t up for that kind of climb. I rode in the elevator with a lot of sick people. I know there is great pain and suffering in that building. Last fall, I was briefly part of that landscape, adding to the tableau of infirmity. Today, I was exuberant even before I knew the results of the MRI. I enjoyed my time in the weird tunnel, happily looking through a mirror at my legs and feet and almost laughing when the lame classical music in the headphones (truly, it was from the soundtrack of Swiss  Family Robinson or something) would get drowned out by the jackhammer or fire alarm noises that produced resonance that made the images of my rapidly healing brain come clear.

I am not out of these woods, this selva oscura my mid-life has led me to. Phlebotomist B drew some blood today. I learned about his life – he works in Midtown, lives in the Bronx, and studies way out in Dobbs Ferry. He spends his entire life on the road. He is trying to transfer to a closer program. I felt it my duty as a New Yorker and a Jew to teach him the word schlep. But first I had to explain to him what Yiddish was. Perhaps he had no idea I was a Jew before today. I told him next time he’d need to teach me a word from his language. He is from the Gambia – which has English listed as its official language, but it could be a number of different languages he grew up speaking. I’ll report back when I learn a word from one.

The blood he drew was analyzed, while we celebrated my good news with Dr P and Nurse Practitioner R, who announced her new pregnancy to us. I am down to three lesions, the largest of which (the three centimeter one from last month, the one affecting my speech and language) is now down to a centimeter. That is unbelievably rapid progress. In one month. I also came bearing gifts today, for Dr P and both nurse practitioners. I had heard about this anthology on Facebook and promptly bought four copies. I started reading it a few nights ago, and have been riveted. I have gone from not having a very good understanding of nursing to reading the most profound meditations on it from excellent nurses who are also excellent writers. Do you need more incentive? IT’S ON SALE. Go buy one. Dr P celebrated with us her first “A” in accounting (did I mention she’s getting an M.B.A. in her “spare” time?). It was just nonstop joy in that room. Nurse Practitioner R made up a calendar to help me taper further off the steroids. Even though I’m down to one 4 mg dose per day, it did keep me up last night when I decided not to take my sleepy drugs. I also learned today that Ativan is not habit-forming, so I won’t need to worry about not taking it when I want to stop. And I want to stop. Staggering to the bathroom in the middle of the night like an addict is not my idea of fun, and it’s ten times worse when Young A also gets up to pee and I need to supervise and feel like I’m going to just fall over.

So. The blood work. That’s when things turned slightly southwards, but nothing insurmountable. The blood work showed an increase in my liver function. This is attributable to the cancer drug. So I’m officially off it for a week, until I go back next week for another blood test. I was reassured that this is normal, that patients often take breaks from the drug, and that it is yet again proof the drug is working (as if my own immune system obliterating maybe ten brain lesions were not proof enough?). I’m glad the side effects this time are more sneaky. (I like sneaky. I can handle that. I know now that I can’t handle a month of colitis. That almost broke me.)

In the waiting room, J and I had met an adorable four year old girl there with her mom, who is also being treated by Dr P. She’d actually been diagnosed with melanoma while pregnant. She was referred to Dr P as the person to see. As if I needed more reasons to love my doctor.

I also found new pants for the boys to wear in their school pictures tomorrow. Pants without holes in the knees, like all the rest of their pants. And they were marked down to $5.90 each. It was THAT KIND OF DAY.

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