You may be wondering about the title of this post… Well, the chemo certainly isn’t designed to get the patient excited, but I do like to think of this part of the process in these terms… As I understand it, they give me chemo at this point in order to stimulate the body into hastily producing more stem cells so they can collect enough to transplant them back into me in a few weeks’ time.
So, on Thursday 16 June – the day after having the Hickman line fitted, I had to be back in hospital. First though, I needed to call to find out when the bed would be free. They asked me to come in at 12:30, so off I went late morning for a full-on fried English breakfast.
I didn’t know if the chemo would make me nauseous or put me off my food, but I had a good idea I wouldn’t be keen to eat hospital food anyway. They may be making way with buying local and seasonal food, but they still need to do quite a bit of work to prepare tasty, well-cooked food that patients actually want to eat.
The Haematology unit at Nottingham City Hospital is very new (opened in 2006). I was on Fletcher ward, where I’ll also be for the actual transplant. Each patient has their own private room, with en-suite shower-room/toilet and free bedside TV/radio. It’s all very clean, fresh and shiny and I had a view of the roof on an older part of the hospital, with an attractive weather vane on top, so I could watch the wind changing direction.
Shortly after I arrived the system got into full flow. First was a blood test to check my kidney function. This was the first use of my new line – it worked! So no more nasty needles or painful cannulas from hereon in. The blood test is to determine how much chemotherapy and the other fluids (for protecting my kidneys and bladder from the nasty cytotoxic stuff) I would need.
While waiting for the blood results, a Haematology ‘fellow’ (just before becoming a consultant apparently), who was not a fellow but a woman called Hardeep, came in to carry out a bone marrow biopsy.
This was my second biopsy; the first one was on 4 Feb and was the final jigsaw piece in the puzzle of diagnosing me. The first one was carried out by another ‘fellow’ called Charlotte, who was so very sweet and supportive, explaining what she was doing before and during the procedure and did her utmost not to cause me pain. Not having a friend with me on that day, a young doctor called Kat held my hand and reassured me. It really wasn’t too bad. Charlotte is now a consultant in Leeds.
This time, while Hardeep was pleasant, she didn’t have quite the same bed-side manner as Charlotte. She explained the procedure as she went along and accomplished the task well enough, although she had to go back in for a bit more marrow as she didn’t get enough the first time.
The biopsy consists of two parts: firstly some blood/plasma liquid from my marrow, which they daub onto microscope slides for analysis; then some actual marrow which they send off to Birmingham to be analysed. The biopsy is used to ascertain if there are any myeloma cells in my bone marrow. It’s required for the clinical trial, prior to receiving the chemotherapy. I guess at some point, they’ll need another one to show that the myeloma cells are no longer present.
It really was not fun and left me quite bruised, but didn’t take too long. It hurts a bit – a weird uncomfortable tugging from my pelvis. My friend stayed with me throughout, held my hand and smiled reassuringly at me. Hardeep and her assistant scurried off with their loot and left me in peace for a while.
A bit later, the nurse returned with the bags of chemo and other fluids and proceeded to hook me up. There’s really not a lot to say about this bit, except that it was a bit boring, but I had books, my laptop and the bedside TV as well as the company of my friend. Life carried on at a fairly slow pace and the fluids worked their way into my body. The only occasional interruption was the ping ping pong of the machine to indicate that a bag had run out, when I had to call a nurse to change it for a new one.
If the worst thing I can say about any parts of this experience is that it is/was boring, then it’s really not so bad, is it?
I slept quite well but really couldn’t eat much. I’m so not looking forward to that aspect of the transplant experience – 2 weeks in hospital won’t do much for my weight gain.
Friday continued in much the same vein apart from a brief tutorial from the lovely nurse, Karen who showed my friend how to inject me subcutaneously, along with watching a DVD on the subject which I got to take home too. On Thursday and Friday evenings, the nurse had my friend ‘practice’ by giving me the daily injection to prevent thrombosis that you get when you’re in hospital. Friday’s attempt showed a definite improvement so when we left, I felt confident to allow her to carry out the injections the following week.
Just in case anyone thinks I’ve forgotten, or just omitted to mention it, I had still not heard back from either of the consultants. As I left the hospital around 7pm on the Friday, a nurse told me that Cathy Williams (one of the consultants) would give me a call the following week. I am still waiting and it’s now the following Monday! Grrr…