Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBT+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: VA Hosp (page 1 of 2)

Veritigo

About three weeks ago, I awoke with the condition of vertigo. I was largely unconcerned with it at first because it was most prominent when I was rising from bed and laying down at night; it never lasted long, and the room usually righted itself within about 15-30 seconds after I settled on my feet or in my bed. Occasionally, I’d have a moment where the room tilted if I moved too suddenly, or if I held my head in a position looking down with my head tilted a bit to the side (I was unaware of just how often I did this until the vertigo came). It came upon me on Sunday or Monday, and when it didn’t clear up by the end of the week, I decided to go in to the VA’s ER on Saturday morning, as I’d risen earlier than usual and knew that getting in before 8:30AM was advisable, especially on a weekend.

So I checked in, they did the blood pressure/temperature/pulse/oxygenation readings, and left me in a familiar room near the entrance from the waiting room, around the corner from the doors. When the doc came to me, I explained my condition, and she performed a test to diagnose the condition. This test involved me laying down on my back with my head off the foot of the bed in another little exam room. Once on my back, she had me turn my head to the right, at which point the world spun. She then had me roll onto my left side until the vertigo went away, then helped me sit up again. She told me that if it had not passed so quickly, it would have indicated a stroke. Apparently, stroke victims suffer consistent vertigo from the time of onset. The fact that mine passed within a minute of the change of position of my head indicated it was more than likely something dislodged in my inner ear, and this was correctable.

As it was explained to me by the ER doc, there are crystals in the inner ear, and they can become misaligned, and this can cause intermittent vertigo. This was verified by the physical therapist I saw just this past Friday.

The ER doc gave me some Meclizine and sent me on my way after promising to put in a referral for me to see the physical therapist. On Wednesday, I received a letter inviting me to a walk-in clinic for the physical therapist regarding my vertigo, and I went in on, as I mentioned, Friday. Incidentally, I had an appointment for another visit regarding my arm at 1:00PM, this referred by my primary care doc after I contacted her regarding a few days of stiffness and excruciating pain to the point I couldn’t sleep; she never did send the medication she promised to put a scrip in for (LOL). Anyway, I went in early on Friday—around 11:00—and checked in to the walk in clinic for the vertigo.

I hadn’t long to wait. The physical therapist came out and I went back to a little exam room with him. I’ve forgotten his name, but he explained what caused my vertigo and did a test to verify I had vertigo. This involved laying down on my back on the exam bed with my head off the end and him observing my eyes for something he called “tapping,” if I remember right (I could be misremembering, but I’ll call it “tapping” for the time being). First he had me look to the left, and he didn’t see this indicator of vertigo. When, however, he had me turn my head to the right, everything whirled, and he saw the “tapping.” He helped me sit up, said the ER doc’s diagnosis of it being caused by issues in my right ear was correct, then had me move to a chair so he could give me instructions on how to correct the condition, demonstrating as he explained. Since we weren’t in his office, and he didn’t have access to the printouts he usually would have had—and he told me it would be clearer if he demonstrated—he told me to take a video of him, which I did.

Basically, for this exercise, I’m to sit at the middle point on the side of my bed. First, I’m to look up to the left, let the vertigo (if any) pass and wait 30 seconds, then lay down to the right, keeping my head in that position, let vertigo (if any) pass, and stay that way for 30 more seconds. Then I sit up. Next, I look up to the right, let vertigo pass, wait 30 seconds, and lay down on my left, let vertigo pass, wait 30 seconds, and sit up. That’s one time. I’m to do this 5 times twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, for two weeks. He was very clear on the fact that, like with antibiotics, I must do this for the prescribed number of days, even if I feel better, to ensure the misalignment in the inner ear is fully corrected.

I’ve already noticed a change just since my visit, as if some of what he had me do put things back into alignment. Still, I’m following his instructions and doing the exercise for the next two weeks.

Visit with the Substitute Oncologist

This entry is part 43 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

Well, I think I described the scheduling issues that happened before I finally got last Friday’s Oncology appointment scheduled. All this is because my regular Oncologist, Dr. Colonna, is out on maternity leave.

This past Friday, I arrived early like usual and got checked in and my vitals done like usual. They didn’t need blood taken or anything, so I didn’t need to visit the lab.

I was drowsy because I hadn’t slept well the night before, due to worrying about being up in time for the appointment, because it was at 11:00AM, a time I don’t usually go in for appointments. I’d gotten myself a caffeinated beverage at the coffee shop near the elevators I took to the floor where Oncology is, and I drank that while I waited, dozing between swallows. It helped; I was more alert and felt refreshed when I was finally visited.

That visitor was a Physician’s Assistant who works with the Oncology docs, Nancy Fong. The designation after her name is PA-C, and I’m left to assume the C stands for cancer given she’s working in the Oncology department. I’ll try to remember to ask her what it stands for if I see her again. Anyway, she did a breast exam and we discussed my vitamin regimen; I’d been taking 1 Calcium and 1 D3 vitamin a day with my meds and the Senior vitamins I started taking this month, but she wanted me to up the Calcium and D3 t0 2 pills a day, which I’m happy to obey. I don’t want my bones to deteriorate either.

After she finished with me, she left to go fetch the substitute Oncologist I was to see, Dr. Charles Parker. I was not expecting the doctor who came in. Not because he had an unusual appearance; he was tall, slender, wore glasses, and white-haired, so pretty normal that way. No, he couldn’t seem to say a single sentence without two or three umm pauses. Between that and his soft voice, I had difficulty following what he was saying.

Essentially, however, I no longer need the Leuprolide injection since I’ve had my ovaries and tubes removed. I’m still on the Anastrozole because there are some other organs which create a teeny-tiny amount of female hormones, and there’s concern my fat might also produce some. The Anastrozole is to prevent it creating another cancer.

He couldn’t speak on the possibility of having my breasts removed because he’s not my primary Oncologist, so I didn’t bother asking about that. It’s something I think Nancy may have known about, but I didn’t want to confuse Dr. Parker.

After Dr. Parker’s visit, I spoke briefly with Nancy again. She filled out a form that tells me when my next appointment is due (September) and wrote notes regarding the additional vitamins I’m to take and continuation of Anastrozole. They’re also going to arrange for me to get my next mammogram at about that time as well—and I asked about that, since I wasn’t sure if my primary care doc would have to put the order in, but Nancy explained it would be the Oncology department.

Sunday at the ER

For a few weeks now, I’ve been experiencing fluctuating levels of pain in my left shoulder/upper arm. I have no idea what I did to cause this, but as the pain was never so bad I couldn’t get to sleep at night, I didn’t bother doing more than taking a painkiller at night if I needed it so I could get to sleep. The pain never disturbed my sleep, and I usually awoke with it much dissipated. Some days were worse than others, but none were as bad as Saturday night this past weekend.

On that night, the pain kept me awake. I’d taken a half-dose of Nyquil (the berry flavored kind) because my sinuses were acting up too, so took no other painkillers. Then I went to bed. The 325mg of acetaminophen in the Nyquil did absolutely nothing to the pain. In fact, the pain only got worse. And, as this was the variety of Nyquil which doesn’t have any alcohol in it, I barely slept an hour, and then that was only half-sleep, where I felt the pain even in my vague dreams. No position I tried eased any of the pain, and I tried everything except sleeping propped up because I already knew from my hours awake with the pain it wouldn’t ease if I couldn’t prop it on something firm (and my pillows are hardly firm).

I finally got up at six on Sunday morning, and, near tears, managed to dress despite the incredible pain (yes, even my bra, and that was torture, even though I don’t hook it in the back and haven’t since I was in my early 20’s). I came out to my living room and made some coffee to wake me up, then, after sorting my medications into the pillbox sorter I have, I texted my friend who was supposed to drive me to grocery shopping that I was suffering excruciating pain in my shoulder. Through text, we arranged that if I didn’t text her that I didn’t want to go shopping, she’d contact me when she was on her way.

I didn’t text her refusing to go grocery shopping (I really needed food). It took me ten minutes to get my winter gear on after she texted she was on her way, and by the time I was done, she’d arrived. Usually, I’m downstairs outside waiting for her. The moment I got in the car and she had me buckled in (I had to ask for her help), I asked her if she’d be willing to drive me up to the VA Hosp after grocery shopping, and she stated she’d be happy to.

Did my grocery shopping despite the pain, and my friend took the lion’s share of my groceries to help me bring them upstairs in one trip (wasn’t as much as I thought it might be), then she drove me to the VA.

Now, going wisdom is that, at least on weekdays and Saturday, it’s best to arrive before 8:00-8:30 AM, or you’re likely to spend most of the day there waiting for care. It was almost 9:30 by the time I arrived on Sunday, so I expected there to be at least a few other people waiting. After arranging with my friend to keep her updated via text about my progress through the ER, I went in and discovered one person waiting—and she was waiting on someone who’d already gone in for care, not on care for herself.

I checked in. Five minutes later, they had my vitals and I was in an ER exam room waiting for the doc to come see me. About 50 mins later, the PA on duty came in and tested my range of movement and strength. She declared my arm not broken, but that I had likely pulled or strained muscles/ligaments in my shoulder somehow, even though I couldn’t recall doing anything to do so. All I could say was that I’d not fallen on my arm.

She showed me some exercises to do. 1. Bend at the waist and do circles with my arm as big as I can make them; she showed me only one direction, but I do both directions; and 2. gently swinging my arm side to side as far as I can—still bent over; I also do this the other way, backwards and forwards as far as I can. I figure the extra effort can’t hurt. I’m to do these exercises “several times a day” until I see physical therapy for their advice, and PT is to call me this coming week. These exercises are meant to keep my shoulder from freezing.

She also gave me a sling and prescribed Naproxen and Acetaminophen for pain. I’m to take the Naproxen every 12 hours for pain and reduce inflammation; and the Acetaminophen for pain in between. I fetched the meds (after a 15 min wait) at the pharmacy and texted my friend I was out, and she kindly picked me up and drove me home.

Oncology Check-In

This entry is part 38 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

This past Friday, I had another Oncology visit. This time, instead of getting my Neulasta injection after the appointment with my Oncologist, I picked it up prior to the appointment. This is so I wouldn’t be stuck waiting at the hospital to have it injected; a nurse has to do it, and the medication is refrigerated to keep it fresh because it is a powder-gel combination so it works over a long period of time. There are three-month and six-month doses, and I have the three-month dose.

Nothing’s changed with regards to my medication regimen. My doc said what I’m on now is better than the Tamoxifen, though I forgot to ask precisely how. Before my appointment with her, I went for blood draw, for tests for both her and my primary care doc, but the hormone results take 24-48 hours to return. I think the VA either has to send the tests out to another lab, or it just might be because something about the test requires more time. Next time I go to the lab and see I’m getting a hormone test done, I’ll ask the process it goes through and why it takes so long.

I may contact my Oncologist tomorrow to see if she’s had the results in, and if I do, I’ll try to remember to update this post with the news.

One thing my Oncologist did say was that if this medication regimen isn’t suppressing my hormones adequately, we may have to look into surgery to remove my ovaries. I’m sort of half-hoping it has to be done, and half-hoping it doesn’t, and the latter is because it won’t be a full hysterectomy, and I don’t really fancy going in for the remainder of the procedure at a later date. Still, if it’s required, I’ll do it. The last thing I want is to put myself at risk for more cancer.

ETA:

During my Oncology visit, I also received a breast exam, which I’m apparently to have done every six months now. I wanted to mention this in particular because I learned a couple things which are troubling to me. One thing, which I’ve noticed in my breast self-exams, is that it’s impossible to press deep enough to the front of my chest wall. This is desirable because it enables the examiner, whether it be the woman herself or her physician, to feel through the entire breast. The main issue preventing this complete examination is the density of my breasts, which my doc places at a level of three or four on a scale docs apparently use to indicate difficulty/ease of breast examination.

When I asked if this was bad, she said that breast density—the denser the breast is—was an indication of the propensity of cancer (higher density = higher likelihood of breast cancer). My Oncologist went on to add that right now, there are no decided recommendations on how else to examine breasts. What I got from her explanation is that though there are possible other methods, besides mammograms (which she noted may not work as well because of my breasts’ density), which may work for discovering breast tumors, there’s a great deal of uncertainty about whether or not they’re actually even as helpful as a mammogram, never mind any more helpful.

Also:

My Estrodiol is apparently suppressed to a level which pleases my Oncologist, so it looks like my current medication regimen is working. Yay.

Hormone Suppressant Therapy

This entry is part 33 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

On the 18th of this month, I began the last (and longest) phase of breast cancer treatment: hormone suppressant therapy.

This required a visit to the VA Hosp to see my head oncologist, Dr. Colonna. They actually called me just as I was heading out the door to go, and I answered the phone to a request I come to my appointment early. This I was more than happy to do of course, and I had a relatively short waiting time when I was finally shown to a room.

Now, the rooms where I’ve been seeing my VA Oncologists are standard hospital rooms. They have a bed (usually raised for some reason), a computer stand on wheels, and a short exam bed. I think they use the rooms for sleep tests of some sort, ’cause there are signs posted on the walls about having to be out by a certain time in the mornings.

First I saw a resident working with Dr. Colonna, and she and I went over my cancer care up to this point and possible hormone suppressant therapies I may consider. I’ve forgotten her name. She departed, then returned with Dr. Colonna and Nyna, one of the oncology nurses.

Dr. Colonna reviewed everything with me again, then gave me a more detailed explanation of the possible hormone suppressant therapies I could use. There were really only two: the standard Tamoxifen and a combination therapy using a pill with an injection. Considering the possible side effects of Tamoxifen—one I disliked a great deal was the risk of blood clots—I opted for the other program, which was the one Dr. Colonna really preferred to use with me.

We also chatted about the possibility of me having a partial hysterectomy because I have PCOS. Dr. Colonna promised to arrange an appointment with the women’s clinic’s surgeon to discuss the possibility.

After our discussion, she gave me a brief breast exam, and we discussed my upcoming (in Aug) mammogram. She said, considering the density of my breast tissue, she thought it might help to do an MRI of my breasts regularly and promised to consider it. That ended our visit, and Nyna took over.

I like the Oncology department. They’ve given me easy to read printouts of all the information regarding the drugs they’ve given me since the beginning. I wish the other departments did this. At first, Nyna gave me the Tamoxifen paperwork, saying this was what Oncology’s pharmacist had seen was prescribed for me, but that was corrected later.

My hormone suppressant therapy regimen:

1. Anastrozole – this is the pill. I get 1MG of it once a day, and I take it with my night meds.

2. Leuprolide injection – this must be administered by nurse every three or six months; I chose the three-month option because it’s easier for me to remember to make appointments every three months because I can do it on my way out of Oncology. It’s also a little involved. Half of it is powder, which is the medication, and the rest is a suspension system of gel. They must be mixed prior to administration, and my first dose was injected in my abdomen (near my belly button) well below the skin (I have a lot of fat there). The gel dissolves slowly as a time-release function for the medication.

After receiving the paperwork, I went down to pick up my medications. Getting the leuprolide injection took a little time because it hadn’t been entered into the computer for the pharmacist to discuss with me. Once that was done, I went to wait on my meds, then took the injection back upstairs. After a twenty or so minute wait (for the gel to get room temperature from being chilled) I had the injection. The nurse said it was supposed to sting as the needle came out, but mine didn’t start stinging until after I’d fastened my jeans shut. Even now, after the weekend, the spot still stings, but it’s not constant. Most of the time, I feel nothing, in fact, and the stinging has gotten weaker as the days pass.

Then, appointment for my next injection made, I was free to go!

Porta-Cath

This entry is part 19 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

Today was porta-cath day. This proved to be quicker and easier than I thought it would be.

I arrived on the Oncology floor at about ten ’til eight, shortly after my visit to the lab for blood work and a quick breakfast courtesy of the VA’s coffee shop. After checking in and having my vitals taken, a nurse showed me to a room with several wheeled recliners (all teal, all ugly, all with mini tables on their armrests) which is typically used for flu shots—I know this ’cause I’ve seen the “Flu Shots Here” signs on the door previously, and the receptionist had directed a woman down to our end of the hall for one. Nurse Mary passed me a hospital gown and robe, told me to take off my shirt and bra, and to put the gown on the proper way so it was open in the back—the first time since starting this trek through cancer care I’ve been specifically told to don the gown that way. So I did, not wishing to upset her. Once I’d changed, she returned and put an IV line in my left hand; this wasn’t a full IV with the stand and all, but a shorter line which would later be attached to various things on such a stand. After checking to make sure it would flush okay, she told me to hold my hand slightly bent in so I wouldn’t kink the line and sent me down to Angio.

The trip to Angio involved a walk to the elevator, going a floor down, and following a blue line all the way around back of the radiation section. There, in a cool room with a table which had an X-Ray panel above it, I was prepped for the insertion of the porta-cath.

First, they had me take off my necklace, then had me lay on the padded table below the X-Ray panel. This table had controls they could use to move it lengthwise up and down, or vertically up and down. I got up on the table with little difficulty (even at its lowest point, it was still fairly high) and laid down, scooting up the table until my head was on the pillow. They put my arms on plastic armrests they had to attach to the table, and I told the nurse on my left side about the requirements for enabling my IV line to work and he made sure I held my hand properly. They had me remove my right arm from my hospital gown, and attached a blood pressure cuff to my right arm and an oxygen reader to my right index finger.

They did not sedate me. The nurse on my left started a line of liquid antibiotic in my IV and the lady nurse ensured my right breast was at least partially covered then, upon realizing its size (DDD at least), suggested they tape it down. I still chuckle over this, because they did indeed tape it down, using three long strips of tape crossing my body from the right arm support to the left arm support. They had to do this so the doctors would be able to access the location they needed to place the catheter line under my skin.

Sometime around this point I suggested they take my glasses, and one of the nurses told me to turn my head to the left. The nurse who’d managed my IV line fetched my glasses from my face and I obeyed the command while someone scrubbed my skin and neck with antiseptic—I forget what it was. While she did this, one of the doctors came in with music and set it up to play. After washing my skin, two of the nurses covered my body in blue surgical slips, one of which completely covered my head; the nurse who was still on my IV lines hooked it up to the IV stand so I could “see” out. Without my glasses, I didn’t see a whole hell of a lot. (LOL)

Now the Doctor and a Fellow came to my side. My right side. I asked why it was so important they put the cath in my right side, and one of them explained it was because the vein is straighter on the right. Then he told me what they were going to do was inject a numbing agent in my neck and in a line down my chest to where the port was being inserted. This involved much use of an ultrasound machine and a couple flickers of the lights to use the X-Ray panel above me.

They explained what they were doing before and during the procedure, but what basically happened was they nicked my neck—and blood ran around the back of my neck, into my hair—did their line of numbness from there to the insertion point, which felt like a series of bee stings, and . . . pushed the porta-cath up that path they’d designated, over my clavicle, and inserted it into my vein. The catheter developed a kink, so throughout a series of lowering the lights to use the X-Ray panel, they got the kink out and the Doc left the Fellow to suture my wounds. He did two layers of sutures on my breast wound, where the port is, and one or two stitches in the wound on my neck.

Someone did their best to mop up the blood which had run around the back of my neck and detached the blood pressure cuff and oxygen monitor. Then one of the nurses peeled the tape off. That hurt worse than anything else. They righted my garments, disconnected my IV line from the bags on the stand, and helped me get to my feet, passing back my glasses and the necklace they’d had me remove prior to the procedure. Quite alert and able to take care of myself, I refused the offer of a wheelchair trip back to Oncology and walked out to pick up my mom on the way.

Back in Oncology, Nurse Mary removed the IV line and had me get dressed, which I did quickly, spending a couple minutes to rub as much of the blood off my neck as I could. The Angio Fellow and Doc had told me I’m not to shower for two days, at which time I can remove the dressings. I’m also not to soak in a tub of water, which I don’t do anyway.

I left the hospital around ten thirty in the morning, and now, at about three thirty, long after the numbness has worn off, I’m experiencing discomfort. There’s a bit of sharp pain which isn’t bothersome around the point of the port, which is right above my breast, just where the flesh begins to rise for it. My neck has some dull pain, and since it tenses the muscles there to swallow, eating and drinking causes some minor discomfort, but it’s not so great it’s prevented me eating or having anything to drink. The muscle on the back of my head where it connects to the back of the skull got slightly pulled with me keeping my head facing left during the procedure, so that causes some discomfort as well, but, again, it’s not enough to stop me doing anything. It hurts my neck slightly to turn my head either way, though it’s not excruciating—again, level of discomfort mostly; kind of like waking up with a kink in the neck and not being able to turn your head too far, though the “stopping point” in this is not nearly as painful as it can be with a kinked neck. The entire line from port to cath in my neck is tender—yet not so bothersome I’m screaming in pain. (LOL)

I expect to regain full, painless freedom of movement within a few days—a week at most as Nurse Mary and the team who inserted the porta-cath seemed to think the procedure wasn’t too difficult to manage or deal with. The Doc and Fellow told me to take Tylenol or ibuprofen to alleviate the pain which was a relief. I don’t know what I’d do with another scrip medication! (LOL)

Nano Update 2

It’s nice having a three day weekend. That means there’s a guarantee the VA won’t be open on Monday, which means I have a day to work ahead on Nano. Thank you, whoever in the past suggested creating Veterans’ Day. I need the extra day this weekend, to do laundry and to work ahead on my word count in Nano (LOL).

So far, I’m keeping up fairly well despite all the appointments. I managed to work ahead enough to be able to coast through Thursday and Friday, though I got home early enough Friday to write a bit before bed. Yesterday, I slept in, and today too—must have been catching up on sleep missed due to the early hours rising despite getting to bed by ten each night. Oh, and walking all over the VA Hospital to my appointments and errands.

Yesterday, I did pretty well, getting a decent count of fresh words on TPOM3. Today, however, hasn’t been so easy. I don’t know why, but I had difficulty connecting to both my projects. I know the rewritten wedding scene in Brotherhood is worse than the original, so I may rewrite or try to combine the two scenes from both wips when I do my major edit. I think I’d have felt the new scene was worse than the original even if I’d been feeling more connected to the story. It’s just one of those scenes that’s going to need extra work.

TPOM3 was a bit easier to get into, but the writing of it still felt stilted and awkward. I did manage to do what I needed to with the scene, and it reads very well. It’s a keeper. I left out some things I’d outlined, added several things I didn’t think to outline and probably wouldn’t have been able to fit on the card even if I had, and created a very good scene which pleases me. I’d like to get one more scene on this project, but that relies on me getting a plot card on it, and I’m not sure I have the mental capacity to do so tonight.

Total wordcount on Brotherhood is over 51,000; total wordcount on TPOM3 is over 15,000; total Nano wordcount rests at over 20,000. I’m a little ahead, which makes me happy.

PET/CT Scan

This entry is part 18 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I swear I still have the flavor of the barium sulfate suspension at the top of my throat.

I had to drink 900ML (approx. 30.4 oz.) of it for my PET/CT scan today. My appointment was at ten, but I arrived about half an hour early (’cause I could, since Mom wasn’t with me to complain about arriving too early and having to, oh, dear, wait), and they got me in for the scan a good fifteen or twenty minutes early (because they could since I was there early and the room was available—this is why I choose to arrive early, especially to cancer treatment stuff—earlier in, earlier through whatever procedure it is, earlier on my way HOME End rant).

I told the nurses/techs/not-quite-sure-what-they-were I’d brought a pair of sweat pants because the paperwork I received yesterday stated specifically I should wear loose-fitting clothing without metal. I don’t wear sweats during the day (unless under jeans for warmth in winter), because it’s an important mood boost to dress in day clothes, and sweats make me feel depressed. The techs nodded, saying they understood completely, and led me to a locker room with a single chair in it with further instruction on how I should dress. So, after removing my bra and putting my tee shirt back on, I pulled on my sweats, totally ignoring the hospital pants draped on the chair—which I knew wouldn’t fit, so didn’t even bother trying them on.

When I stepped out, they showed me to a little room with one of our VA’s unattractive recliner chairs. This one happened to be teal, and it had little oblong tables attached to the arms, one of which was covered in what looked like a puppy piddle pad. They laughed when I called it that, and one of the girls said, “yeah, they do look like that.” I sat, the one who I guess must have been a nurse despite her everyday attire covered me up, and the other set out the various accoutrements of an IV line on the right hand (the covered) armrest table. I let Nurse get as far as wrapping the band around my arm before making a comment about it being the arm with the neuropathy, and the one who’d covered me up (who I’ll call Tech) said, “Yeah, that’s the arm she had the surgery on, maybe you want to do the IV in the other one.” So she did, thank goodness.

The IV was quickly placed while Tech went to fetch the radioactive tracer. Nurse injected the tracer, then went around the back of the chair to fetch the two tall bottles of barium sulfate suspension they wanted me to drink (so my digestive tract could be seen better in the scan later), then Tech asked if I was comfortable and told me they’d be back in about an hour and fifteen minutes to take me to the scan.

They left me alone in a dim room, facing a clock which the one recessed light left on illuminated perfectly. I spent the time swallowing the barium sulfate solution, which had a prominent citrusy scent but rather bland flavor either watching the minutes passed or simply sitting still with my eyes closed. At one point, I heard an tone sound, then a male voice declared, “Building One. First Floor. Zone C.” This was repeated over about ten minutes, with the tone then the three announcements. At one point, a guy poked his head in and said, “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about, just a fire alarm in another section. It’s probably a mistaken pull or something.” I asked where Zone C was, and he told me down the hall a ways and if it was necessary for me to leave, they’d be by to tell me so, then he left. Not long after that (about a quarter after eleven), Nurse and Tech fetched me to go to the PET/CT machine.

This machine (unlike an MRI machine), has two open ends, and Nurse and Tech had me climb onto the table extended from the “bottom” end, placing my head at the end closest to machine. While Nurse connected my IV to the contrast dye injector, Tech tucked me under more blankets, making sure to snug my feet well. Nurse hooked the tube to the injector around my thumb, then told me to raise my arms over my head. She stepped aside, and the table slid into the machine up to about the point of my neck. A male voice told me to breathe in and hold my breath, so I did, and it was followed by a scan, my body moving deeper into the PET/CT scanner tube. It stopped, moved me back out, and told me to take another deep breath and hold it.

After this second arms-above-my-head scan, The table moved all the way out and Nurse asked if I was wearing a necklace. I was. We got it off my neck, and the scan continued.

The remainder of the scan involved me laying very still, with my arms held to my sides by a large wrap which was connected to the table. It crossed from right to left and was held by Velcro on the left side; the IV tube from the dye injector was still hooked around my thumb, and exited out the “bottom” edge of the wrap, which covered me from abdomen to hips.

Before they injected the contrast dye, Nurse warned me I’d feel a hot flash and have a funny taste in my mouth. “Hot flash” was an understatement. It felt uncomfortably hot, as if I’d been out in the sun on the hottest day, dressed all in black, with a humidity of 100%, only I wasn’t sweaty after. It lasted perhaps five seconds. I didn’t get the funny taste, but the injection of the dye did cause a liquid-at-the-top-of-the-throat sensation and made it feel like as if I’d wet my pants, though I hadn’t. It was the only time I did not feel slightly chilled in that room, because they had fans going to keep the machine cool.

Then they did more scans. At one point, they stopped the table so my head was just at the other end of the tube, and I spent the five minutes my head was right there trying to read the stickers beside each of the three black rectangles—one on either side of my head, one right above me. Since I’m horribly nearsighted, and the print was small, it took me almost the entire time my head was there to puzzle out, “Laser Aperture. Do not stare into the beam,” at which point it made me very glad they hadn’t turned those lasers on. Then again, if those had been on like the ones at the other end, I wouldn’t have left my eyes open (LOL).

Not long after that, they completed the scan and the table ejected me from the “bottom” of the PET/CT scanner. Nurse removed my IV and bandaged me up, and they took me back to the locker room—they had to show me because I was very disoriented after my experience. Tech told me she got confused, too when she first started working. Back in my proper day clothing, I returned to the corridor and Tech showed me the way out, complimenting me on my cooperation.

After the PET/CT scan, I had a quick lunch and went to visit Nyna so she could write out my Chemo calendar; my first Chemo appointment is set for the 19th at nine in the morning after an eight o’clock visit to the lab to draw blood.

Scars and Stuff

This entry is part 15 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I would not have noticed the lump in my breast if it had not been right beneath the skin. In fact, I didn’t notice it for quite a while. The lump seemed kind of large to me, and the fact it had already attached to a lymph node gave me the impression I’d been feeling the lump and assuming it was my nipple being hard for a lot longer than I’d like to admit. I was not doing active breast exams, but I can tell you, finding this cancer has definitely galvanized me to do so.

The lump’s position on my breast was at about ten o’clock when facing the breast, right beside the areola. Now, since the surgery, I can feel the stitches put in to pull the remaining tissue together so I won’t have a void where the cancer was. My nipple is about half-submerged now, due to the pulling of the surgical scar; I don’t know if this will correct itself over time. It’s also a little off-center—my nipple now points in a slightly right-hand direction instead of down. It makes things like folding my arms very interesting now, because it’s right at the point where my arm bends when I do so.

I measured my scars today, too. Just to give y’all some idea what’s there:

I took the remaining steri-strips off my breast scar. It’s approximately four inches long, and is somewhat vertical, edging the areola. It directly bisects the ten o’clock position where the cancer was. A month following the surgery, it is now pink and looks well-healed.

The underarm scar is at least three inches below the point where my arm bends, and is approximately two and a half inches long. A month after surgery, it is slightly purple but well-healed. It feels swollen in that area and higher up under my arm, but it may actually be me feeling interior stitches which haven’t dissolved yet, or part of the neuropathy side effect from the surgery.

Approximately one and a half inches below my underarm scar is the JP Drain scar. This is perhaps half an inch wide and pinkish, well-healed. It no longer itches and when I get goose bumps, it doesn’t hurt as it did before (lots of shivering recently as it’s getting colder).

I have cancer-stuff appointments next week. Tuesday, I’m going to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for radiation prep and on Thursday I’m going to the VA for various tests and to see the Oncologists again. I’m not sure what the radiation prep appointment will include, but I imagine it may be an introduction to radiation therapy and a discussion with the doctor about my condition/status. I called the VA to ask what the Oncology appointment would be about and was told I’d get information on Chemo and how to deal with it and that they won’t start Chemo until after I’ve had two or three appointments with the Huntsman Institute about my radiation therapy so they could coordinate care prior to starting it. Apparently, this system is slightly less cumbersome if one is receiving all their cancer care up at Huntsman (LOL).

Side Effects of Surgery

This entry is part 14 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I know one thing which is a side effect—and drives me absolutely batty when I go to bed—is the fact I can’t lay on my right side any more. Trying causes a great deal of pain, in both my arm and the edge of the right side of my back, where some of the numbness crawls around. That spot isn’t bothering me much right now; I can actually feel where my bra crosses the area, and where my shoulder strap comes up back there. Sometimes I can’t feel these things due to the neuropathy. This is a definite side effect of the surgery, because, from what I understand, they had to cut a nerve under my arm, and it apparently affects this area in addition to the back of my arm.

What I’ve noticed just the past few days, as underarm discomfort fades since the lumped-up steri-strips have come completely off the healed-up wound in my armpit, is a bruised feeling which extends down the entirety of my arm from the armpit. There are even some faint bruises, I’m guessing left over from the surgery, because I haven’t done anything or been touched where they are (near the inside of my elbow, and just above). It almost looks like someone grabbed my arm and dug in with the full length of their fingers. It hurts to stretch or raise my arm, but not as much as it did when I had the JP drain in. As I said, just a bruised feeling, and the “no, you don’t want to do that too much” feeling from it.

Good news is that the JP drain entry point is nicely scabbed over, and the surgical wound under my arm is well-healed, though a little purple. The cut in my breast is very well-healed; it’s just a pink line right now, though I do still feel some residual pain if I move it too much or press into it, probably due to the stitches under the skin. Sometimes my breast will throb with pain for a few seconds, but it always passes, and usually happens in response to me doing something to cause it, like press my folded arm against my breast. Some few of the steri-strips have come off my breast, but most are still quite well attached. I may peel them off next time I shower so when I visit the Oncologists again, they can see my skin’s healed up there.

The other day, the I got a call from the VA to set up an echocardiogram appointment. I’m to report for the appointment at ten AM. It’s supposed to be a fasting test, which will just be totally wonderful (LOL), and I’ll get to eat lunch afterward, then go do the blood draw they want. After that, I get to spend about two or three hours hanging about because there’s no point in trying to come home when I’ll have to turn around and go right back up to the VA for my three o’clock appt with the oncologists. I’ll definitely be taking books and music. Not sure if Mom will want to come, but I’m thinking not. If she does, she’ll probably come up just before the Oncology appt so she doesn’t have to spend all day at the VA like me.

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