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A funny thing happened on the way to chemo: Part I


I ended up in the Vaspa Hotel.

Wouldn't you know it?

The day after I wrote that last entry (on 3/19) about chemotherapy and my sense of time, I got a new clock.

And a new space.

On a radiation table.

radiation symbol with clock in the middle It started Thursday, 3/20, when I went in for chemo treatment #4, ready to try my new Port-a-Cath. But, for some unknown reason that day, I was so exhausted that I could barely walk and had to cover the final distance in a borrowed wheelchair. Then I told them about the increased neuropathy.

Chemo can cause less sensitivity in the bottoms of the feet and fingertips but mine had now extended around the pelvic area to the point that I could not feel the toilet seat nor could I feel the toilet paper when wiping. Plus there was some sudden incontinence in the last 24 hours. And there was some deadening on my tongue.

The blood draw went well. Levels were fine so I started the chemo. A few minutes later, to their credit, an oncologist came in and crimped off the chemo and started examining me in the chemo room, asking me various questions, tickling my feet, etc. Then she said she wanted to keep me over to get an MRI as I might have some spinal compression and need some spot radiation. Maybe it could all be done in a day but I might have to stay over through Saturday.

Looking back on that exchange with her, I am constantly amazed at how well I took it. Perhaps it was her demeanor. One other time (when I had to see an oncologist and mine was gone), she had met with me and I was impressed then. She listens and there is actual care in her eyes as well as her voice.

Spinal compression is dangerous. Due to weakening of the vertebrae, through the cancer and osteoporosis, the bone can collapse and it can be as bad as a complete loss of neural function from that point down, not unlike having a broken back. Spot radiation (meaning it is directed to just that particular area) has good results in treating the pain and backing off the tumor in that area. But that meant that I had to concede to an entirely new stage in my journey, as I had with accepting chemo, but a month ago. That's why I'm still surprised that I took her comment so well and agreed.

I gave Caren a call to tell her, trying to be as positive as I could, but it is hard to say that I came for chemo but I'm staying over in the hospital for radiation and not produce some concern but she's a trooper. She asked that I call her when I get settled in to let her know if there was anything I wanted her to bring over.


When I was done with the chemo, I was put into a wheelchair and taken up to the 6th floor wing. They called it the Vaspa Hotel, as in vah-spa, for VA Spa. Whatever the humor, we weren't in Kansas any more. Various pieces of rolling equipment dotted the hall, from computers to side tables with food trays. Inside the rooms were bed-ridden men. Most seemed asleep, even at the mid-day hour, as their TVs played anonymously.

My double room was at the end of a hall. My bed was nearer the door. The other was taken by an unconscious man with several days of gray beard stubble. I would later learn he came in a few hours earlier with a broken hip and was due for surgery Monday. We never spoke while I was there since he seemed to be so heavily drugged.

I was soon set up with my basic Vaspa Hotel Gift pack, consisting of pajamas, slippers, towels, water jug, toothbrush and the handy, decorative plastic urinal for those times when the toilet is just too far away. On the side wall above me was my color TV plus a remote looped around the bed railing. Looks like I had about a dozen basic channels, including CNN. The war with Iraq had just begun and was dominating everything but the Cartoon Network but I settled in at about noon to see what happened next.


By the time Caren came by a few hours later, someone had fed me into the portable computer rolled up to my bed, taken my vital signs, had been visited by two doctors, including the oncologist who had admitted me from the chemo room and my new Port-a-Cath was hooked up to a bag of steroids on the IV pole next to my bed.

The worst part was a "baby DRE," as I called it. I hadn't had a finger up my rectum since my diagnosis in November 1999 but now they needed to do it to check for a sphincter reflex. By touching a spot just inside my rectum, they could learn something about the neural connections there. So I rolled over on my side and it was confirmed: there was some neural interference, another sign of the compression.

Who would have thought one's asshole could teach so much?

I would get an MRI tomorrow morning at the University of Cincinnati Medical College (a few blocks away) and then spot radiation at their Barrett Cancer Center. Until then, just rest.

The heavy IV influx of steroids prevented sleep, especially since they came in to add a new bag every four hours, so I watched the war news all night.

Hell of a way and a day to check in to the Vaspa Hotel.


Chemotherapy & The Clock (3/19/03)
Definition of neuropathy
Definition of MRI

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This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not replace or amend professional medical advice. Unless otherwise stated and credited, the content of Phoenix5 (P5) is by and the opinion of and copyright © 2000 Robert Vaughn Young. All Rights Reserved. P5 is at <>. P5's policy regarding privacy and right to reprint are at <>.