I awake with a start at the all-too familiar feeling of something moving around in my left knee. The cancer cells are on the run. Within three minutes, I’m already buzzing for the nurse. Gotta try to stay ahead of the pain this time.
The Spanish-speaking Sunday nurse takes her sweet time getting to my room. I’m guessing i probably woke her up, so almost ten minutes pass before she opens my door.
“The pain has started. It’s in my knees.”
“No, joint pain.” I point to my knees.
“Oh, okay,” and she leaves.
I expect her to come right back. With every passing minute, the pain intensifies and travels, moving along my left elbow, hand, and foot. The tears flow, and my moans are probably waking up the patients across the hall. Five minutes pass, and i press the buzzer again. I know i am being impatient, and I simply don’t care.
At 3:54, she brings me a shot of pain medicine, then leaves. I settle into a breathing activity to push through the pain and return to sleep … which works for about an hour.
5:05. Again, I wake with a sudden start from the jolt of joint pain. I knew that shot wasn’t going to cut it, but the weekend staff doesn’t understand the magnitude of this pain. By the time the nurse returns to my room, i am sitting in a pile of my own shit, rocking back and forth crying. I had literally shit myself, needing to go to the bathroom but unable to stand up due to the amount of pain in my feet, at this point. I don’t tell the nurse about the mess in my bed – partly because all i can focus on is the pain and partly because i am beyond mortified. Instead, i just lay there in fetal position, silently crying and slowly rocking while she hooks me up to a drip bag that contains more pain medication. When she leaves, i continue rocking, crying, and deep breathing for about a half an hour before the pain subsides enough for me to get out of bed and clean myself up. By this time, it’s after 6. I rinse myself off and then strip my bed. Laundry facilities are only open to the patients from 4pm-7am because the cleaning crew needs them during the workday (and i have already pushed my limits with this timeframe twice since i have been here). I attempt to run the bedding and my robe downstairs to at least get them in the washer before the staff get there, but i am too weak, and i buckle under the weight of all the linens. So instead, i throw the smelly pile down into a corner of the room, move over to the spare bed, and curl up in defeat as i wait for the pain meds to take effect.
* * *
That was how my day started. It really didn’t get much better from there. The day itself was filled with low appetite, non-functioning taste buds, cotton mouth, fatigue, head fog, weakness, a sore throat, nasal drainage, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, heavy sweating, and – according to Blanca – yellow skin. Luckily, the joint pain never returned for another round, and the cleaning lady took the soiled bedding from a very embarrassed me to launder. And now, it’s 11:35pm. The idea of (1) waking with a start to more joint pain or (2) defecating on myself again has me afraid to go to sleep… but my eyelids are heavy, and falling asleep brings me one day closer to going home.
And I*really* want to be one day closer to going home.