#LegendSpeed to make SPJ award banquet
I feel imprisoned, confined to this hospital room and chained to this chemotherapy pole almost 24 hours a day. I’ve been at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital since June 9, undergoing high-dose chemotherapy, the final rounds of my long-running battle with testicular cancer that started last December.
The high-dose chemo lasted only three days, and the rest of the time I’ve been under constant surveillance from the team of doctors and nurses who make sure I’m OK. My doctor, Edward Stadtmauer, said he didn’t think I’d hit my lowest point, what’s known in the medical field as nadir, until about 11 days after the chemotherapy. That was news to me, and not welcome news.
I’ve been in here two weeks and I’m going stir crazy. I can only do so much writing and studying and reading. My girlfriend, Kathleen Redpath-Perez, comes and stays at the hospital with me as often as she can. And my friend, Rob, also a lawyer, drove up from Washington D.C. to play Scrabble with me. But I just want to get out. Being in a hospital for this amount of time is overwhelming.
The regimen, too, has been rough, rougher than the standard-dose chemotherapy I received at University of Jefferson Hospital. The side effects this time have been pronounced. The chemotherapy attacks all fast-growing cells, and not in a targeted way. My GI tract was completely raw, the doctors told me, which led to some of the most intense stomach pain I’ve experienced in my life.
I’d be doubled over in bed, the thought of food or eating making me queasy and uncomfortable. Every time I popped a pill, as part of the medications they give me at the hospital, it felt like a gunshot to the stomach.
The air bubbles got stuck in my esophagus, making me feel like I had this constant pressure to burp but couldn’t. Anything that was slightly sharp would turn my stomach in a steaming vat of acid that would keep me up at night. I tried drinking a lemon-lime Gatorade. That was a mistake. I paid for it with my stomach feeling like it was on fire. The nurse gave me some meds that finally alleviated the pain.
The doctors put me on morphine to try to mitigate the digestive pain, and to try to get me to eat, since I was dropping weight like a madman. I dropped about 10 pounds since I was admitted to the hospital. But the morphine, strong as it is, didn’t put any sort of dent into my stomach pain.
Eating is normally something we do for enjoyment but it became one of the least enjoyable tasks. Eating became a loathsome task I’d have to cross off on my daily list.
I was so worried about how it would stir up my stomach that it zapped my energy and ate at my consciousness. I remember every time the food services people come with the food trays I’d get an overwhelming sense of panic. The doctors, too, were riding me to eat because they were concerned about the weight loss.
My weight has since stabilized and the stomach pain has, more or less, subsided. But there are days where I still wake up with this sense of dread. It’s been hard being locked up in this hospital room. I hate to compare it to prison because I still have my freedom, technically, and know a discharge date is not too far in the distant future.
But it has a lot in common with being locked up. When you’re free, there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to get done. When you’re confined somewhere, there are too many hours in the day to get everything done, and nothing seems to get finished.
It’s hard to muster the energy and channel the brain power to do it. All you can think about is your predicament and the feelings of being stuck. I’m stuck here for at least a few more days, until my numbers come back up.
One of the nurses said patients aren’t normally released until their ANC (absolute neutrophil count) swells back to 500 or more. Mine’s at zero right now. She said it can take up to five days to get that high. Sometimes the number jumps sporadically; other times systematically.
I’m hoping mine jumps sporadically. I can’t be in here another five days. I have an awards ceremony to attend Sunday in Newark where the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will present me with an award for my actions in The Trentonian’s prior restraint fight over documents I legally obtained about the 5-year-old kindergartner who was found with drugs twice last year.
Right now, I’m hoping for some #LegendSpeed. I gotta get the fuck out of here.