Infusion #1

I had my first infusion yesterday morning.

My wife and I showed up a few minutes late after the “get our son to school” dance. Unfortunately she couldn’t join me for treatment, because it was in a small room designed for a nurse and two patients at a time. But we texted a lot. Before the infusion a nurse mixed the medication, which initially is in powder form, into a solution within an isolation chamber. It’s a chamber identical to what a premature baby is kept in, with giant rubber glove hand inserts. I was wondering what that equipment was doing in the room when I sat down; I thought it was oddly out of place. I was pre-dosed with some acetaminophen and allergy medication, signed a few release forms, got my IV inserted, and then started to receive medication a little bit at a time, over the next two hours. Blood pressure and temperature were measured every thirty minutes.

Then I was done.

I felt fine, and I feel fine today. Perhaps I was a little tired because of the amount of thought I’ve been putting into starting this treatment, and the subsequent lack of sleep that comes with that overthinking.

Aspects of the experience reminded me of what it was like when my mother started chemotherapy. It was administered in an identical fashion to my medication. I was with her for her first infusion, and it was boring for both of us. Cancer was a huge, unpredictable, devastating, tragic, life-path altering thing. But the actual step-by-step initial treatments are made up of perfunctory paperwork and a lot of sitting around. I imagine first-line, heavyweight medical treatments are as routinized as possible. From a pharmaceutical (business) perspective, creating a production line approach to the administration of heavy duty drugs is profitable and logical. As a patient, however, it was underwhelming in contrast to the decision to take the drug itself.

That routinization can also be as awkward as it is boring. When I arrived, I was in a room with one other patient receiving an infusion. By my estimation this was a young woman, possibly in high school. A question the nurse asked prior to administering the medication is “are you having any pain?” I was put in the awkward position of having to describe various issues with the skin around my ass in front of a 20-something complete stranger. Do I care about this person’s opinion? Not really. Does it add an extra layer of consideration to my choice of words when a complete stranger is sitting next to me while I describe various rashes and bleeding issues? Uh, yes. Yes it does.

After the young woman finished her two hours, the next patient came in before I left. The most accurate way to describe him would be to say he was a very stylishly dressed, congenial elderly gentleman with one leg. He asked to change the channel of our shared television to the news, and shared his concerns for his 42 year old daughter, who lived in East Baltimore. I assured him that most of the riots were in West Baltimore and downtown, although later in the day I learned that a senior citizen facility in the eastern part of the city had been engulfed in flames the prior evening.

I hope that his daughter is safe and doing well.