Pumping Iron

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Well here I am, reporting live again from the Acute Oncology Dept. of picturesque Auckland Hospital.

It’s coming up for 12.30 pm and I’m four hours into my iron infusion. I’m here to tell you it’s really not the most thrilling of procedures, but for the sake of accurate and complete reporting, I’ll give you a quick rundown.

Raewyn, my nurse for the day, meets us at 8.30 and goes over the schedule. I’m to be given 550ml of the magical iron solution, a quantity arrived at via a complicated calculation involving my height and weight, but to minimize the risk of my body having an allergic reaction to the metal, it is to be delivered very slowly. So slowly in fact, that the bag, holding about the same as an extra large latte, is going to take about six mind-numbing hours to filter into my bloodstream.

Once my trusty PowerPort has been accessed and flushed and sanitized with a mixture of saline and Mr.Muscle oven cleaner, Raewyn squirts in a large syringe of Anti-Histamine, followed half an hour later by another of a steroid Hydrocortisone. The first is designed to prevent any mild adverse reactions such as sudden death, the steroid, I’m assured, will give me firm, pert breasts.

The heavy metal itself, is delivered from the pharmacy in dozens of little cylindrical ampules, the size and shape of bullets. Raewyn methodically counts them out with the precision of a regimental quartermaster, opens them one by one, and pours the contents into the now familiar, clear plastic IV bag. It’s a brown liquid the color and consistence of Newcastle Brown Ale, which cheers me up just a little.

The bag is hooked up on the stainless pole next to my recliner, and Raewyn threads the fine silicon tubing through the infusion pump’s mechanism and plugs the other end into my catheter. She punches in the volume and the rate of flow, a glacial 25ml per hour. I do the math. At this speed it’s going to take twenty-two hours to empty the bag! ‘I’m just going to start you off slowly, …’ she says. Provided that my internal organs aren’t suddenly turned to goo or my head doesn’t explode, the rate will gradually be dialed up to fifty, then a dizzying one hundred milliliters an hour. The whole procedure will then whizz by in a mere six hours. Just time to fly to Sydney and back. Still my beating heart.
Actually, on second thoughts, that was a poorly chosen turn of phrase. Strike that.

My “Ob’s” are taken diligently every half an hour. Temperature – 36 Fahrenheit , blood pressure – steady at 120 over 80. (Except when blonde nurse Rebecca relieves Raewyn for her lunch-break, when it inexplicably jumps up to 190/30. Hmmm.)

So readers, as part of my ongoing education program, your word of the day is Ferritin. Pay attention. There will be a test later.

My grasp of the finer subtleties of hematology are at best tenuous, but If I’ve got hold of the right end of this sticky red stick, then Ferritin is a protein in the blood used to bind iron – which is otherwise toxic to our cells – in a safe and useful form, to carry oxygen around the body. Essential stuff. And rather beautiful as I think you will agree.

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‘So how much Ferritin are we supposed to have?’ I ask Raewyn. ‘Well, the normal range is between 50 and 400 units.’ she says. ‘And how much have I got?’ I ask tentatively.
’13′ she says.

‘That’s not very good then is it.’ I concede reluctantly.

Actually, having scored a derisive baker’s dozen on the ferritomiter, everyone seems amused and surprised that I’m even still capable of walking around, let alone feeling as bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed as I do.’Don’t you feel even a little tired?’ they ask. ‘Not really, no.’ I shrug. Perhaps I’ve got some of that Charlie Sheen tiger-blood in me after all.

I’m gratified to learn however, that as good as I feel now, that in a week or two I will be doing one-finger push-ups and leaping tall buildings in a single bound. As an added bonus my new ferrous-rich body will apparently also point North-South when I float in the bath. Even Bear Grylls can’t do that.

***

Waiting at the bus stop after leaving the hospital I noticed a guy standing next to the shelter holding up a hand made sign up at the passing traffic. A small rucksack sat on the pavement beside him. Hitch-hiker I guessed, a strange place to try and get a ride, but I couldn’t resist casually sauntering over to see where he was hoping to pick up a ride too. He was tall and slender, with a vaguely Mediterranean air about him. black pants and shirt, black wrap-around sunglasses and olive brown skin. Maybe thirty. His white cardboard sign had the words CANCER HELP! spelled out in untidy black electrical tape.

I studied him for a long moment. Did he want money?

I couldn’t resist. “What kind of help are you hoping for” I inquired. He looked confused for a moment. ‘Oh no,’ he said earnestly, ‘I’m not asking for help. I’m offering it.’ ‘What, like meals-on-wheels, or a lift home?’ I asked. “No, much better than that. Do you have cancer?’ he asked hopefully. I nodded cautiously.

“Well I know how to cure you my friend” he said with all the fervor and wide-eyed conviction of a tent-show evangelist. ‘No shit.’ I think. He then launches into his sales pitch. Positive mental attitude. Harnessing spiritual energy. His own special secret diet. Exercise programs. He’s already cured his own bowel cancer, and a dozen other clients. No charge, but for a modest donation he will move in with me and have me cured within two weeks. For a split second actually entertain the notion before the bus pulls up and after politely suggesting he should re-evaluate his business premises and signage, I beat a hasty retreat.

Grifter. Confidence trickster. Psychopath. Serial Killer. Messiah. Or just a genuine cancer survivor out to repay his good fortune.

I’ll never know.

 

 

 

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