My heart continued to race all day Saturday and got worse as time went on, despite spending the day quietly sitting in my chair while the children played. I did nothing more strenuous than sorting the long-accumulated “to file” pile and feeding all my previous hospital, chemo, radiation, and physical therapy bills and receipts into the shredder as my emotions fought each other – anger that I had had to have so much treatment, relief at shredding the reminders of the past, and sadness that I needed to do this, to save C from having to do it later. I’m not sure why I kept the receipts so long, physical reminders of difficult days, except that I had some vague notion of needing them “for taxes.” I don’t need them for taxes. Our federal health insurance plan has covered everything but my consultation at Sloan-Kettering and a good bit of physical therapy for my weakened back and lymphedema. And my lymphedema sleeves, but I just smiled when I saw those and the pretty patterns named on the receipts.
By 5:30 I couldn’t sit still while my heart raced (and my breath was short, as if I’d been running a 5k there in my chair) any longer. I woke C, sleeping through a light bout of the flu, and left the boys with him while I went to CVS to check my blood pressure, as a well-known side effect of the nexavar is increased blood pressure. It was high, but not scary high, so I emailed the clinical nurse handling my clinical trial and called the oncology fellow on call. When she called back, she was firm: Go to the E.R.
When Lisa and I got there (never go to the E.R. alone! you ALWAYS need an advocate!), my blood pressure was 195/138, and I looked over at her in the waiting room and said lightly, “Get comfy, Lisa – they’re not going to let me go home anytime soon.” We were rushed through the intake process and not an hour later I was being wheeled in for a CT (with IV contrast pushed into my arm, lymphedema be damned, but I had no choice). We called Colleen and told her that I was really sorry, but I’d miss the novena tonight, and settled in, ginger ales in hand, trying to talk lightly and pass the time as if we were at the coffee shop instead of in a sterile white room with blue curtains and a terrified man in a PCP rage strapped to a bed nearby. His screams shook the ER, but the nurses just shook their heads and smiled sadly, saying, it’s early for this tonight.
We settled in, tried to ignore the rage next door, and met the next shift of nurses. We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the one who had both calmly brought the restraining straps to the nearby ruckus AND put the IV in my arm without blowing a vein (yay!), but I will remember her, her kindness, and her friendly laugh for quite some time — her name was Marissa.
At 8:59, the attending physician came back in and told me that all my tests — blood, x-ray, and CT — were clear for pulmonary embolism and pneumonia, that my blood pressure had returned to a high normal, and that I would be discharged after the last test for congestive heart failure, came back (it’s a risk because of all the radiation I had to my left side); I wouldn’t have to stay after all. She was careful to answer my questions about the CT carefully, saying only that it was negative for pulmonary embolism and pneumonia, and that I need to follow up with my oncologist on Monday.
Whatever. Monday is Monday. That means I have today to rest and play quietly with my boys, and to enjoy the warm sun through the window, regaining strength as I take a break (again) from the medication and allow both my heart and my feet to heal (yesterday I was reduced to fuzzy slippers, and today it is too painful to take more than the necessary steps). And to do something other than filing today. As I told Lisa yesterday, “I spent the day doing paperwork. I’m not dying today. I’m not spending my last day on earth doing paperwork.” Yes, mundane tasks will always need to be done. But they can be balanced with joy and hugs, and today I will try harder to create joy, and to give hugs.
And, yes, I continue to pray. And yes, I noted that I was given the all-clear at exactly 8:59, as Rebecca called my iPhone as friends left the novena, and I was able to call her back and tell her immediately that I was okay, that I was going home, and that there was no reason to worry.