Mardi Gras is typically celebrated before the beginning of Lent. It usually falls sometime in February or March. However, my sister thought that I should celebrate it in November last year after I had my knee surgery. I remember when one of the nurses on the orthopedic floor walked in with a huge box and a puzzled look on her face. I immediately knew it must be something from my sister. What was even funnier was that my sister was in the room when the nurse delivered the box.
After the nurse left I decided to open the box. Well actually I had my mom open the box because I didn’t feel well and my sister obviously already knew what was inside. The look on her face said it all. It was filled with Mardi Gras decorations. We had tons of masks, beads, jester wands, decorations to hang everywhere, and everything else you can imagine. My mom and sister quickly hung all the Mardi Gras beads on the extra IV pole. I swear there were over a hundred. Anytime someone walked into the room we offered them beads. Now you’re probably wondering if we asked them to do something for the beads. Don’t worry we handed them out to whoever would take them.
At first the nurses on the floor were not sure what to do when they would walk into my room. I guess it isn’t a normal thing for a patient to decorate her room or to celebrate Mardi Gras in November. When my chemo nurses came to visit they knew right away that my sister sent the decorations. They also weren’t surprised that the room was decorated. By then they were use to our unusual hospital habits. Who wouldn’t want to wear colorful beads or a mask while walking around the hospital?
On Sunday morning I was in physical therapy and two of my chemo nurses came to visit. When they walked into the physical therapy room they were decked out in the beads and holding the jester wands. After every exercise they would cheer and shake the jester wands. I know having them there that morning helped get me through my exercises.
One morning one of the therapists came in and made me put on a pair of socks and I was about ready to throw my walker at her. I hated it when they came in each morning and would force me to get dressed. They would constantly stare at me and say, “Keep trying”. Not only did I hate it when people stared at me but their motivational words weren’t helping either. I had already been scolded by one of them for my, “potty mouth”. You would drop a couple of f-bombs too if you were in my shoes. By the end of my time there I was calling them physical terrorists.
My cousins, who went to a school near by, came to visit me one night. As we were sitting around and talking one of them asked my mom where the bathroom was located. She told him that they were at the end of the hall near the elevators and that they were unisex. He left to go to the bathroom and came back with a puzzled look on his face. We all of course asked him what was wrong. He said, “I didn’t see any women when I was using the bathroom.” My mom looked at him and said, “Why would you?” He replied, “Well you told me it was unisex so I thought a woman would be in there with me using the bathroom at the same time.” We all couldn’t stop laughing because he was dead serious.
Another funny thing my family did was when another cousin and my grandparents came to visit. It was a weekend so the floor was very quiet. My grandma got up to use the bathroom and we decided to look at the various masks. Each of us put on a different mask and decided that we would keep them on to see my grandma’s reaction when she walked into the room. After about fifteen minutes, we heard the door of my room open. Expecting it to be my grandma, I started to laugh. However, it was a nurse that came to check on me. When she pulled that curtain back, I ripped off my mask. Everyone else kept his or her masks on and said hello. My cousin started talking to her like nothing was wrong or different in the room. What was even funnier was that the nurse said nothing about our masks and answered my cousin’s random questions. After she left we all couldn’t stop laughing.
Anyone else who came to visit made sure to wear the various masks and take lots of beads, since we had so many. Looking back I really wish I had set up the recliner chair right by my door and threw beads at anyone who walked by. That certainly would have made me walk much faster with my walker. By the time it was actually Mari Gras this past year we were more than prepared.
On November 21, 2013 I was scheduled for my knee surgery. The night before we drove to the hospital and stayed in a hotel close by, since I had to be at the hospital at 5:30 am. We went to dinner that night and hung out in the hotel before we all went to sleep. I knew that tomorrow would be a long day.
At 4:45am my mom walked into my room and woke my sister and me. We had connecting rooms so when I heard a loud slam of the door connecting our rooms I thought, “oh shit”. My mom could not get back into her room. Not only were the car keys, notebook, and all my information in that room but so was my special hospital bracelet. When I went for my pre-surgery testing they brainwashed me not to forget this hospital bracelet. This special bracelet indicated that I already had blood work done. They basically told us if I didn’t have this bracelet they wouldn’t do my surgery. I am pretty sure my surgeon would disagree with them. It wasn’t like I was going for a ride at an amusement park where if you don’t have your ticket they won’t let you on the ride. Removing a cancerous tumor is a little different.
After my sister frantically ran to the front desk of the hotel to get help and after countless attempts to open the door, we finally got into my mom’s room. It was 5:25 by this point so my mom sent my sister and me to the hospital to check in. We power walked to her car and quickly drove to the hospital. My sister proceeded to drive quickly around the hospital and go through all the stop signs. It wasn’t until we reached the parking garage and parked the car that I saw the security car pull up near us yelling, “excuse me” to my sister. At this point it was 5:30am and there was no way in hell I was stopping for hospital security. I started power walking away while he was trying to talk to my sister. I am not sure what she said to him but within seconds my sister was walking next to me. If you know my sister you can only imagine what she said or did to get him to leave us alone.
I arrived in the pre-surgery check in area and was greeted by a long line. The room felt like it was 1,000 degrees and there were people everywhere. By the time I got to the front of the line, my hat and extra layers had been removed. I went back into a room where they weighed me, checked my vitals, and gave me a buzzer type thing to hold onto. It reminded me of the thing they give you in restaurants to hold onto while you wait for a table. I asked the lady if she wanted the special bracelet I was given a couple weeks before and she said I didn’t need it. Apparently the bracelet wasn’t the deciding factor if I would get my surgery!
After waiting a little while my buzzer thing went off and I went to the desk where I was told to follow another person to the pre-surgery area. I took my mom with me and we went into a room with tons of hospital beds. I was ushered into one of the small areas and told to put on the hospital gown and let them know when I was ready. I quickly changed and got onto the bed. Then the woman came back and hooked my gown up to this machine that blows air into it. What she forgot to ask was if I wanted it warm or cold. By this point I was so warm and nervous that I wanted it to be cold. However, the woman decided to turn it on high heat and all of a sudden I felt like I was in a sauna. Every time I tried to change it or shut it off she would somehow turn it back up.
By the time my orthopedic surgeon came in to mark my tumor he could tell something was up. Not only did I have the hot air situation but my arms were wrapped in warm towels to help the IV people find a vein. He politely told the hot air lady to leave me alone and then introduced me to the anesthesiologist who decided that they would put me to sleep before sticking me anymore. I was handed a small cup filled with pills to take before we went back. Then they started wheeling me away after I said goodbye to my mom.
I was wheeled down a long set of hallways that felt like a maze. However everything was blurry since they took my glasses away. We went through a set of doors where I was greeted by a sea of people in surgical gowns. I looked up at the wall and saw the MRI pictures of my knee that showed my tumor. Then all of a sudden they put a mask over my mouth and told me to breathe deeply. Within seconds everything went black. The last thing I can remember was thinking I hope I don’t end up like Michael Jackson.
Over five hours later I woke up in the recovery area. I had no idea what had happened but quickly realized I had a huge bandage type cast from mid thigh to ankle. I couldn’t fell my right leg thanks to the nerve block. I was also in a completely different hospital gown. I was falling in and out of sleep and couldn’t see anything since I didn’t have my glasses. My surgeon and his PA came by a couple times to check on me and see how I was doing. I eventually got my glasses and could finally see. I stayed in that area for a while before I was wheeled to my room. When I got to my room I was greeted by a large star that my sister got me to use to decorate my room. By the end of the day we all were exhausted and laughing about what had happened that morning with the bracelet that I didn’t need!
Waiting rooms at the cancer center have become my new favorite place to people watch. You have the people that stare at you when you walk through the door. I can always hear them saying, “she looks too young to be here”. I will probably appreciate that comment in 20 years. There are the people who are staring at their phones. Then there are the patients and their loud obnoxious family members who are complaining about how long they have been waiting. I usually sit in the corner of the waiting room and watch what is happening around me. It’s like my own version of a soap opera some days.
When I am in the upstairs waiting room waiting to check in, I always hear the most interesting comments. One time I was waiting to check in and was sitting next to a girl who was curled up in a ball. I could tell she wasn’t feeling well and didn’t appreciate everyone staring at her. I always stare at the clock and avoid eye contact with everyone. I have found that if you look at someone and make eye contact they tend to think that’s my way of saying how I would love to hear their story. Not at all. As I was staring at the clock the person that was with this girl kept walking in and out saying it was time to go. The girl kept shaking her head no and wasn’t listening. Finally when he came in another time she started freaking out about a prescription. She proceeded to yell, “ I have f*cking cancer pain!” She kept saying it over and over again and each time growing louder and louder. Thank God I didn’t open my mouth because I probably would have said, “everyone here has cancer pain lady. Did you not read the sign, CANCER Center, when you walked in the door?” In my head I inserted several f bombs and other words. The last thing anyone wants to hear is you bitching about your pain and making a scene.
Another time I was waiting to check in to see my oncologist and I was in the check in area alone. I love it when its just me in that room because then I don’t have to interact with anyone or talk to complete strangers that want to know all about me. Apparently I look healthy since I have hair. Wrong yet again. I was sitting minding my own business when another patient walked in. He was by himself and sitting minding his own business. I thought finally someone who appreciates the calm sounds of awkward silence in a waiting room. Boy was I wrong. Right before I was called to check in he decided to say, “Well at least cancer isn’t my problem.” While most people would have been offended by this comment I just started laughing to myself. It’s not everyday that you walk into a cancer center and hear someone say, “Cancer isn’t my problem.” When I went back to see my oncologist I was still laughing. When I told him about the bizarre comment he started laughing too. I mean what else can you do? People just don’t think before they speak.
At my last two appointments I have encountered screaming family members. I am not joking about the screaming part. I knew she was going to be trouble based on her power walk and the crazed look in her eye. Once again I was sitting in the check in waiting area when she was called in to check in a family member. Within minutes the floodgates of her rage opened. She started yelling about this and that and demanding answers to everything. All I thought was holy shit she’s either really pissed off about her family members blood work or taking out her frustration on the check in people. Even my mom could hear her screaming at the woman about something. We have no control over what happens in our lives. However, there is a difference between accepting it or letting it rule our lives. She was clearly letting her family member’s illness be the excuse for screaming at the people trying to help her. I don’t understand why family members of patients think its ok to yell at the people who are trying to help you. They are doing their best. Plus I don’t think it’s a wise decision to yell at someone before they stick you with a needle.
You’re probably reading this thinking that this must be what it is like when she goes to the cancer center. Although it certainly makes for an entertaining read, it isn’t always like that. Usually when I go its pretty boring which sometimes is a good thing. Probably one of my favorite stories is when I saw a mom and her toddler in the waiting room. Her daughter was really cute. While she was sitting there with her mother she kept looking at us. She kept blowing us kisses and staring at us with her big brown eyes. The mom was there waiting to pick up a prescription for anti-nausea pills. I couldn’t imagine trying to take care of a young child while going through treatment. I can barely take care of myself some days. We talked with her for a little while before I was called back for my appointment.
No matter where you go you will always encounter interesting people. Sometimes it’s someone screaming at another person and other times it may be a toddler blowing you kisses. I always try and be nice to everyone because you have no idea what is going on in their life on that particular day. Cancer is a disease that brings out a lot of emotions in people. Whether it be anger, frustration, sadness, or laughter, everyone has a right to feel how they feel. In the words of Ellen DeGeneres, “Be kind to one another.”