Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Best man for the Gob

I got a sneak peek at the chemo ward at Kaiser on Monday.

Dr. Gary Buchschacher, a hematology and oncology specialist at Kaiser, took me around the ward after giving me an overview of my chemotherapy treatments, which get under way on Monday.

I'll be getting chemo three times over the next six-and-a-half weeks, concurrent with the 33 radiation therapy treatments I'll be getting. Dr. Buchschacher will be directing the chemotherapy part of my treatments.

Carboplatin is the type of chemotherapy drug I'll be getting, delivered intravenously. According to the doctor, the side effects of carboplatin are less severe than the side effects of other types of chemotherapy.

Well, I hope so. I haven't upchucked since the winter of 1976, and I'm not going to allow chemotherapy to topple that record without putting up a fight.

Kaiser's chemo ward, on the 8th floor of a building on Vermont, seems to be a pleasant enough place, and Dr. Buchschacher and his team are friendly and knowledgeable.

After my appointment on Monday ended, I headed to the lab on the second floor to have blood drawn.

The guy who stuck me with a needle and drew several vials of my blood must see his career as some kind of homage to Michael Jackson.

He was wearing only one glove!

Universal precautions to prevent transmission of HIV have been a CDC standard for, what, more than a quarter-century? I guess this guy never got that memo. Shoulda said something to him, and maybe I still will. The name on his badge was the same name as a certain bawdy Southern city, except for one letter. I ain't gonna forget it.

Back on the 8th floor, I got excited when I saw signs pointing to a Cancer Library.

Before I even got discharged from the hospital last month, Kaiser had mailed an information kit about the cancer program to my home. In that kit, Kaiser's Cancer Resource Center is prominently mentioned.

The only trouble is that no one at Kaiser seems to know where the Cancer Resource Center is located. So over the past few weeks, I had been trying to hunt it down.

The sign I spotted on the 8th floor was my first break in the case. "Cancer Library" is reasonably close to "Cancer Resource Center," right?

The arrows in the signs led me back to the waiting room of the Oncology Department, where I had just been an hour earlier. I handed a note to the receptionist, asking her to direct me to the Cancer Library.

The receptionist kind of sighed and then she said she would meet me at the window at the nurses station. When I got there, she pointed to a desk in the corner of the waiting room, with a computer on it.

"That," she explained, "is the Cancer Library."

That's a library? I thought. Where are the books on shelves? Where's the Dewey Decimal System? Where is someone with her hair in a bun shushing people for talking aloud?

I'm at the kindergarten stage in my cancer awareness, so I walked over to the "library" and sat down to see what I could learn.

The computer stored electronic modules of some cancer brochures. There were six modules in all. I decided to take a crack at "Chemotherapy and You" and "Radiation Therapy and You."

I zipped through the introductory pages of the first module, eager to start learning more about the adventure that awaits me next week.

Disappointment metastized in my heart. Each page in the sessions was illustrated with a photograph that had absolutely no relationship to the text.

In a section on side effects, I found a page describing "fatigue." It was illustrated with a photo of a well-coiffed woman in an elegant home, smiling down upon some kind of fancy dessert. The scene looked like an outtake from a Martha Stewart home entertainment guide.

Next, there was a section explaining the principle of "external beam radiation." The photo accompanying that text showed a girl and a woman working cheerfully on a jigsaw puzzle.

Then there was a page on coping with side effects. The photo showed two kindly grandfatherly types –imagine Hal Halbrook and Robert Young– playing a friendly hand of cards.

And the text? "Be gentle when wiping yourself after a bowel movement."

Never mind the threat of chemo undoing my 33-year record of not vomiting. I felt the slosh in my stomach rising up through my G-tube just by looking at the modules on the Cancer Library!

Each mouse click threw up another non sequitur on the computer screen. Going through the sessions felt like watching Greta Garbo dying in "Camille" with a Three Stooges soundtrack.

I hurriedly clicked through a few modules, printed out a couple of Certificates of Completion to stuff into my patient chart, and made a note to revisit the Kaiser Cancer Library at another time.

Say, after my cancer goes into remission. Maybe then I'll be ready to look back on all of this and have a laugh.

By the way, you may wonder why I titled this blog "Best man for the Gob."

It has nothing to do with what I wrote today. It's just the title of an episode of "Arrested Development" that I watched again the other day.

Think I have a future in making educational modules about cancer?

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