The infusion chronicles

Oh, so THATS what anaphylactic shock feels like.

Hmm.  Yeah, I really didn’t need to know that.

I wasn’t going to write about this, but considering the fact that it may help or support someone else going through similar circumstances down the line (either now or someday) , I figure it might be worth pounding out.  Plus, it’s part of my life right now whether I like it or not, and thats what I write about- life.

I’d much rather tell you about the new orange flowers in my office or my most recent Trader Joe’s discovery,  but I suppose those will have to wait for a rainy day.

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(oh, and if you tend to be a bit squeamish about hospitals, needles, or negative things that can occur in relation to such things, this may not be the best reading material for you)

As mentioned before, I’ve had persistent anemia for nearly a year now.  Despite the doctor’s high doses of iron supplements and a regular iron-rich diet, my blood-work has continued to decline over the past 6 months and has refused to have anything to do with the stuff.  As a result of further testing and too many sad blood tests to count, it seems I have some form of Lupus, which can cause all sorts of mischief, including chronic anemia.

Thus, after months of protest, I finally relented to the doctors’ orders and agreed to begin receiving infusions through an IV, much to my chagrin.  This was mostly due to the fact that my iron was almost entirely depleted, and aside from licking tin foil I’d run out of ideas.

The last conversation I had with the oncologist overseeing my treatment went something like this:

Man in white coat: “You really have no choice in this Jen, you need to begin the infusions, and you need to begin them now”

“Alright, ok fine. What are the risks?”

Man in white coat: “Well, there is a slight risk of a bad allergic reaction, but I’m going to be giving you a type that is so safe I won’t even need to do a test run. In 30 years I’ve only had two patients react to it”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.  What happens if I do react?” (knowing if it can happen, it most likely will with me)

Man in white coat, now laughing: “Well, thats not going to happen, but if it did you’d be in a hospital and we’d be able to pull you off of it and counteract your reaction immediately.  But seriously, all you”ll really have to worry about is not getting bored for the hours you have to lie there”

His confidence and laughter were enough to put me at ease for the moment, so I set aside my intense fear of needles and the input of foreign substances entering my body, and signed my name on the dotted line.

INFUSION ATTEMPT #1. January 18th.

This past friday morning was the first of three infusions they had me scheduled for, and if I told you I was not dreading it I would be lying.

By the time the nurse has covered me in blankets, however, and gets the IV into my arm, I actually begin to relax. All three nurses in the room assure me that their patients never have reactions to this medication, and I believe them.

Until I begin to go into anaphylactic shock, that is.

Ok, so when they tell you to watch for any itchiness or swelling around your mouth, remember some people just skip that part altogether and go straight to the shut-down-the system part of things in one swift moment.

One minute I am fine and relaxed, the next I am struggling not to black out. Beginning with a sharp pain in my arm and chest, the reaction immediately progresses to a sensation of immense heat around my torso, nausea, dizziness and trouble breathing.  Hoping I’m having a panic attack, they quickly read my vitals. Nope. My blood pressure, which  began at 109/61 is now dropping rapidly. 90/55, 80/50, 78/43…

By this point there is no longer a question of what is happening, and suddenly everything around me sort of becomes a blur.

A blur of nurses.

I hear one of the blurry nurses say to another,  “oh my gosh, she’s going into anaphylactic shock”, whilst pressing buttons somewhere behind me.   Another one is at my right arm stopping the acting IV that contains the medication my body is reacting to. To complicate matters further, the vein has apparently blown on that side and is now rendered useless. To my left is another guy getting a second IV into my arm to administer benadryl and steroids to stop the reaction and get my heart pumping normally again.  All the while I’m warning them I might hurl or pass out and to please ‘just get this stuff out of me

Except I don’t use the word ‘stuff”.

When the nurse to my left tells me he’s giving me steroids, I somehow have the presence of mind to tell him I’d rather not because I don’t believe in steroids.

“well honey, I think you’ll believe in them now” he says, “they’re sort of saving your life at the moment”

Hmm. He has a point.

Seeing this, and realizing that I have no choice in the matter and sort of want to live, I ask him how long the benadryl will take to kick in. I am now entirely consumed with a desire for relief from all that my body is experiencing.

“um, now” he says with a smile.

At this moment I go into a very happy place and begin to feel rather like a very drunk little girl.  I suddenly think it is HILARIOUS that there is a man standing there checking my blood pressure and heart rate, and can’t understand what he means by ‘don’t touch the light’.

“What light? You mean a lamppost? No lamppost here mister, just stars.”

I wish I could tell you all I said or didn’t say from this point forward, but I’m afraid I have very little recollection of all that transpired once this darling medication took effect. I do know the nurses were finding great amusement in whatever I was saying, I know I could not finish any of the sentences I began (though I was trying very hard), I know I was flirting with something or someone in the room, and I know I promptly fell asleep.

So that was Try #1.  I’m hoping with all my heart that Try #2 is much, much less eventful.  The doctors are now on alert with me, aware that I am one of the freakazoids whose body will do all the things it’s not supposed to do, the sort that is referred to as  ‘the exception’ in Dr textbooks.

In layman’s terms, I’m just called a ‘pain in the arse.’

The good thing about the plan for this friday is twofold:  First, they will be giving me a new form of iron, hopefully one that my body will not treat as poison. They will begin with a test dose before administering the full treatment, now aware of my risk factor.

Secondly (and most delightfully in my opinion) they will be pre-medicating me with the benadryl and steroids before they even begin, in order to protect me against another severe reaction.  So even if my body does go berserk, I’ll already be on cloud nine and won’t care.

I’ll be updating this post as things progress, hopefully with some better news this next time.  I’m incredibly grateful to God for his protection through this adventure, and the kind nurses who are taking such good care of me of and putting up with my antics.

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INFUSION ATTEMPT #2. January 25th..

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