When Things Go Wrong Part 1: My First Ever Trip to the ER

I was under no illusion that this process would be a picnic in the park. Sure, the first two rounds of treatment went smoothly and I was hopeful that things would continue on the same track, but I knew that this treatment process comes with uncertainty and the risks of side effects and complications are there – completely unpredictable and unmerciful when they strike. Strike they did indeed – and boy did this complication strike hard.

Last Thursday afternoon – ironically just as I was finishing up my latest post discussing how things were more or less going smoothly – I was suddenly overcome by chills accompanied by shivering so severe that my whole body trembled and shook. Fluids and a sweater did nothing to help them subside, so I lay down and forced down some oatmeal, thinking my blood sugar had dropped. My body was so tense and the shaking so severe that I heated up very quickly, and sure enough I had a fever. I hoped the warm nourishment would help calm my system down and give my body fuel to normalize. The rigors (apparently the term for the sever shaking) had lasted a while and depleted my energy so I stayed in bed and watched Netflix. Rest.

Rather than improving, the chills (though less severe) and fever did not abate, and when we took my temperature again it was up to 101.9 so I texted my nurse and she said to go to the hospital immediately. I spoke with my oncologist and he agreed that I should go to the ER – I was scheduled to be admitted the next day for treatment anyway so I’d just be going a day early and they could monitor my fever and determine whether I had an infection.

So I packed up everything I could think of and we hopped into the car. They gave me a surgical mask (ugh those things are a nuisance) to protect me from germs, took my vitals and the fever was still up, and before too long they lead me down a maze of hallways into the depths of the Emergency Department. It was so busy they literally put me on a bed in the hallway – so this is what it’s like to go to the ER. Chaos. Crowding. Constant beeps. No privacy. Germs, germs, germs. Sick people. And crazy people… Like the woman who limped around with a cast on her foot and at one point decided to stop and stare at me for a solid two minutes. Two minutes is a really long time when you are trying to avoid the stare and potential wrath of a random stranger, who may be certifiable. You never know. The 10th floor comes with much of the same – the beeps, the lack of privacy, the germs – but all to a much lesser degree. My scheduled admissions are altogether more dignified and, thankfully, more comfortable.

Soon enough they took my blood, hooked me up to an IV of fluids, and the doctor came over to ask about my symptoms. Just the fever and chills. He had seen my scan results and congratulated me on a job well done so far… That’s right, I’m on top of this whole thing my friend. Or so I thought I was.

The other doctor on the team and two minions with notepads and matching vests (interns?) joined and we briefly filled him in on the need to know and after digesting the information, he decided my fever was actually a big deal. No, I’m not a fan of extra nights in the hospital nor the ER… only here if I have to be buddy. They determined that I should probably go on antibiotics but would check in with my oncologist first. The nice doctor returned to stick a nasal swab crazy far up my nose – highly unpleasant – and sent me for a chest x-ray, which came back fine. I came back from the x-ray wrapped like a mummy in a hospital blanket, because have I mentioned how freezing they keep the hospital? And then add a fever… I was frigid in my sweater and long pj pants. Interestingly, my right forearm was noticably warmer and redder than the left, but my actual PICC site was fine. In spite of everything, my spirits were up and I soon warmed up as the fluids and antibiotics kicked in. A nurse came over later to check my vitals and told me my fever was ‘impressive’ and that one of the doctors had said I ‘look too healthy.’ Well my friends, I can tell you that I did feel ‘too healthy’ for the whole process that unfolded thereafter…