Sunday, October 27, 2002

Nadir Time and Old Pills

Dave’s Great Adventure
Chapter 4, Verse 2
October 26, 2002
Nadir Time

Well, I’m in my nadir know, my Ralph (Nader), a pun so stretched that even my English speaking correspondents didn’t know what I was talking about. My nadir is when my blood counts are probably at their lowest in between rounds of chemotherapy. Curiously, I reach my nadir just about the time I start to feel reasonably well after the preceding round of drugs. That’s kinda perverse. I get stuck in the house for days at a time after the chemo, because I feel so lousy, but then when I start feeling better, I’m at my immunologically weakest point and am most at risk from colds or other environmental pathogens (bad germs and viruses). So I really can’t safely mix with crowds. And this is also the time when I can’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables unless they can be scrubbed or peeled, so my diet is a bit limited as well. Oh well, I can stand it.

After the last round of chemo I was, as usual, wiped out for a number of days. Since I can’t go out on the hammock any more (it’s been put away for the winter) I spend a lot of time on the couch in the family room, taking up space and limiting Kathy’s ability to use the room for watching TV, etc. The worst days are usually the Friday through Monday or Tuesday following the drugs. That really impacts on my ability to follow the football games on Sunday! I actually dozed through the first quarter of the Broncos’ game last Sunday, but was awake enough to see them win in overtime against the hated Kansas City Chiefs. Kathy once again brought me some hot wings (Hahnchen Flugel mit pikante Soss!) to eat during the game since that is the time my mouth is most “coated” and less sensitive to mild flavors.

As I recover from each round of chemo I frequently get fooled into thinking I’m stronger than I really am. Many times I’ve gotten up and felt just great, only to find that I’m still pretty weak once I try to get around the house and do something. This happened again last Tuesday but with another, new problem thrown in for good measure.

I got up about 9:00 AM, which is really somewhat early for being just five days out from the last day of infusions. I took a bath, and while in the tub was feeling good; not tired, weak, etc. After I got out of the tub I spent about a half hour dipping water out of the tub with the watering can and watering the plants all over the house (we‘re still in a drought situation here in Denver). This required going up and down the stairs several times. I got a little tired, but nothing too bad. But now my head was hurting some, so I took my usual headache medications, and the headache slowly subsided.

Before lunch my stomach started cramping a little, nothing really bad, but enough to bother me. This has never happened to me before during my previous rounds of chemo. I thought that if I just got some food into it I’d feel better. I felt like getting out of the house by then anyway, since I’d been cooped up for several days, so we went out to a local Chinese food place, and I got a dish of chicken curry. Bad mistake. The cramps got worse and caused a lot of gas buildup! When I got home I started looking for meds to try to make me feel better, but the usual stuff, Mylanta, etc., didn’t do much good. The mild cramps continued through the afternoon and into the evening, through a fairly bland dinner. We went to bed about 10:00 PM and I was still cramping, but I didn’t know from what. The cramps kept up through the night and I could not sleep. In desperation I rummaged through the medicine cabinet to see what I could find. I came across a bottle of Donnatol! Just what I needed! Donnatol is a combination of belladonna alkaloids and phenobarbital, and is specifically made to stop abdominal cramping. The bottle said it had been dispensed in 1988! Really, 1988!

Where were you in 1988? In 1988 I was driving a snazzy green Porsche, our eldest had just started college in El Paso and we were living in Stuttgart, Germany. Ronald Reagan was president and he still knew his name. We’d never heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Queda, and for that matter, we’d never heard of Bill Clinton (God, to be able to go back in time!). These pills had made several moves with us, for some reason, from Germany to El Paso and then to Colorado.

I looked at the pills and looked at the date on the bottle. The pills looked okay, I mean, they weren’t brown and crumbly or anything. I looked at them again, looked at the date on the bottle, and then looked at the time. It was four in the morning and my belly was hurting. I took the pills. They worked and I finally got to sleep.

I guess I really ought to replace those pills, huh?

You know, I guess I must be doing okay. Whenever I see friends or colleagues whom I haven’t seen in a while, I always get the same greeting: They always say “You look GOOD!” almost in surprise. I think most folks that go through chemo lose a lot of weight and hair, but since I’ve maintained my weight with a diligent diet of frozen custard, hot wings and nachos, and since most of my hair is still in place, I suppose I don’t look like the average chemo patient. And that’s okay.

Last Friday evening, just as I was getting into my really low point, some old friends came through town. Alta Bailey and her daughter Kristen came through Denver en route to Utah where they were going to visit Moab, the Arches and more. (Our friends from Germany, the Koetzles, have been there and have been encouraging us to go too, but we haven’t made the short trip out there yet.) Anyway, Alta’s husband, Don, and I were first cousins, once removed, and were the family’s genealogists. We spent a lot of time digging up family roots and traipsing through cemeteries looking at old gravestones, filling out the family tree. Sadly, Don died a few years ago of pulmonary fibrosis but we’ve stayed in touch with Alta. We went over to their motel to visit but after about ninety minutes I was just too tired to be able to follow the conversations, so we left and came back home. It was nice to see them however, even if for just a short time.

In just my most recent letter I was thinking about end-of-life scenarios and wondering what I should do. I mentioned, briefly, “Perhaps a hospice?” Well, wouldn’t you know, two days later I got a letter in the mail from the Denver Hospice Association asking for donations. Man, what a network they must have!

I want everyone to know that I’m STILL getting cards everyday from my friends at work. And when I can’t get a card because of a weekend or holiday, our friends the Henefelds make sure I get an e-card. Joan Henefeld is sticking to her “mantra” of sending daily good thoughts and wishes and my wonderful nurse, Debbie, is right behind her, even though she’s got five kids to care for. And then I get a card or two every week from other folks too. I have the absolute BEST co-workers.

I was going to try to get in to the clinic to work a couple of days next week but I’m having trouble doing so again. They may not be able to accommodate me on the days I could work, because they don’t have enough nursing help (male gynecologists are labor intensive as we require an attendant, or “chaperone“ for just about everything we do), so I probably won’t be able to work again next month. Oh well, I’ll just burn a couple more sick days.

So, until later, I’ll put this letter “to bed” and get it into your e-mail in basket!