Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Everything comes in twos

Sometimes nurses are like buses: you wait and wait and finally two arrive at once.

I arrive on time for chemo and am duly assigned a bed, where I organise myself comfortably as usual with my book, phone, headphones, water and snacks on the table and (of course) my woolly socks on my feet.  I start a book and wait....and wait.  It is a whole hour before two nurses bustle in at once, full of apologies - they both laugh to see the other and one stays to insert the IV while the other bustles off to the many other jobs that need doing. 

Pre-Christmas isn't the best time to be fitting in weekly chemo sessions apparently, everyone is trying to pack in appointments before the festive season arrives so the nurses are rushed off their feet.  The two December general strike days we had here in Brussels haven't helped either; the hospital did its best to  carry on serving but it wasn't easy for staff or patients to get there with no public transport and blockages on the roads.  (I was lucky enough not to have treatments planned for the strike days though I did have to go for a blood test on the day of the police protest.  This one took the form of stopping every car to check papers and do breathalysers and generally slow the traffic down.  Bonne fete everyone!  I managed to outfox them though by taking a winding back route, hunched over my sat nav and swearing at it every time it tried to direct me back onto the highway.  It all adds zest to my routine, I guess).  I hope we only have two strikes though I suspect that Belgian militant tendencies combined with austerity measures mean that we are in for some more.  The kids will be thrilled - the schools close on strike days as well.

Today my theme of twos carries on when my doctor makes an unusual appearance by my bedside.  My white blood cells have plummeted from last week's glorious high and are low again, not too low for chemo today but low enough that the doctor doubts that I will be able to go ahead next week without intervention.  So I will have a course of Neupogen alongside the chemo this week.  Two treatments at once equals Taxol muscle aches plus Neupogen bone pains for five days, yippee!  Still, I hope that this will be enough to get me through the last three weeks of Taxol.  Wait, did I just say last three weeks?  Yes, the end is in sight!

The approaching end of chemo means that we need to start planning for the start of radiotherapy and the doctor's visit is followed by one from my lovely cancer nurse on that subject.  But she brings bad news: the radiotherapy unit in St Luc's is closed for the next six months for work.  So she suggests that I go to the hospital at Botanique instead.  Botanique!!  It's right in the centre of Brussels so driving would be a pretty awful idea.  Getting there on the metro is easy...but not quick.  That wouldn't matter for an appointment now and then, or even once a week, but radio will be every single day for six weeks.  Luckily, my theme of twos stands me in good stead because when she sees the dismay on my face she has a second suggestion.  St Elizabeth in Uccle -which is actually not much further than my current drive, though I don't even want to think about the traffic to get across town in that direction.  But these long, six months have taught me that I just have to be flexible and get through it somehow.  Six weeks will, at least, seem short after five months of chemo.

My head is reeling with all this information as the one remaining nurse finishes setting up the Taxol.  Two minutes after she departs - the machine starts beeping.  It's stuck again.  I ring but no-one comes.  On these busy pre-holiday days it seems, you either get two nurses or none at all.

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