Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chew on This

Got through last weeks' chemo, with each day being progressively more difficult than the one before.  That's part of the rhythm of treatment: you fill yourself with toxins, deliberately and systematically, and then wait for the hammer to fall.  

I am constantly amazed at what we ask our bodies to endure in the name of treatment, and the ordinary, everyday stubbornness it takes to just do it--over and over again.  This time, the GI irritation that usually holds off till about week three started at once.  I had heartburn-like pain from the middle of my sternum to my crotch, if such a thing is possible.  My innards felt raw--which also meant being thrown back into the not-eating place as well as all the indignities of hamburger-for-guts.  My gums started to bleed, I got thrush.  Nothing was spared.

So I called a nurse, who came over to help.  "Okay," she said, "you could start with something like Gaviscon or Tums to coat your esophagus and stomach.  That'll help."

Gaviscon? Tums? Excuse me, but I have a Most Serious Cancer going on here.  And you're saying all I need is some kind of pizza fix-up?

Well, I didn't actually say this out loud, but I sure thought it.  I'm burning from stem to stern and I should take a Tums??? Give me a break.

But I did it anyway, no high power prescription seeming to be forthcoming.  And it worked like hot damn.  In less than five minutes, the raw burn was gone and the sharp pain in my belly had subsided.

So what else did she have up that nursy sleeve of hers?  My belly was distended--too much gas going nowhere--which was making me very uncomfortable, and also raised the spectre that maybe I was starting to bung up again.

"Gasex", she said, "or Beano.  People like Beano."  

So I should get with the dorky guy in the Silent But Deadly commercial and solve my Very Serious Intestinal Distress with a strip of drug store tape?  Surely there was something more, well, exotic or solemn I should be trying.

Turns out, nope, Gasex works just fine.  And finding that out was like discovering that my chemo nurse was right when she said the very best thing for mouth sores is rinsing with Club Soda.

I learned a couple of things from all this.  First is the actual wisdom of folk wisdom, and the power of sharing humble but effective solutions with others.  There's a lot of drama around cancer treatments, and I got caught up in thinking that serious attention to comfort needed to be solemn, or prescribed by someone in a white coat, or be somehow big enough to assure me that my pain was being taken seriously.  

I think it's great that nurses know what they know, from the most technical medical stuff to the kitchen table solutions that work just fine, thank you very much. I'm glad they pass it along even when people like me look right through the obvious holes in their head.

And I'm glad to have a body that's still enough like everyone else's that a couple of chews will do me.

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