Monday, November 13, 2006

A Port In Every Storm

I have a hideous device called a "port" surgically implanted in my chest wall. The chemotherapy I receive every three weeks is so toxic, if it were injected directly into an ordinary vein in my arm, it would disintegrate the vein and blister the skin around the injection site beyond recognition. It's so deadly, the nurses who administer my chemo are required by OSHA to wear special haz-mat suits. When the evil stuff is infused through the port, it is delivered straight into one of the bigger tougher veins deep in my body, where, theoretically, it can do less damage. Knock wood.

The damn thing bulges beneath my skin and looks like a really creepy doorbell:



I also have a little card I'm supposed to carry in my wallet that announces, replete with random superfluous caps, "This Patient has a RITA Medical Systems Device Implanted." On the back it reports the catalog and lot numbers of my device, and informs avid readers that the Location of Portal is Right Chest Wall, and the Location of Catheter is Superior Vena Cava. I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to do with this card. Hand it out at cocktail parties? Place it on my dashboard so I can park in the blue zone? Show it to airport security personnel if my device sets off the metal detectors?

But let me tell you, the surgery to implant the device was just about the most exciting damn thing that ever happened to me. As I was coming to in the post-op recovery room, a blurry resident loomed over my face and shouted, "Mrs. Lymphopo? There's been a little problem. But everything is going to be all right, and your husband is here now."

Well shit yeah, there's a goddamn problem: suddenly I have a husband??? See, the scary thing is, I don't have a very good history with twilight anesthesia. After my first biopsy, I apparently phoned out and ordered pizza for the entire radiology department. But this time it seems I had called in the hospital chaplain and gotten myself hitched, to god only knows whom. Probably the inert appendectomy patient on the next gurney.

But thank the lucky constellations it turned out this alleged husband was only my designated driver. I guess they assumed we were married because, eww, it's just too gross to contemplate that a woman my age might have something as racy and exotic as a boyfriend.

Unfortunately, the "little problem" was a bit messier than a hasty marriage to a sedated stranger. During the implantation surgery, the blurry resident had used a series of guidewires to insert the device's catheter down into my superior vena cava, and a 5-inch piece of one of the wires had unexpectedly broken during this delicate procedure. The renegade bit of wire immediately launched itself on a gleeful high speed joyride, tearing around through my vascular system at an alarming velocity, threatening to perforate various vital veins and ventricles.

As one of my non-husbands held my hand and the other snored his oblivious way out of his post-appendectomy delirium, the blurry resident explained that a crack team of radiological surgeons had been called in, stat. As soon as they had scrubbed, masked, and snapped their polyisoprene gloves into place, I would be wheeled into a special operating room where they would use their magic x-ray vision to locate the fugitive wire. They would then apprehend the fool thing and take it into custody, hopefully before it caused any fatalities.

I guess the radiologists had never forgiven me for ordering anchovies on their pizza after the biopsy, because this time they refused to give me any more twilight anesthesia. I'm not a big fan of being wide awake during surgeries, but fortunately for all I was still drunk enough from the morning's implantation imbroglio that I didn't put up much of a fight. I vaguely recall having an extremely interesting discussion about something or other with the chief radiologist, a distinguished, handsome, and delightfully charming man about my age. As luck would have it, he discovered the idiot wire nestled in my groin, so this conversation was not without a tinge of indignity on my part.


I recovered from the consecutive surgeries without further incident (though I have yet to hear a damn word from my ex-non-husband, Mr. Appendix), and two days after it was implanted, the port was put to use in my first chemotherapy treatment:


Portal close-up with shark's tooth


A vengeful, bloodthirsty Madame Defarge knits a register of every cell that must Die For The Cause. Her relatives dread the holidays this year, as she is an astonishingly inept knitter.



3 Comments:

Anonymous Sara said...

Blech. Blech to the experience. You wear it well, though.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Mary Sunshine said...

You are a *brilliant* writer and have written a story that I will never forget.

My very, very best to you.

Mary

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Twisty said...

Ha! I've found you.

I've got that very same port! I've got that very same card! After a year, I don't notice either of'em anymore, except when I'm awake.

4:27 PM  

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