The Port Authority Gets Giddy
"As I spoke to her before the operation to get informed consent, the patient ran her fingers across her short hair, only now starting to grow back after her having completed her chemotherapy a few weeks ago. As I've found with many women whose hair is just starting to reappear, like the soft coat of a short-haired puppy, she looked good--better than I remembered her with hair. Indeed, it never ceases to amaze me how many women can look so good at this point in their course, where they have what looks like a Marine-style buzzcut. Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's because women who reach this stage almost invariably seem so full of life; they've faced down death and their worst fears, and come out intact, if not unscathed. And this time, the patient was elated at having this procedure. Indeed, she was practically giddy, happier than I had ever seen her. She had a glow that, if I believed in Reiki, might have interpreted as a her life energy becoming visible."
The giddy post-chemo glow
And I also love what he says about ports. This is so true:
"It's easy for a surgeon to forget that the insertion and removal of a port represent two major milestones in the course of a patient's cancer treatment. The insertion of a port often represents, even more than the scars from surgery, a daily reminder of the patient's disease, and the insertion of that port represents a long-term alteration of the body necessitated by her disease. It's a constant reminder that life is not normal, a cold, metallic foreign body implanted in her body. Every time a woman feels that quarter-sized metal port under the skin, it's telling her that her life is not what it was; she is not the same as she was; she is not "normal." Even though the implanted port may not even be noticeable even if she wears a wide-necked shirt, other than the small scar left from its implantation, the patient knows its there. Sometimes this provokes complaints that one wouldn't have expected. I've had patients complain that they felt the port while trying to golf, to ride a bike, or even do yoga, and it bothered them. I've had patients who normally sleep on their stomachs complain that they can't do so anymore because they end up lying on the port."
Let me officially go on the record as saying I hate my hideous port.
My hideous port
So I went down to the hospital Tuesday to have the hideous thing flushed with saline. I'm supposed to have this procedure every 4 weeks to prevent clotting. While I was there, I stopped by 5 North to say hello to the chemo nurses. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Hey, Mike! I have a port question. Are you a port authority? [nyuk nyuk nyuk]
Mike: [totally oblivious to my hilarity] It depends. What's the question?
Me: Is it safe to do heavy lifting with a port?
Mike: How heavy?
Me: Heavy enough to win trophies, to break records, to get my picture on the front page of the paper.
Mike: Oh you mean lifting weights, like at the gym? Well, it's probably ok if you're just trying to get toned.
Me: "Toned"?[1/2 inch long hair bursts into flames] Gaaaah!!! No! No! Anything but "toned"!
Mike: Ok, it's probably not good to do really heavy lifting, like competitive power lifting heavy.
Me: Yeah, that's what I'm talking about, competitive power lifting heavy. I want to get back my 145 pound bench press. But it kind of hurts when I try to go more than about 60 pounds right now.
Mike: Oh no. You should have the port taken out.
Me: Now? I was supposed to leave it in for two years, for Rituxan maintenance. Can I just have that straight into a vein?
So can you believe it? I'm going to have my port removed! I'm going to be able to wear spaghetti straps this summer! No more huge freaky looking doorbell poking out of my chest wall!
Well, that's assuming I can actually get through to the surgery department at Our Lady of the Damned. Which is about as easy as getting through to the White House. They have a pretty rigid "don't call us, we'll call you" policy, so it's impossible to get through on the phone. I'm going to drive down today and try to make an appointment in person. If that doesn't work, I'll have no option except to go the emergency room and wait 12 hours to see a newborn resident who has no idea what on earth I'm talking about, but who may, after several hours of me shrieking, sobbing, and chaining myself to his lab coat while setting my eyebrows on fire, be persuaded to put in for an appointment.
As Orac says:
"Indeed, removing a port is so easy that it's equally easy to forget what this means to the patient. It means an end to the chemotherapy. It means that the most intense, painful stage of treatment is over. It means reversal of at least one bodily alteration. It promises the hope of a return of what was taken away by the cancer. To us surgeons, it's a simple procedure, even a nuisance sometimes when things are busy and we're being asked to do a dozen procedures and being pulled in a million different directions....but whatever happens, whatever the future holds in store for her, removal of her port was still an important milestone. It gave her her life back."
Wish me luck!