“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This line is an adaptation from the poem “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns. It reminds us, as everyone is aware, that no matter how hard you try to avoid it, the unexpected can happen. And this was definitely the case when I experienced some radiation treatment hiccups.
Most of the time the routine was very straightforward. We’d arrive at Sunnybrook then check in with radiation reception, check the status board to see if radiation unit #07 was on time or not, take a seat and wait. If we arrived earlier than our scheduled appointment then the radiation team would try their best to get me into my treatment as soon as possible so that I didn’t have a long time to wait. They knew we had a long drive in from Barrie under winter driving conditions, and so they tried to accommodate us the best that they could, but there were days when it was just not going to work in our favour.
From time to time the unit would be delayed because of some issue with a previous patient: they were late, or uncooperative, or were ill, or the radiation therapists were short-staffed, etc. A few times the unit itself was down, and that’s when you knew you definitely weren’t going to be on time.
When my assigned unit was down, the therapists would squeeze us into another unit’s schedule. It wasn’t just the inconvenience of me walking to a different section of the radiation wing, it also meant that the treatment program written specifically for my cancer had to be loaded into the new unit’s computer. My mask also had to be transferred to the new unit. No biggie really, and it meant that I got to enjoy different ceiling tile paintings.
Usually this just meant unavoidable delays, but there was one time when it was almost unbearable.
As I mentioned, the computer program written specially for my treatment would have to be transferred over to the new unit’s computer which usually took mere minutes. They’d clamp me in my mask down to the treatment bed while the program was being transferred. What if the program wouldn’t transfer over? What then? Well that’s exactly what happened.
I was clamped to the bed for what seemed a ridiculously long time before anyone came in to see how I was doing. They mentioned that there was a glitch in getting my program into the new unit’s computer and it would take just a few minutes more.
Did I mention that I was immobilized, clamped down so that I couldn’t move? It turns out that they couldn’t transfer the program over now matter how hard they tried. They had to manually enter the program, which took an additional 45 minutes on top of my regular treatment time of 30 minutes plus the amount of time I’d already spent waiting! I’m not claustrophobic, thank goodness, but I came damn close to experiencing it then and there.
Sometimes the delays were weather or traffic related. We lived over an hour to the north of Toronto in the snow belt and since my treatments spanned over February and March, it was inevitable that we would have to drive through a snow storm at some point. I remember one trip where we had to zigzag through the side roads because the main highway was closed due to bad winter driving conditions, and then the side roads themselves were being shut down. We found back roads and zigzagged along those, hoping that all travel wouldn’t be closed down. Other times highway 400 would be closed due to bad accidents. Thank goodness the radiation team was flexible. We’d call ahead to say we were delayed, and they’d fit us in whenever we managed to arrive.
Now anybody who knows me knows that I’m typically not bothered by much, but there are two things that I can’t stomach: blood and vomit, and I appear to be a magnet for it. I’m not kidding. It seems that every time I turn on the TV the first thing I see is a puke scene, no matter if it’s a comedy, kid’s show, drama, you name it, or even just walking down the street. So what does this have to do with my treatments?
Well, the change rooms near the radiation treatment rooms are small individual rooms, no bigger than a closet. You go in, change, then leave bringing your personal items with you. There’s usually a few people waiting so you try not to dawdle. One day I went into the change room to put on my hospital gown and just when I was about to exit the change room I heard (can you guess?) a man heaving his guts out just outside my room.
So what did I do? I absolutely stayed inside the change room with my fingers jammed inside my ears. I didn’t want to hear anything nor did I want to see anything. My anti-nauseants were good but I doubted they would have helped had I ventured out of my safe space. There could have been a mile-long queue of people waiting for the change room but I didn’t care, no sir. I wasn’t budging. Now Seaghan knows me very well, and as he was outside witnessing this event he was silently killing himself laughing: not at the sick man’s predicament, but because he knew exactly what I was doing inside my little closet. And every time I thought it was safe, I’d cautiously take my fingers out of my ears and then it would start up again so back in my ears they’d go. When they had finally taken the poor guy away, Seaghan knew I’d still be in there so he knocked on the door and told me it was safe to come out. He still laughs about it to this day!
The radiation department at Sunnybrook was staffed by the most amazing people: volunteers, reception, and of course the radiation therapists. If things went awry then it certainly wasn’t their fault: I blame it on gremlins!
Next time: when chemo doesn’t go as expected