A 100.4 fever gets a kid out of school and definitely creates low-grade aches for the “normal” person. For a chemo patient, however, that fever is synonymous with a “Don’t Pass Go, Don’t Collect $200” Monopoly card. Tylenol is forbidden because it could mask an infection that could take down a cancer patient. Therefore, at 4 am on Tuesday morning, I walked into the Methodist Hospital ER site on Kirby Drive (and fortuitously next to a Chick-fil-a).
There I remained for 36 hours. I passed the time taking IV antibiotics, making a VideoStar video for my brother-in-law Whitney and sleeping. My mom, sister and son kept me company, and dear friend Raza delivered warm, homemade Bosnian sweets. I spent the night on a gurney in a nice, quiet room and took an ambulance ride with Hampton to the real Methodist Hospital at 1 pm the next day. (MD Anderson approved going to Methodist because the admittance time would be quicker.)
Perhaps the most indignant part of the entire experience was my welcome by the Methodist tech. She asked my height and weight. I said 5’6” and my estimated weight. She looked at me and asked, “How long ago was that weight.” Seriously, give a bald, browless, lashless, cancer patient a break. So, I shamefully stepped on her scale and was, in fact, seven pounds higher than my estimate, which she proceeded to write in black marker on a white board convicting me from across my bed. As my niece Anna Cate would say, “RUDE!”
The next three days and nights I continued to take IV antibiotics and enjoy visits from friends and florists. The first night I sent my mom home to get some rest and was navigating IV lines to get comfortable when the door opened and my sister Sarah walked in with blankets and an overnight bag. Not gonna lie, I was mildly annoyed. And she knew that. She volunteered to sleep in the waiting room but I wasn’t THAT Grinchy and was too tired to fight. I assented and she curled up in a chair before the nurse informed her it pulled out into a bed. The last time Sarah spent the night with me in the hospital was the first night of my daughter’s life, a sweet time when we anticipated the rattling wheels of the bassinet signifying Eliza’s arrival from the nursery. That time, I was too tired to hold my new baby, so Sarah spent much of the night welcoming her niece into the world at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
The night before I would take Red Devil chemo #2 this week, my mom organized an impromptu (as in one hour’s notice) dinner at her home. She and Sarah prepared wine, cheese, crab bisque soup and salad; friends dropped everything on a Monday night to bring themselves and wine. Mom was a quick study and replaced her crystal wine glasses with water glasses to accommodate our fruit of the vine. The joy of that night permeated my cells as we laughed and cried together around a beautifully-set table. The highlight was the arrival of my Bible study leader/svengali from Dallas, Candy Hill. Defying her doctor’s no-travel orders, she flew down Monday morning, went with me to chemo (as did Ellen) and leaves Thursday morning. #CandyCrush
My tribe was concerned the hospital visit might curtail Tuesday’s treatment, but Ellen, Candy and I arrived undaunted the next day at 6:15 am for the best hug from the best valet attendant, Robin. My fav phlebotomist, Michelle, put us up in the VIP room (a small closet, not a cubicle with a curtain) and the four of us enjoyed some good laughs to start the day. Then, I went to have my port accessed and the fun really began. My body fought the port’s opening into the jugular vein and decided to close over the end of the catheter that carries chemo to my body. Nurse Craig tried all of his tricks, including inverting me on a gurney, but no luck. The easy solution involved injecting a drug that sat in the catheter for an hour to de-clot the blockage, giving us time to go downstairs and eat breakfast.
My next stop was the oncologist, actually her assistant, who speaks with such a marvelous Cajun accent that one has to really tune in to catch everything. While pleased with my blood counts, she delivered the news that I need to be on a medicine called Neulasta to boost my white blood cell count and prevent another infection that could land me in the ICU, not an offsite ER. This is unfortunate for two reasons:
- Neulasta is known to cause bone aches because the drug works in the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells.
- The “delivery device” is an “on body” machine stuck to my arm that inserted a tiny catheter through which, in 27 hours from application, will inject the Neulasta when I can then remove off the device.
Finally, it was time to go to chemo (and it was just 10:30!) In a bittersweet turn of events, one of my dearest friends, Louise Conklin Gunter whom I quoted in my first blog post, was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer last week and her first Red Devil chemo treatment was scheduled for one hour before my second one. I was able to go back to her room with her alongside her sweet mom, Nancy, a breast cancer survivor, before Candy, Ellen and I settled into my suite. I receive an hour of pre-meds that prepare the body for chemo. In addition to anti-nausea meds and steroids, I also received Ativan which was LOVELY and made me pretty sleepy. So after eating Chick-fil-A procured by Ellen, I nestled into Candy’s shoulder to sleep as she talked and prayed. Candy serves as my spiritual mama and has for 20+ years, so every word from her mouth is mana from heaven and this time with her soothes my soul.
Leaving Methodist Hospital last Friday, I noticed a beautiful mural behind the information desk. The small-scale version of “The Extending Arms of Christ” is actually a study for a massive piece installed over the hospital entrance in 1963. (Don’t go looking for it now; it’s been removed due to construction and will soon be on display in the North Tower Atrium.)
When one thinks of mosaics, one thinks of Antoni Gaudí. My fortunes have not yet included marveling at his work in person, but I do have well-traveled friends and a daughter who provided the following photos of his iconic, Seussian-like work scattered across Barcelona. The Catalan artist/architect is best known for La Sagrada Familia, a gothic basilica he was commissioned to build in 1883. Before being struck with a trolley car 43 years later, the structure was in its relative infancy. Gaudí left sketches and models for the completion of the Roman Catholic church and its expected date of completion is 133 years from its beginning – in 2026. Gaudí said his patron (God) was not in a hurry.
I appreciate this succinct description of Gaudí’s impact offered by artist George Woideck on his blog:
Spain not only brought us the mosaics of the Alhambra in the South of the country; it also gave us the the modern mosaics of Barcelona in the North. They were created for buildings and parks by Catalan architects Lluis Domenech I Montaner, Antoni Gaudi and Josep Maria Jujol in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. The most famous of these three is certainly Gaudi whose magnum opus, the church of La Sagrada Família is yet to be completed after more than one hundred years of construction. The most significant quality of these architects’ work is the seamless integration of architecture, sculpture, stained glass, ironwork and of course mosaics. This created a joyous artistic style known in Catalan as Modernisme. Their radical approach to mosaics was to mix traditional, square cut tesserae with irregularly shaped pieces selected from broken ceramic tile–a technique appropriately called broken tile mosaics. These mosaics have a great deal more surface interest than traditional mosaics do.
Broken tile mosaics resonate with me, as this period of my life seems broken in almost every way. More of my surface is being exposed and it’s a raw feeling, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I’m trusting there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that God does, indeed, make beautiful things out of dust.
For more images of Gaudí’s mosaics and architecture, click here. Enjoy this CBS story on “God’s Architect” and his La Sagrada Familia, the longest running architectural project on earth, and learn how to make your own broken tile mosaic here.