28 October 2011

Date with the Russian Nurse

 “What time would you like to receive me?” my Russian nurse asked over the phone, in order to arrange my post-chemo shot. “Anytime before noon,” I managed to say, without adding ‘your Royal Highness’.  Then, as is befitting nurse royalty, I got to the task of straightening up. Dusting, shaking out dog blankets, and programming some CD’s. Sounds crazy, I know. But here’s why.

Possible Nurse Ancestor
Over the summer the Russian Nurse was my one structured moment of the day. Because I was convalescing, I liked to have a certain amount of order. And that meant that our normally tidy house would be super-duper clean. So, pre-visit, I’d vacuum (with one arm) all the dog hair, do the dishes, and put on some soothing CDs. Lhasa, Cesaria Evora, Norah Jones, girls like that. One day, after our bandage changing, the Russian nurse declared, “I truly appreciade your eggsalent taste in music.”

I thanked him, and for each subsequent visit made sure that I programmed something that might meet his approval. Even if I were in the mood for a Blue Rodeo marathon, (which I am today) I would switch it to Glenn Gould, Edith Piaf, or some other ‘bandage changing music’.  One day Jim came home while I was programming the CD player, “What is this, a date?” He asked. And it pretty much was. Here was the routine. Alexi (for that is his name) would arrive at my door in an angora cardigan, pressed trousers, and stylish shoes. He’d come in, greet the dog,  I’d turn up the music, and we’d all head up to the bedroom. I asked if he minded having Jed staring at him, and he said “Absoludely not. Dogs are much smarter then beeple.”  Jed would hop on the bed, I’d take my top off, and Alexi would check my incisions. “Beauty-ful!” he’d declare.

Today when Alexi came he told me I looked great. I told him he looked great (he was all Hugo Boss) to which he matter-of-factly replied, “ I know.”  Because it was just a quick shot in my behind, he did his work in the dining room to the strains of Leonard Cohen. And really I must admit that he can almost justify his arrogance, because he does flawless bandaging and painless needles. The tiny shot, incidentally, costs a whopping $2,750.

So as far as dates go, this ones not so bad. A dashing man pulls up in his Jaguar, gives you a three thousand dollar treat, and hands you a compliment. 

There are worse ways to start the day.

27 October 2011

Spa day

There are three good things about chemo day. (Actually four, if you include the life-saving aspect) Firstly, I’m amongst my people. Most scenarios,  I’m the only person wearing a wig, and the only one with a secret. Yesterday I invited an acquaintance in for coffee, and once we got in my house, I realized I couldn’t take  my hat off  (my hair sometimes comes with it). But at Mt Sinai Hotel  & Spa, my brethren surround me.

Today, in the waiting room, I was the only one with hair.  Three women wore kerchiefs, two were wearing hats, and one had a glorious purple scarf wrapped around her head, a sparkling diamond clasp at the nape of her neck. Another woman, the most beautiful in the room, was completely bald, and glowing. I’d seen her a week early, with full dark Mediterranean curls. Now she was even more gorgeous, fully accessorized, laughing, and acting as though hair had been an inconvenience her entire life, so she’d decided to get rid of it. Like a bad marriage. Or a futon.

The second good thing are the egg sandwiches. A cheerful Scottish volunteer rolls around a trolley full of food. Today she was wearing pearls.  Amongst her wee snacks are juice, cookies, cheese & crackers, and egg  sandwiches.  She hands them out to everybody, patients and companions alike.  As far as egg sandwiches goes, these are the really good ones only found at senior’s bridge games, and funerals. 

Squishy white bread, a thin layer of egg (with a droplet of mayonnaise), thoughtfully cut on the diagonal. When she saw us walking down the hall (en route for a blood taste) she was genuinely concerned that we might miss our treats and drove her trolley at top speed to load us up with cookies. Later, when we were settled, she came by and offered Jim a sandwich. “Egg or Tuna dear?” His eyes lit up “ Egg Sandwich, Please!’’

Thirdly are the nurses, and  particularly mine, Nurse Marion. She moves around the room as though she’s hosting a cocktail party, handing out blankets, sharing tips on shoes, and checking my IV bag. “Oh look dear, we’re almost done with this one, let’s have another!” she says merrily, as though it just occurred to her that one more Mai-Tai might just be in order. Her mood, like the other health care people in the room, is decidedly upbeat.

As we left yesterday, loaded up with cookies and juice (something for the road) I said goodbye- to Marion. In the corner of the room was a fragile looking lady, sleeping under a blue blanket. She was in a vinyl lazy-boy like mine, and her little bald head was resting on a pillow. As the trolley went on it’s final round, her head jerked straight up and she said, “Dammit! Did I miss the sandwiches?”

Just another day at the spa.

26 October 2011

Kale, Glorious Kale

I knew I was in trouble when I saw the Pie Chart.  Having failed miserably at group therapy, I signed on for a nutrition class. Arriving a few minutes late, the speaker was  mid-PowerPoint presentation when I crossed the screen to get to a seat. He wasn’t amused. As is often the case with health food people, he looked undernourished and slightly anemic. Certainly the last guy I ‘d pick for a baseball team. (And if he made the cut, I’d put him way out in the field). 

Even though he was the only one without cancer, he was the grouchiest person in the room.  When one tiny Asian woman struggled with English to ask about cooking oils, he said, “I think we’ll just stick to our presentation, if you don’t mind." Dink.

By the end of his horrifically dull presentation I hadn’t learned a thing – clearly I’d underestimated my own level of knowledge, which, thanks to my support team, is constantly improving.  My diet has always included a lot of salads, salmon, blueberries, red wine, and nuts. So I’ve had a good start. My marvelous masseuse (who has a vast knowledge of alternative medicine) sang the praises of barley, and shitake mushroom, so I promptly whipped up a cauldron of barley/mushroom soup. Delicious!

This is not Jim
High on my list are the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale. The greener the better, and kale is everywhere this time of year. Because my next treatment is tomorrow (#3. Halfway!) I’ve been jamming my body full of fruits and vegetables, regardless of my appetite. Besides my ten thousand gallons of water, I’m including freshly squeezed oranges, coconut water (boring, needs rum), and pomegranate juice.

But Kale, to me, is king. Right now it’s so grand & and leafy, and wilts so stubbornly, that it’s got to be working miracles. (It also takes up most of the fridge). I’ve tried it in many different ways, but here’s my new favorite.  Rip the leaves into bite size pieces, drizzle with olive oil, and bake. Sprinkle some sea salt on the finished product and, Ta-Da! Delicious nutritious chips.

I think it’s time that a certain nutritionaist   re-drew his  Pie Chart  to include a little 1% slice for something more fun than steamed fish.  Who cares if it disrupts the power point presentation? Life’s too short not to have chips.

24 October 2011

A Fine Whine

I’ve slimmed down lately. For the first few months following my diagnoisis I was on the 'stress diet', which is as equally effective as my teenage ‘first boyfriend break-up diet.’ Ten pounds came off just like that!

Then came chemo, and the never before attempted ‘no wine’ diet. The weight comes off slowly, and miserably. Most boring diet ever.  Friends with kids say that it’s just like being pregnant, which just a big fat fib. My understanding is that pregnant woman lose their craving for alcohol. I, on the other hand, have not lost my craving one bit. I crave wine all the time.  Yesterday I went to the liquor store to buy some cooking wine (for wild mushroom risotto), and as I walked through the aisles with tears in my eyes an Argentinean Cabernet called my name. “¿Donde esta usted?”, it asked.

I miss everything. Selecting a wine that goes nicely with the meal, easing the cork out of the bottle, and the deep glug from the depths, as the wine leaves the bottle and splashes into my glass. And I truly miss a luxurious cambozola on crusty bread, washed down by something red, deep, and delicious.

The irony is, that I often wake up feeling a slightly hung-over. Chemo dehydrates, in much the same fashion of a 1980’s university hangover where you had so many Black Russians that you thought you can do the splits. Not fair to wake up wake up with a headache without a drop to drink. So to counteract, I drink gallons of liquids a day. Water is crucial to help flush out the toxins, so I’m dedicated to pouring as much as possible through my system. (My skin, which should be dry, is actually feeling pretty great).

Come the New Year, my treatment will be complete. By then I will have saved thousands of dollars on alcohol, and fit into my favorite old jeans. I’ll also have salvaged hundreds of hours by avoiding bars, and making drunken late night calls to Kathy Morgan, my oldest friend.  There’s a lot to being said for being sober – its kind of fun to be alert every moment of every day. And I enjoy watching my friends get hammered, or pouring Jim into the passenger seat. So there’s a part of me that thinks I could give up drinking forever, but then from the distance, I hear the sweet pop of a cork.  Jolted back to reality I remember what happened at the liquor store as I walked through the aisles gazing at my old friends.

When the Argentinean wine called to me, I called back softly.  “Amigo, me espera, I will soon return.”