Crossposted from this post on my blog:
Today I collected bone marrow samples from 4 patients.
1. They're children.
2. They have cancer. Well, 2 of them, at least. The other 2...prolly just as debilitating.
I ain't LJ-cutting this because...I think we all need to remember that for every emo LJ post we make, we've a lot more to be thankful. Like how we don't have to have a 4-inch steel needle in our spine every other day.Patient #1
The girl gets a room all to herself, which is probably for the best since the place looks like her second bedroom. A stalk of plushie flowers at the bedside, lots of colourful striped beanbaggy pillows, a grey teddy bear propped up next to her pillow. I ask her mother if I can move the containers of cereal and food from the table to put my stuff. The food's been there for so long that ants were swarming under the tupperware.
I go to the bathroom to fetch wet paper towels to wipe the table. The sink is cluttered with bottles of shampoo, liquid soap, sweet-smelling stuff; I stretch my hand to reach for the dispenser. Turning on the tap, I try not to knock anything down.
A large green duffel bag stuffed with clothes sits under the table. I move it away and find a 20-cent coin and an animal cracker behind it. The mother apologizes - it's only been a month, but it feels so much longer that the mess has become second nature. I smile and assure her it's no trouble.
Doctor enters, and the mother (and presumably grandma) leave. We put away the blankets, the beanbaggy pillows, and put the girl to her side. Doctor notices the large bruise on her right side, and tells the nurses to flip her over - he's already worked on that spot. He needs an unbruised area.
All the anaesthetic in the world does nothing for the girl; before the doctor can apply the antiseptic, her hand sweeps to her back, trying to swat a nonexistent needle. The nurses assure her the needle's not in yet, she'll be knocked out before that happens, it won't hurt really struth swear to great lallapalooza, but I'm sure she knows that's a lie - if grown-ups cringe and tense when the needle enters, you can damn well bet it won't hurt any less for her.
Even though she's knocked out, I see her eyelashes twitch.Patient #2
It's not every day you get to see a bald 1-year-old baby. I keep wondering if she got her head shaved or something, since she's got bits of hair on her head.
Bloody hell, she's huge. Huge size...huge vocal chords.
Doctor waves to her. His eyes smile, since the mask hides his face. Baby stares at him, but raises an arm. It looks like waving, it must be!
The nurses coo, but it doesn't stop her from screaming her lungs out. The nurses pull out a catheter from underneath her shirt to administer the anaesthetic, and she won't stop. I almost catch her screaming "PAIN PAIN PAIN PAIN" in chinese, but I'm sure I'm wrong - I don't know mandarin after all. Baby stretches her arm for her mummy. Mummy grips her hand and its little pudgy fingers until the anaesthetic finally kicks in. Gawd I never thought the screaming would end.
I peek between two large nurses - that baby's eyes are open. It's just not moving. Much. It takes a lot of effort to take blood from a baby; so much so the baby finally stirs. Doesn't help the needle is STILL INSIDE. Baby goes "wheh wheh". The nurses clamp down on the baby, reassuring it. Last thing you want is the baby to start going nuts when there's a 4-inch steel cylinder in its spine, I guess.Patient #3
Entering the Cancer Ward is a whole new experience - you get the feeling the staff are being happy for the sake of being happy because there's no point depressing everyone else further. While finding the children's day ward, the staff are all smiles and chirpy. The patients though, are another matter; they sit on their beds, staring at the ceiling/wall/you. No amount of greeting them politely helps. If they're not malingering too much about their doom, they might nod at you, but they're not going to smile. Stories about cancer survivors/people being smiley? Ever notice it's seldom a group of happy people? Yeah.
The children's area is yellow - little cartoon wizard mice parade in a marching band across the blinding yellow walls. A tv showing Gummi Bears is suspended so high above I can't hear a thing. I wish I could, because then I wouldn't have to hear 4-5 kids screaming PAIN PAIN PAIN MOMMY I'M SCARED DON'T GO AWAY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY in full dolby 5.1337 h4x0r surround sound. Maybe in a parallel dimension, it would sound like Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, but I'm not putting money on it.
The kid (9 years old) looks healthy - he's got a round face! Bald, but healthy and pink! Though I think the pink is from the amount of yelling he does when he pleads to his mum to please not have to go through this. Doctor pops by and checks up on the boy - he's pleased the swelling has gone down.
The nurses administer anaesthetic, the kid screams, then mellows, then mum goes away. Third time and it's almost routine. Doctor's taking a long time processing things, so the kid just lies in bed and...keeps quiet. Five minutes ago he was screaming his lungs out in 4 different languages (Bahasa Indonesia, Hokkien, English, Mandarin), and now he's just staring at me with a "watcha looking at punk?" face. I swear, kids hate me; I must've eaten children in my past life or something.
When the nurses turn him over, it's not hard to notice the black cancerous tumour at his scrotum. Men all over the world wish for balls that large, though in a more natural, healthy, safe manner.Patient #4
This kid lies in a bed across from Patient #3, is 3 years old, and has really happy parents. Either he's been in treatment for so long it's second nature for the Doctor and the parents to talk about the kid's treatment like it's a school timetable or the parents are coping in their own weird way. Part of me wonders how much all this is costing them. Obviously they can afford it because they're not on the papers begging like common paupers, but how much work does the father put in? Does the mother work, or did she quit her job to monitor the kid full time? If the dad's accompanying his son on a weekday afternoon, does he own his own business so he can take time off, or did he have to take an extended lunch break? How long have they been doing this that they can be cheerful? Is it a front? Are they tearing up inside when their son cries because he's dreading the pain but they can't because they don't want to and need to be strong for their son? Are they just optimistic their son will be better? I really really really want to ask, but I need to take the samples back to the lab.
Before I leave, I ask the nurse if it's hard for her to be stationed there.
Nurse: Yes, but you have to get used to it. Otherwise you can't work.
Me: How long have you been working here?
Nurse: Eight years.
So that was my day in a nutshell. How was yours?