Thursday, 7 June 2012

A night on the oncology ward

I went into hospital yesterday morning for a further attempt at having my second round of Trabectedin chemotherapy. A blood test showed that my white blood cell count had recovered to an acceptable level, this was quite a relief as I feared that another treatment delay would have raised concerns around my ability to continue to use this particular chemo agent. Although I arrived at the ward about 9:40am it wasn’t until after 6:00pm that the chemotherapy infusion was started. Trabectedin costs over £3,000 per treatment (that’s for just 2.9mg of the drug!) and has a shelf life of only 30 hours, it’s understandable then that the pharmacist won’t make the drug up until all the tests have been done and a doctor has given the go ahead for the treatment; inevitably this process causes some delay. Once the Trabectedin infusion is underway there is nothing further that needs to be done by myself or the medical team for the following twenty four hours. I passed the time reading (the latest Iain Banks novel ‘Stonemouth’ – those who enjoyed his other books are likely to enjoy this one too I think), creating a photo book on my laptop, listening to the radio and watching TV.

I had a large dose of steroids before starting the treatment, this was to limit any nausea but unfortunately it also seemed to give me insomnia; the oncology ward is not the easiest place to sleep in anyway. The ward is split up into side rooms each of which contain four beds. Judging from my first two stays in the ward most patients are having chemotherapy or intravenous antibiotics, in either case they are hooked up to IV pumps. These pumps are surprisingly noisy, repeatedly making rhythmic whirring, clicking, dripping and ticking noises. The pumps alarm whenever they detect that an IV feed has finished or that there is a blockage in the flow. With three pumps running in the side room I guess that I was treated to the repetitious “” sound of their alarms around 20 times during the night, it reminded me of my early days providing 24x7 on call IT support at work! Lights out in the ward is at around 11:30pm although it never gets very dark in the room thanks to the glowing displays of the pumps and to the light that leaks in from the permanently lit ward corridor and through the uncovered windows through whose dirty exterior surfaces the sodium glow of the city diffuses. I was quite pleased to see the orange light slowly turn to pre-dawn grey soon after 4:00am this morning.

Apart from the insomnia my experience from two stays on the ward has generally been positive. The staff are friendly, kind and seem to know their stuff, the food has generally been up to a reasonable standard and the overall environment is pleasant.

Just before lights out last night there was a different kind of alarm that went off in the ward. On hearing it the nurse who was tending to another patient in the side room I was in immediately stopped what she was doing a literally ran out through the swing door and off in the direction of the high dependency area of the ward. As the door swung close I heard more running footsteps as other members of staff hurried in the same direction. I guess that one of the staff in the high dependency unit needed assistance to help a patient experiencing some form of crisis. It was a sobering reminder of the nature of this ward and of just how seriously ill many of the patients are here. It also put my experiences into a more relevant frame of reference and reminds me how fortunate I am to be able to still lead a relatively normal existence over a year since my diagnosis.

Talking of which, since my previous post Katie and I spent a beautiful sunny day at the International Birds of Prey Centre in Newent, Gloucestershire. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in birds or bird photography, here's one of the most colourful characters at the centre, a King Vulture:


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