Me First!

Having been away from the keyboard for a while, it’s tough to decide where to start. I’m picking up at the beginning of our vacation to England, a kind of prequel to the story about our canal navigation. We were flying to England via an overnight flight that originated in Boston then connected to a trans-Atlantic flight out of D.C. We had left just enough time to get to the airport for the 7:00 p.m. flight. I remember thinking how well the packing of a six bags came together. The bags were in the van, and I opened the refrigerator one last time to see if anything really needed attention. Generally, I use this cold box as a preserver of rotting things while we are away, so the garbage in the garage doesn’t reek. My intent of this last look was to identify anything that would need to go into the deep-freeze until our return.

I saw a strange plastic bag laying on top of the egg carton. I was stunned by the contents: my monthly injection of Lupron. An important ingredient in my post-breast cancer 10-year plan. I had picked it up from the pharmacy the day before, and as I left the pharmacy, I had called my doctor’s office to make a morning appointment for the day we flew. The appointment was set – but not written in my calendar. Nearly hysterical, I looked at Bill. “I made sure everyone else was taken care of – except me! ME!”

Bill looked at me, waiting for a plan. I looked at him, trying to think of a plan. “I could do it,” he suggested. I declined. This was an inter-muscular injection. The jab of the 1 ½” needle needed to be done with a bit of gusto, but not too much gusto.

“Let’s go to the ER,” I suggested. This was a pretty straight forward emergency. My flight left in two hours. I wasn’t confident that I could take the injection with me in my carry-on then find a jabber in the UK. I definitely didn’t want to pack it in the cargo. The replacement value was too great. Over $2,000.

In a kind of keep-the-car-running state of mind, I hopped out at the ER. The receptionist looked at me. Clearly not believing I could’ve forgotten this errand. “I’ll see what I can do,” ended with a, “I would need to check you into a room and there is a huge wait. Linda, I think you should try an urgent care.” The airport was directly south of the ER. The closest urgent care was southwest of the ER. While I was in the ER, a gift arrived: a text came saying our flight had been delayed by an hour.

I plugged the urgent care address into the GPS as Bill drove. I called the urgent care office and explained the situation. Again, I could hear confused disbelief that I could have forgotten this task. I lost the call as we pulled into the parking lot. Bill dropped me off at the same door I had walked through for the lumpectomy in August 2009. Surgery and urgent care shared the same entrance at the hospital.

I carried the Lupron kit with me ready to hand it off like a baton in a relay. Two nurses greeted me and said they would try to get the attending to sign off on it, but normally, they administered only injections from their own pharmacy. “Could we see that?” Thank goodness, the hand-off had been made! Fifteen minutes later, one of them returned. “Linda, I’m so sorry but we can’t do it. You could try this organization called Doctor’s Express – here’s the number, or there are step-by-step directions in the package so you could have someone do it for you.” I wanted her to step out of her profession and be my friend. It didn’t happen.

Then and there the moment hit. It wasn’t so much a line in the sand but rather a line drawn with a wide permanent marker across the threshold of the hospital door. I wasn’t leaving the hospital without having the injection. “Could you tell me where the bathroom is?”

A running pep talk started in my head. “God helps them who help themselves.” “You got this, Linda!” “You’ve seen this done hundreds of times!” “This is nothing!” Thank goodness for the little voices in my head.

In the dimly lit public bathroom, I popped open the packaging. The Lupron syringe was in a flat plastic case, measuring about seven inches long and four inches wide. With shaking hands, I pulled out the neatly folded instruction sheet and started to unfold it. And unfolded. And unfolded. Until I had the poster-sized instruction sheet laying across the sink. I did a quick scan to find the main instructions. In one column, there were pictures included. It reminded of me when you bought a new printer and just needed the quick start directions, never mind the manual.

I folded the poster in half and held it closer to my eyes to read it. Then farther away. The writing was so small my contact ensconced eyes couldn’t bring it into focus. I stared at myself in the mirror. I scooped one contact out and threw it into the garbage followed by the second. Now, with the poster pulled close to my nose, I could see the instructions.

I followed them step-by-step. There was only a pushing of saline up the syringe to mix with the medicine. Easy. Then I exposed my right hip, reached back, and jabbed it in. No pain. With seven years of this, the area was probably calloused. I gave the plunger a push all the way and stopped when I heard a bubbling sound. That wasn’t normal. I had emptied the syringe. I picked up all the pieces to this bizarre science experiment and tucked them back into the bag. Including the unopened alcohol wipes. Those would have been a good idea given the public nature of the room.

Blurry-eyed, I floated out of the hospital and to the car. “It’s done,” I told Bill. I handed him the poster of instructions. “You better take this with you in case I start acting funny.” I hadn’t checked to see if I had hit a blood vessel before administering the drug. My body was a limp rag on the passenger seat. And the flight had been delayed another hour; we had plenty of time to get to the airport.

Once at the airport, we found the delay was due to storms up and down the eastern seaboard. If we made it out of Logan, chances were good the flight out of DC wouldn’t get out that evening. The airline had already tentatively booked us on a 6 a.m. flight the next morning. We ditched the plan to fly that night.

Adrenaline surge. Adrenaline drain. Adrenaline surge. Adrenaline drain. My own bed felt good that night.

Now, back into the autumn routine, when I work on our family’s schedule and calendar, I mumble words of a 2-year-old: “Me first!”