Adaptation, Ready or Not
“Yes, change is the basic law of nature. But the changes wrought by the passage of time affect individuals and institutions in different ways. According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” —Leon C. Megginson
Infusion Unit, Infusion Day #1, Week 1
We are bewildered. We sit quietly in the waiting area until the beeper Mark is holding jumps alive with red lights, tremors and buzzing. Then we are sent through the Infusion Unit door into a maze of curtained cubicles, a virtual horizontal honeycomb, each one identified by a number on an outcrop sign, like bus stops. As we search for our assigned cubicle, we catch glimpses through curtains of quiet, shadowy figures reclining, all connected by transparent tubes to nearby hanging pouches, like subjects in some horrible experiment. We hold each other’s hand tightly, and I can feel myself tremble. I so want to be anywhere else but here.
Mark climbs stiffly onto the bed in our cubicle, trying to prop himself up on pillows, and I drop into the padded chair next to the bed. I pull out my phone, but the battery is almost dead. Doesn’t really matter, because the display flags “no service.” I lick my lips: I’m thirsty, and we missed lunch. We have no idea how long we will be here.
The nurse arrives, introduces herself and starts to set up for the infusion. Mark is so tense; his hands are clenched into fists. Before she loads the first drug pouch onto the metal tower, the nurse suits up in a protective full-body apron and plastic gloves. Then she leaves, and we sit silently with the ominous rhythmic thud of the pump, as it sends deadly chemicals into Mark’s body. After a while the machine starts to beep urgently, but no one comes. We stare at each other. Has something gone wrong? I rush out to search for our nurse, any nurse, to help us. Finally I find someone who explains that the beeping just means that the pouch is empty, and it’s time to load the next one.
My head is pounding. This is torture. How are we going to get through this?
Infusion Unit, Infusion Day #7, Week 9
We stroll back to our assigned infusion cubicle. Mark settles on his bed and fiddles with the elevation controls so that he can sit comfortably upright. I drag the padded chair away from the wall so I can fully recline, after logging my phone into the guest wifi network and plugging it into the wall with the extra charger I now carry.
I pull out my IPad so we could look at photographs of front doors, since we have to make some decisions for our remodel. We’re interrupted as the nurse arrives to confirm Mark’s identity. (We understand now that we will do this about ten times each time we come. The staff is VERY careful.) She brings us both warm blankets and we wrap ourselves in them. She accesses the port in Mark’s chest and starts a course of hydration, and then leaves to call for the chemotherapy pouches. We go back to looking at art glass doors.
The nurse returns and starts the infusion of the first drug. We chat with her about the weather, her family, this and that. She leaves and Mark switches on the television while I recline my chair and pull up the story I’m reading on my Kindle. Mark dozes. After a while the machine pumping the infusion starts beeping, so Mark presses the call button for the nurse. She returns and preps the second drug, and I go to the Nourishment Center (clearly marked “for patients only”—hah!) and load up with cheese and crackers. Mark and I munch on these while we watch the news, and since this is a afternoon/evening infusion appointment, I sip the very nice chardonnay I’ve brought in my water bottle. (I really should switch to a glass bottle, because I can taste the plastic.)
Then, we’re done for this week. We wave goodbye to the row of nurses in front of computers at the nurses' station and head for our car, a little worried that we’ll hit rush hour traffic on our way home.