I have come to develop an extreme appreciation for drug addiction. Like a stranger boldly and confidently standing up a midst a circle of cheap plastic chairs and bland coffee within a church basement declaring themselves a sex-addict or an alcoholic, I am a drug addict.
And my life couldn't be better for it.
My chemotherapy has now finished, after 13 rather grueling but rewarding months, and I have entered onto the maintenance stage of Infliximab infusions – now only every eight weeks. Coming up to the seventh week I was feeling alright, starting to sleep more and do less, while pain in my bones and joints again started to rear. My thoughts became again cloudy and unfocused. My dreams became again more vivid and by about the middle of the seventh week I was going downhill fast. At times I needed to lay down as it felt as though my heartbeat was shaking my body.
I just had to make it to Friday.
See, having spent over a year coming regularly to these infusion clinics, as well as the medical drama I've been through over the past 3 years I have an extreme appreciation for the NHS and the people that make up this incredible system - and I get irrationally upset when people knock it, or are disrespectful to the nurses and doctors that take such great care of us. I was doing pretty good, people would often just soften with a bit of kindness and understanding, until I met...
The grumpy old Irish man
Sat directly across from me at my last infusion was the nastiest, rudest, grumpiest old man I'd yet ever encountered. Everything was wrong. He was so angry that he paced the halls with his cane, berating anyone that would listen. The nurses were idiots. The doctors were hiding from him. The bathroom light was too dim. He didn't see any justification for giving them a urine sample so he wasn't going to.
Even better was that his conspiracy theorist tinfoil hat was positioned firmly atop his head - he wouldn't give them a nose-swab because then they would have his DNA. He wasn't going to blindly follow their instructions 'like a brainless amoeba'. He wanted his infusion and he wanted it NOW - they didn't need to take bloods first, he felt fine.
The other patients in the room and I shared 'looks' and shot nurses quiet expressions of support and solidarity against his rants. He was like the elephant in the room - nobody really had the guts to say anything directly to him for fear he would turn his rantings our way, so we did our best to ignore him - hoping that at least he would soon fall asleep or something.
My infusion was hooked up and, after the pain I had been in all week gearing up for this, I was feeling particularly euphoric and grateful ( I had, like a drug addict, practically run to the infusion clinic slapping the vein in my arm shouting 'fill 'er up!'). I was ready. I was happy. I was tied to a chair across from a ranting old man. It was going to be a good day.
This euphoria, however, produced a boldness I don't normally possess.
The grumpy old man started to berate two poor nurses, there to take more bloods from him. The lab had requested a second sample. He wasn't having it. He demanded to know why, what were the results of the first test, why would he have to give it again, why do they need to stick him again, this is inhuman treatment, on and on and on. With uncharacteristic boldness I shouted to him from across the way "Oh my god just give them your arm, it's not their fault and I'm trying to read over here!"
That shocked him into a rare moment of silence, the nurse seized the opportunity and stabbed, getting the blood she needed and hurried out of the room while he spluttered and stifled his rage at not having been able to produce a coherent response.
All was quiet for awhile, whereas the other patients snuck me hurried thumbs up and smiles of support while the grumpy old man wasn't looking. All was quiet, until a junior doctor came to do a final once-over of the grumpy old man before starting his infusion - and the infusion was running late. The junior doctor pulled the curtain closed around the grumpy old man and this irate pensioner let loose a barrage of abuse and bizarre arguments. He demanded to know what happened to the first blood test - the doctor didn't know there had been two. Oh dear God, that really set off the old man. Ranting about how computer systems should work, the doctor explained to him that the first sample had possibly resulted in an error (at which point he then listed off a number of common reasons for needing to take a second sample - the grumpy old man accused him of 'making up words'.)
The grumpy old man was refusing to be checked over until he 'knew the results of his first blood test' - that the doctor didn't have. Because the doctor was an idiot, apparently. The doctor explained that he couldn't start his infusion until this examination was done - and him having to chase a phantom, meaningless blood test was just going to delay this further - but the old man still wasn't having it.
It was around this time, at the goading of the other patients also tied to their chairs, that I more or less heckled an old man.
It started mildly enough - with me calling across the room and through the curtain:
"Sir, he's not making it up. Problems with blood tests do happen, and it's not anyone's fault. The blood probably did hemolyze, which is just random."
Okay, that wasn't so bad. Shocked silence from both the doctor and grumpy old man from across the curtain, as the old man considered the input and the doctor waited with baited breath for his response.
"Well, okay. I guess that can happen." came from the old man. He wasn't letting it go, though. He wanted a report showing that this had happened. BEFORE the doctor was going to touch him. The doctor explained that he could get a nurse to do this for him, after the examination. The old man exploded again - that doctor was 'good for nothing' and he wasn't going to rely on 'some idiot nurse' to find that out. How could this doctor come to him so unprepared that this information wasn't in his file?
I got a bit bolder.
"Sir, it's not THIS doctor's job to chase your paperwork. He's just here to listen to your lungs and give your infusion the green light."
More silence from across the curtain.
The grumpy old man then ranted about how long it was taking to just get his infusion started,the longer it took to start the longer he would be stuck in this hell-hole. The doctor was well annoyed now, telling the man that the only barrier to him starting the infusion was, in fact, him and this ridiculously circular conversation. If he could just check him over they could get started. The man ranted some more at the doctor being an 'unprepared idiot of incredible proportions'.
I got much more bold.
"Hey! Grumpy! Just let him check you over so he can leave and help someone else!"
More shocked silence. Then the grumpy old man said "Fine, let's just get this farce over with." and we assumed from the sounds and descriptions that the exam had started - though the grumpy old man wasn't going to let this be easy either. The doctor asked him to take deep breaths, and the old man shouted "How?!" The doctor explained again, just breathe deeply. "HOW?!" came from the old man - he was determined to be ornery. The doctor asked him to clarify, what did he mean by 'how'? The old man shouted "How do you want me to breathe? In through my nose? Out through my mouth? How do you want me to breathe deeply?" The doctor told him to breathe deeply any way he wanted, it didn't matter - to which the old man lost it ranting about how the doctor is completely useless and probably isn't even a real doctor.
Even the rest of the peanut gallery was ready to jump in there as I shouted:
"Oh my God! Just stop talking and breathe deeply! In and out, in and out! You've been doing it for years!"
Silence again from across the curtain, save the sound of deep, angry breaths.
The examination was finished and the doctor declared him healthy enough to start the infusion. The old man exploded at him again, he could have told the doctor this, he didn't need blood tests and an exam to tell him that he felt fine.
"Dude! If any of us were 'fine' then none of us would be here!"
We heard the doctor finally break into a stifled chuckle as he pulled the curtain back around, freeing himself and revealing a very angry looking old man, white knuckling his cane like he wanted to hit the doctor. Or us. Before I could open my mouth to apologize for the heckling the until then silent patient next to me looked straight at the doctor, smiled and shouted 'RUN!"
The funniest part? Seeing that poor junior doctor take that cue and bolt out of there.
The old man glared at each of us in turn, a seething troll sat in his lounger, red in the face from unspent rage.
"Oh relax" said another patient a few seats down "we're all miserable. Stop making it worse."
All was again right with the world as I sat back to enjoy my book. And my wonderful, wonderful drugs.