It is funny the things you remember when you have a huge event in your life. Just like remembering every detail of the day your children are born, or the day you get engaged, so too do you remember strange details when you are told that you are seriously sick. At least that was my experience, I have heard some people say that when they were told bad news that they kind of blocked everything out, but I think I went into an almost super sensitive state, where I seem to remember every word that was spoken to me during the months of the later part of 1992, and early '93.
So when I left you my parents and I were on our way to Halifax to the Victoria General Hospital. Just at the sign for the small community of Creignish, about forty-five minutes from home, my Dad got stopped for speeding. It was the first time he was stopped by a female officer, and my Dad, ever the charmer, got off with a warning. It was the tension breaker we needed, and we had a good laugh, and finally started making small talk to pass the time, whereas before he was stopped we had sat in a stony silence.
We stopped for gas in Antigonish, and as we stepped out of the car the heat hit us like a solid wall. We were not long getting back in the air conditioned car to finish the final leg of our journey. We chatted about where I was going to be living in Antigonish when I returned to college in just a few weeks, as I was making the leap to stay off campus instead of continuing to live with the nuns at a residence on campus. My parents were a bit nervous, and I was as well if I was honest, but it seemed to be so much more freedom, and I couldn't wait to taste it. My parents made small talk about friends and family, and talked about little things that had to be done around the house. When we finally were driving across the bridge into Halifax, we fell silent again, and I know that all I was thinking about was how much the IV was going to hurt, and would I have to get it done tonight?
A rain had blown off some of the heat in Halifax, and small puddles were gathered in the parking lot as we made our way across to the main doors of the VG. Dad took a few long drags on his cigarette, and as we entered the building, I remember the cigarette arching from his hand, and hearing the sizzle as it hit one of the puddles. And then we were inside. And I felt like I could not breath.
To buy myself some time, I said I had to go to the washroom before going to admitting. As I sat in the stalled bathroom, my mother knocked on my door, and asked me if I was okay, and I can remember how she sounded as if it were yesterday. She sounded as absolutely terrified as I was, and I started to cry. I wanted to go back to yesterday when she was telling me I had to clean my room, and that I had to organize some of my college stuff that was spread out over the basement. I didn't want her to be scared, and I remember thinking that I needed to pull myself together and maybe they would just send me back home.
Off we went to admitting, and it all seemed to take only a few minutes. And then a nurse came to gather me, and I was off to a bed to change into a gown, and lay in a bed in a long room in emergency, separated from a bunch of other patients by a curtain. At first I thought my parents were just out in a waiting room, and it was only after a half hour or so, when they were already coming to start an IV that I wanted my parents! A nurse said they were talking to some people but that she would see if they could come in with me. Apparently, due to the fact I had such extensive bruising, my parents were being questioned about abuse. But mom came in while they tried, and tried, and tried again to start an IV. Of course it would not be easy the first time I would have to do it.
A blood transfusion was being started right away, and mom was led back out to where Dad was waiting. Another nurse came in around the curtain to hang the blood, and asked me how long I had been diagnosed with leukemia. I almost sprang out of the bed, as I thought she had information that I needed to know, and I must have looked full of panic, as she immediately said maybe she was wrong, but that she thought that was what was on my chart.
No doctors came to see me that first night, just residents, and nurses. Finally around 4:30a.m., and two blood transfusions, I was taken upstairs to a room on the fourth floor. I told Mom and Dad to go get some sleep, as I would as well. But of course, I laid there looking at a water stain on the ceiling, and listening the poor old woman in the bed next to me snore loudly. She had dementia, the first time she woke up she started crying, asking to to help her find her teeth. After not finding them anywhere I started making my way out to the nurses station which was only a few feet away. The shift change was happening, and two of the nurses were talking about the new poor young girl who had just been brought up to the floor. I stopped dead in my tracks, holding my breath to see what they were going to say.
"She doesn't know yet. The poor thing, she is stage four already, she will not have long," I hoped they were talking about someone else, anyone but me, but then the nurse who had helped me get settled in the room said, "Her parents went to get a few hours sleep, they are up from Cape Breton." I made my way back to my room, and found the teeth, sitting in a blue cup on the side of the bed and I helped that old lady put her teeth in, while I wondered how these doctors had gotten my test results so very wrong.
Sure, I had some bruising in the weeks before we made that terrible trip, but I was working at a garden center, and we were always lifting and reaching, and banging our knees on the benches. And yes, I guess I was tired, but at 19, I was out with my friends after working all day, and didn't all teenagers want to sleep on their days off? But looking back now, I know that the periods I was having in the months before I was admitted to the hospital were not normal. But again, I was on iron pills, as my mother and all her sister's had one "women's issue" over the years, so I thought at the time that I had long terrible "times of the month". It was normal, wasn't it?
Around 8a.m. the first of many doctors arrived, and promptly informed me that they had no idea what was wrong with me for sure, so further tests would have to be done, starting with such basic things as bloodwork, and that later that morning I would have a more definitive test done, called a bone marrow aspiration. It immediately did not sound like something that was easier than an IV, and I felt that panic close in on my chest again. The doctor said that he had heard that they had a hard time getting my IV, so he was going to come back and do the bone marrow test himself. Oh, I thought, this test can be done in my room? Maybe it would not be too bad afterall.
Mom and Dad returned to still not having any answers, and like me, had no idea about some of the tests they were saying they were going to do. It was all sounding serious, and none of us had any medical knowledge or experience. The most time any of us had been in the hospital was when we were born, and when Mom was giving birth. What did we know?
Tune in again for the next part of my story, and bring your hankies for the next parts!