When we had our beginners’ chemotherapy group chat I was sure I would not be calling the Hot Line, despite the long list of reasons we were given for calling it. I don’t like making phone calls or bothering people. First reason is if your temperature is above 37.5 degrees Celsius ( 99.5 Fahrenheit ) or below 36. A high temperature may be sign of an infection and if you have just had your immunity zapped this can lead to the frightening sounding Neutropenic Sepsis. My expensive Boots thermometer handily beeps once for normal range, three times for 37.5 or over and goes berserk if you hit 38 degrees.
The first time I rang the hot line, early on a Sunday evening, the nurse asked me lots of questions and I answered No to all of them. I thought I had got away with it, then she said ‘I’ll just chat to the doctor and call you back.’
She rang back and said ‘Come straight to Accident and Emergency and bring an overnight bag. Our team are on till eight o’clock and we’ll meet you there to do emergency blood tests.’
WHAT, I was getting a whole team to myself?
She soon rang back to tell me to come straight to the oncology ward. My son had been about to serve up dinner…
Blood tests are to check for infection and you have to wait for results. An injection of antibiotics straight away, just in case and a thorough check up with the doctor who said I looked well. Because it was only seven days since my chemotherapy and week two is when your immunity is at its worst, they had decided to call me in. If there is an infection it means an overnight stay on an antibiotics drip. Yes you guessed, my blood tests were all fine. I asked how often I should take my temperature, they said once a day was fine.
I kept an overnight bag ready after that and it wasn’t long before I had to call again when my temperature was 38degrees. ‘Can someone bring you in?’
I looked out of the window and the road was completely deserted. Neighbours and friends are always saying ‘Don’t forget if you need any help, lifts etc’ but of course you don’t actually know what everyone is doing on the spur of the moment… working from home, but probably doing a conference call to New York… It occurred to me that I could just call a taxi (memories of elderly relatives saying ‘oh yes, our taxis are very good’ ).
They are very good, even though a robot answered. It knew my address, creepy, I have only used them a few times ever. We soon established where I was going, the fare and then the robot said it would be there in four minutes – the taxi not the robot. Frantic dash to lock up the house and get ready. Perhaps the fact that there are always several of the company taxis parked up in a quiet road round the corner helped.
This time I had missed my lunch, but I did get a sandwich, luckily as I was there all afternoon. Fortunately the bloods were fine again and all that was left to do was a urine sample, with complicated instructions involving a bowl and a cardboard bed pan in the spacious disabled toilet I was sharing with two men in our bay. But I was getting off lightly as I heard a nurse saying to a chap in the corridor ‘Wee in the bowl and the poo goes in the paper bag.’
I was relieved to be going home, especially as I had forgotten to put my Kindle or any book in my overnight bag, that would have been a nightmare. It was now 5.30pm, a call for a taxi produced a message saying there was a forty five minute delay, so as I was feeling fine and they said I was fine I just crossed the road to the bus stop.
My third call to the hot line was for a tender spot on my upper chemotherapy arm and I asked if it could be blood clot, the nurse said it was just a bit of inflammation. I should have rung back again sooner, but several days later I spent the afternoon at the hospital. I was in a bay with three other ladies, the eldest of whom looked very grumpy. Blood was taken, but when the doctor came she was sure it was a blood clot, not an infection and I needed an ultrasound, but she couldn’t book me in till 8am tomorrow.
Luckily, after a while there was a flurry of activity and a nurse came to gather several of us to go down to ultrasound. Grumpy Lady suddenly piped up and said ‘I’ve been waiting seven hours for my kidney scan.’ No wonder she had looked so miserable.
It was a peripheral blood clot, not serious like deep vein thrombosis. Back on the ward I had the first of two months of blood thinning injections. I administered it myself to prove I would be able to do them at home. As I was getting ready to go a nurse came to Grumpy Lady and told her she was ready to take her down to the ward. She looked surprised as no one had told her she was staying in overnight.