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Notes from the torture chamber.

September 21, 2009

Marcia took me to chemo on Friday (thanks, Marcia!), and she said I should write a blog entry about the infusion center (aka the “torture chamber”). I haven’t written about it previously, other than to remark about the awful blue recliners, so it was interesting to see Marcia’s reactions because it is a bizarre place in many ways.

First, this particular torture chamber is not very private. There are nine of my favorite giant blue naugahyde recliners (I always spell that wrong… naugahyde rather than nogahyde). Friday seemed to be a popular day to be poisoned. The chemo nurse came to the waiting room and called several names at once; she usually calls only one at a time. I was the only torturee who was under 75 and not hobbling.

In the chamber there is one small recliner that I like to sit in if I can. It was purchased in the hope that its small size would let them wedge yet another torture station into a small room. I missed getting my favorite chair when a frail old creature headed for it. I couldn’t bring myself to knock her over for the good spot, so I ended up in a giant recliner looking, as Marcia pointed out, like Edith Ann. After a few moments, though, the frail old thing simply vanished from the small chair, leaving only her chart behind. I have no idea where she went — screaming down the hall maybe — but I was able to switch to the human-sized chair. I’ll take any little victory I can get at this stage.

The torture stations consist of a recliner and an IV pole and all face each other in an L — four on one leg, and five on the other. Other torture chambers at other medical facilities have private rooms, which would be nice in some ways, but a little isolating in others. I mean, in a private room I would miss out on so much. For example, five years ago I ended up sitting frequently next to a woman who knew so much about her fellow torturees that she was able to detail for me which ones had died recently and who was about to kick the bucket. I changed chemo days before she could add me to her list.

I also would never want to miss out on the loud conversations about everyone’s blood counts and who’s constipated or not. I especially enjoy it when the nurses shout my blood counts across the room.

The best thing you can say about this torture chamber is that it has windows and they give out on a rather nice greenbelt. Private rooms don’t usually have windows. There is also some a grim camaraderie, and I get some sort of twisted satisfaction when I see someone in there who’s younger than I am. I don’t feel quite so singled out and picked on by fate. Bad of me, eh?

The nurses are quite nice, though harried, and the room itself has an “us versus them” setup — a large, long, desk that walls the nurses off from the torturees. I don’t know how else they would set it up and still do what they need to do for all the hours they’re there during the week, but that’s just my perception from the other side of the wall.

So that’s a brief look at a chemo infusion unit. I’ve talked a little about the private rooms, which I’ve seen when getting second and third opinions. There are many advantages to them, the first being that they usually have a bed — quite a bit more comfortable than the recliners — and they have a place for guests to sit. They also afford some privacy, and are usually decorated very nicely.

In fact, one problem I have with the more private facilities is their poshness. The only comparably posh facility in my direct experience is the “breast center” I go to for mammograms. In the waiting room you can have tea in china. The place is decorated very nicely and professionally, likely in an effort to compete with the latest House Beautiful edition you can read in the waiting room, and the whole “experience” is designed for the patient’s comfort.

I feel for the men who balance tiny tea cups and thumb through women’s magazines while they wait for their wives in the prissy pink waiting room, but that’s not my main problem with the over-poshness of that particular facility. I also am concerned that the money my insurance company pays for my mammograms goes for an interior decorator, but that also is not my main problem with the over-poshness.

My main problem is that they’re putting lipstick on a pig or, to use another metaphor, they’re putting the lobster in the lukewarm water before turning the heat to boil. You go there to find out if you have a deadly disease and somehow fluffiness, pinkness, and china tea sets are supposed to make that better? I think not.

On the other hand, I don’t advocate making you sit on a hard wooden bench in a room with no windows for hours and hours.

So, I’m not really offering suggestions for improvement or change, I’m just observing from within, asking questions, and wondering why certain decisions are made.

Other than that, I’m feeling tired this week and require frequent naps.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Debbie permalink*
    September 21, 2009 1:24 pm

    You’ll have to write about nurse Margo from Transylvania sometime.

    • Jill permalink
      September 21, 2009 1:29 pm

      Good idea. She’s really nice. I got curious and asked where she’s from. Turns out she’s Polish and grew up on the Baltic Sea. She definitely sounds like she’s from Transylvania, though.

      • Annette permalink
        September 23, 2009 11:57 am

        Oh dear. I have to say I had a much better experience at Group Health. They do have a large communal room with the recliners, along with a few alcoves with a single recliner by a window, and private rooms with beds. I rather liked the communal experience, because it made me realize that it wasn’t just me this was happening to. There were a whole lot of us out there, and a lot of the people in there seemed frail. The ones I felt sorry for were the women who came in all by themselves for chemo. No family. No friends. That was very sad to me.

        But I apparently missed out on all the ghoulish conversations. We tended to talk about our kids or tell jokes, if we talked at all.

        Do you have the option of going to a different facility?

    • Jill permalink
      September 24, 2009 10:36 am

      Hi, Annette. I have the option of switching doctors, which I don’t want to do right now. It’s definitely an option for the future.

      • Annette permalink
        September 24, 2009 2:13 pm

        Okay. I really hated my doctor, but I loved my nurse practitioner and the infusion room nurses.

        Do know that it could be better in a different place.

  2. Lisa permalink
    September 21, 2009 4:10 pm

    It is interesting for me to read of your ‘torture’ chamber as it is quite different from the Veteran’s Affairs hospital where my Dad goes. My Mom and I also have tried to explain to people what is like. But, I think you can only really know by being there.

    So for interesting banter, Dad does have a private room when he goes. He had a roommate the first time who was on his second bout of chemo after his cancer coming back. My Dad almost didn’t do treatment as this man explained to my Dad the hell that was yet to come.

    Thanks to the VA though, he now also has MRSA (bet I mispelled that) so he gets an isolated room. They are indeed rooms at the VA and not a lounge area. He also gets to have everyone glove and gown up to visit him. He usually is right by the nurses station, so we can hear all of the stuff that no one wants to know (xyz person is constipated, I’m quitting as I hate it here says a nurse, person on phone who must be talking to a debt collector from what I gleaned).

    I would guess it doesn’t really matter how it is set up as it is torture. I heard though the VA has decided everyone soon will get private rooms and fancy gizmos. My Dad said it was a waste of money;-)

    Always in my thoughts and prayers! — Lisa

    • Jill permalink
      September 24, 2009 10:37 am

      MRSA. Great. Nice of the hospital to share, isn’t it. You can catch that anywhere in the hospital — private or not. Wash your hands a lot!

      • September 24, 2009 1:17 pm

        The last time I was in the hospital, they were “nice” enough to give me C. Diff. (see When I went to the doctor’s office to get tested for it, they isolated me, partially because it’s embarrassing to talk about, and partially because if health-care workers get it, they can lose their livlihood. Mom said many don’t reveal they have it just to keep their jobs, so I probably got it from one of them. Wasn’t that special? (The treatment got rid of it, thankfully.)

  3. September 21, 2009 4:47 pm

    You are an inspiriation and I’m looking forward to reading all this again in book form with a snappy title like, well, “Notes From The Torture Chamber”

    XXX’s and OOO’s – db

    • September 22, 2009 8:11 am

      Sub-title “I _am_ Edith Ann!” Maybe?

    • Jill permalink
      September 24, 2009 10:38 am

      Hmmmm…. good ideas here. Especially if there’s money involved.

  4. Deb permalink
    September 22, 2009 8:23 am

    Thanks for the detailed description of your “torture chamber” Jill, I’ll remember it always! 🙂 My daughter’s best friend went in yesterday and had some pre-cancerous cells removed, she had what’s called a cone procedure. We went over to visit her last night and she was doing good. She said she was given anesthesia and knocked out, which really scared her, but she came right out of it afterwards; one of her biggest fears had been that she wouldn’t wake up. She was told that the procedure went well and she just needed to do a re-check in thirty days to make sure they got it all. Being able to catch those cells early is another amazing medical breakthrough. Hang in there sugar because when this is over you’ll be cancer-free again! Be sure to call me if you need anything. Hugs~Deb

    • Jill permalink
      September 24, 2009 10:38 am

      Hope your daughter’s friend is doing well.

  5. Lisa Welch permalink
    September 23, 2009 6:41 am

    Lovely, and accurate description! I was surprised how open this center is. The one at Highline has “nooks” that are somewhat private, and 2 smaller areas, with 4 chairs each, for those who feel more social (some actually choose those areas every time and seemed like they were there to party with their friends, who also chose those areas every time). Then, they also have a few private rooms, which they didn’t seem to use much. I guess you know – isn’t that where you went last time?

    Anyway, yes, the open space seems odd – I think it would make me feel more vulnerable, which isn’t really what you want in your situation, is it? I felt sorry for that poor lady who clearly wanted to sleep, but kept waking herself up with her snoring, then had to feel embarassed that the whole room could hear her.

    I remember the day surgery center at Virginia Mason in Federal Way (I had several surgeries there). Nothing like being asked every private question about every private thing in your life, knowing someone (and his family) are sitting on the other side of the flimsy curtain!

  6. Jill permalink
    September 24, 2009 10:40 am

    I went to Valley last time also. It is really odd seeing people at their most vulnerable. Everyone asks me if I want to/do sleep during treatments and I say “I try not to.” This is exactly the reason. I’d rather not be the snoring bald lady in the corner thankyouverymuch. They’re taking my hair, my hearing, and my energy. I might as well keep my dignity as long as I can.

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