It seems innocent enough. Spend the day unpacking the last of the moving boxes and putting up pictures, order some takeout Indian food. What could be more ordinary than chicken tikka masala and saag paneer while watching Toy Story 3 with your family?
Then, I wake up in the middle of the night with unbelievable stomach cramps and an embarrassing case of the runs. Toss and turn and moan and wake up husband Pete. Please, could you get me some anti-nausea medicine? Could you get me some lemonade from the fridge? Could you make these cramps go away? After an hour or so, I drift back to sleep.
The next morning, I can’t wake up. Drag myself out of bed at 9 to have a bowl of cereal. Then back to bed, sleep three more hours. Get up mid-afternoon for 45 minutes, then back to bed. It’s hard work being sick.
Finally, Pete takes my temperature. It’s 100 degrees. This may not sound like a big deal, but my body temperature is normally low, about 96.5. So a fever of 100 is actually high for me. Pete looks worried. I’m just about at the nadir right now, the point in the chemo cycle where white blood cells are at their lowest point. The docs say that if I have a temperature of 101 that I should not call them, but go straight to the ER.
Pete starts to research ERs in San Francisco. We know we should stay in the UCSF system, but we’re hoping we don’t have to go to the ER at Moffitt-Long, the giant central hospital in the sprawling UCSF system (so big it requires its own bus system with five or six routes). We have intimate experience with the Moffitt-Long ER, both as patients and as relatives of patients. While the medicine practiced at Moffitt-Long is top-notch, the ER there is always full to bursting and totally insane. Please God, UC has to have some other ER. Pete hovers for half an hour, researching this point and discovering that, no Virginia, there is no other UCSF ER but the Moffitt-Long ER. Drat.
He takes my temperature again, still 100. He starts taking my temperature every 30 minutes: 100, 99.5, 98.9, 99.6, then 99. Our daughter Erin, who knows about the 101 Rule, starts hovering by my bed, looking concerned. I worry about worrying her, but feel too sick to do much about it. Finally, I drift off to sleep. I don’t know it at the time, but Pete sets his watch to wake him up every few hours and check on me.
This morning, I wake up feeling pretty normal. The fever is gone. Over cereal, Pete and I decide that it must have been a touch of food poisoning from the Indian food. What could be more ordinary? And yet, Pete looks at me as if I’ve just come back from the dead. “That was scary,” he says, sipping his coffee.
In cancer, it seems, nothing is ordinary.