Monday, July 30, 2018

Cancer: A Slight Hiccup


Cathy started chemo last week, and it was as weird and off-putting and uncomfortable as everyone said it would be. It would appear that the number one concern for our clutch of Doctors and Nurses is the fear that Cathy might become nauseous.

We grew up with stories of people undergoing chemotherapy and throwing up and being sick all the time. It was part of the drill that came with fighting cancer. But apparently in the last decade or so a side industry has emerged to attempt to pharmacologically deal with every symptom you might experience while in the midst of chemotherapy.

They gave her four medicines and a regimen for dealing with chemo: one pill in the morning, two at night. In between, if she has any nausea for any reason—if she even thinks about throwing up—here’s a third pill to take. It will give you a headache, sure, but it beats throwing up. Only, if the headache persists, let them know. They have a pill for that. Okay, so, after taking the third pill, it should kick in within fifteen minutes and be good for six hours. After that, if the nausea comes back, you can take it again, but if it ever doesn’t work---if you take it and still want to throw up, then there is a fourth pill you can take. It’ll make you sleepy, but it’ll work for 8 hours. If THAT pill doesn’t work, call them. They have a fifth pill they can give her.

Any other symptoms? Let them know. They have a pill for that. I think if I called the Nurse and said, “Cathy’s head just fell off, and is rolling around on the floor like a spaghetti squash,” the Nurse would say to me, “Okay, that’s a really rare side effect, but we do have a pill for that. I’ll write you a prescription.”

So far, we’ve only had to enact the DefCon 4 Protocol as a precaution; it's shaking, but holding. Cathy’s taking enough pills to make Elvis jealous, but she has not thrown up. I was a little worried when she started hiccupping, though.

Okay, worried is the wrong word. I think I was more delighted. Overjoyed. See, Cathy hiccups in a sequence of three. The first hiccup is a normal “whiccu” sound, like anyone would make. It’s almost a burp, but it’s more musical. You know what I mean.

The second in the sequence is the silent speed bump, always in the middle of whatever sentence Cathy’s desperately trying to get out before the next hiccup happens. She sounds exactly like Foster Brooks. I try so hard not to laugh, but it takes me right back to every single Foster Brooks moment stored in my brain. This is when she looks at me and plaintively cries, “It’s not funny! I have the hiccups!”

I will start to apologize and that’s when phase three hits: a powerful, full-volume eructation that’s part honk, part yelp. It sounds an awful lot like one of our dog’s squeaker toys when you step on it. This third one always makes the dog look up and cock her head at Cathy, as if to say, “Are you chewing on my toy?” At this point, I have to be helped back into my chair, as I have fallen out of it. Then the cycle starts over again.

It started on Monday night, after the first treatment. When it carried over into Tuesday, my pop culture-addled cranium instantly sprang to one of the funniest things I ever saw on The Simpsons, made funnier by my friends’ ability to leverage it into real-life situations.  My explanation of this joke, weirdly, did not help Cathy to feel any better about herself or her plight. We agreed to disagree.

Eventually, in an unrelated call, Cathy asked the Nurse about her hiccups and was told, “Oh, that’s a side effect. We have a pill for that. I’ll write you a prescription.”

On the one hand, I’m grateful that Cathy’s discomfort has been alleviated. On the other hand, what the hell, Big Pharma? Part of the fun of hiccups is watching people do the Stupid Human Tricks like drinking water with a spoon in their mouth or scaring the shit out of them as they come out of the bathroom. That’s how you deal with hiccups. Not with a pill. You stand on your head and hold your breath and recite the alphabet backwards, as God intended. We have truly become a nation of snowflakes.

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