This Infernal Racket | my life, after cancer

A Toronto-based lifestyle blog by a 2x cancer survivor

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Short Story: Happy Christmas

December 2014

Before anything comes into focus, I notice the white light. The sterile glow of fluorescent tube lighting fills the room in which I find myself. Streaks of sharper yellow pour over my body, over the white, waffled bedsheets tucked neatly under my body, over the narrow crunchy bed in which I lay, over the faded white walls around me, over the machines that beep and drip clear and coloured liquids into my veins. I jerk my head to the right, desperately looking for the time, but exhaustion owns my body, dimming my movements. Inhaling deeply through my nose, I use all my strength to force my eyelids wide.
I can’t be dead because my mom is in the chair next to me. 
“Mom?” I whisper. My voice is hoarse and dry. I try again, “Mom?” She shifts in the chair, book in hand and looks up. Her face – long and pale – mirrors her long slouched posture. 
“Yes, Kayla?” 
“I can’t remember what day it is,” I try to wiggle my tongue to wet my throat enough to speak.
“It's December 23rd, tomorrow is Christmas, we are going to Tadi Silvia’s remember?” Oh right. I remember now. Tadi means aunt in Estonian. Being from Northern Europe, we don’t celebrate Christmas Day. 
“Are we almost done?” I say.
“Yes, the nurse just put you on a flush, but we have to get your arm cleaned before we go because of the infection,” Oh right. I remember now. Bit by bit, I begin, in silence, to recall everything that has happened. Today is my second session of chemotherapy treatment. My PICC line is infected. I have stage three cancer.   
The machine next to me beeps and nurse Karen walks into my room. I met Karen during a chemotherapy info session that my mom forcefully dragged me to in November. Karen is the hospital mom around here. 
“How’s my little one doing today?” She asks with an underlying Australian accent. Karen unhooks the IV machines and sits down beside me, “I heard we have a little arm infection going on. Let’s get you cleaned up and home before it snows,” Karen plops herself on the rollaway stool beside my bed. A teal blue scrubs uniform covers her round frame. I smile at her, lean over and peel off my thick green sweater, exposing my PICC line. A PICC – peripherally inserted central catheter – line refers to an external IV that travels through a large vein up your arm and into a large blood cavity in your chest. I stare at the makeshift cloth Band-Aid and paper tape around my arm. Last week, before the infection, a clear plastic sticker suctioned the PICC to my arm. Carefully, Karen lifts up the corner of the tape and exposes the open IV. 
Large welts ooze yellow puss on my sensitive skin. Tiny scales overlap each other and circle the plastic tubing sticking out of my arm. I squirm at the overwhelming itchy sensation. It doesn’t help. 
“Oh well that’s just lovely isn't it,” Karen laughs. I laugh. My mom laughs. Karen opens two syringes filled with salty water. Gently pushing the pump, she squirts cool, clean saline onto the scales of my arm and rubs it around with sterile fabric. The movement of her fingers across my arm gently exfoliates the flakey rash. Karen turns to grab a cloth and pats the infected area dry. New bits of puss ooze through the freshly cleaned skin. She applies a thick layer of hydrocortisone cream, instantly stopping the itchy feeling and wraps up my arm in large, holey cloth bandages. Karen claps her hands together, “There you go, good as new. I’ll see you in two weeks. Happy Christmas!” 

Mom and I walk out of the treatment room and quickly shuffle to the car. Exhaustion overwhelms me as I plop into the cold Honda Accord. Mom starts the car, waiting a few moments before she pulls out of the vacant lot. We turn left onto the QEW and drive westbound. I glance out the window and spy thick clouds, shunning the sunlight and morphing the sky into a symphony of grey and black.


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