After spending a week with a dear friend who was eventually hospitalized for severe vomiting and diarrhea as a result of chemo-radiation for anal cancer, I’ve concluded that any cancer patient who is suffering these side effects MUST complain loudly and repeatedly in order to ensure that they receive appropriate corrective treatments to reverse these symptoms. Whining is a self-protective strategy!
My friend had lost 7 pounds in a week, was so nauseous that her daily food intake was down to one bite of banana and 2 bites of toast each morning, and spent the greater part of her afternoons vomiting and pooping simultaneously. She was completely wretched. When I accompanied her for IV hydration (which a nurse friend and I had to forcefully urge her to request) at the clinic, I began to understand how her situation had become so dire.
Asked “How are you doing?” by the concerned oncology nurse, her response was “I’m really tired.” [understatement of the month…] Asked “Are you able to eat?, her response was “A little.” I’m quite sure that the nurse’s imaginings of what “a little” might constitute was considerably more than one bite of banana and 2 bites of toast per day. To the nurse’s query about her liquid consumption, she replied, “I’m trying.” The nurse had no way of knowing that whatever meager food and liquid went down my friend’s throat exited quite rapidly via vomit and poop. Outflow far exceeded intake on a daily basis.
I couldn’t hold back any longer, knowing that my friend’s situation was dire; I spoke up and explained in detail what I had observed. My friend was not at all happy with me. She was the quintessential “good patient”, keeping a stiff upper lip, not wanting to be perceived as a complainer, not wanting to rock the boat, doing her utmost to be likable and cooperative. After all, her doctors had told her that diarrhea might be a side effect, that she might have trouble with her appetite, that chemo-radiation could cause intestinal cramping– so she just assumed that what she was experiencing was “normal” for anal cancer patients. She felt that asking for IV hydration was being pushy and demanding, incorrectly assuming that “my doctors will tell me what I need.” The problem was that neither her doctor nor the nurses had any idea what she needed because she was not being forthcoming about her symptoms.
As I pondered how this might have played out in a way that could have prevented at least some of my friend’s suffering, I realized that the most effective solution was not necessarily the most obvious…
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