On self-injections

The past two days have been awful. Much worse than the first round. Last night I didn’t sleep. I’ve been having severe headaches for the past few days. At one point I was literally sitting up in bed just punching the mattress in vain attempts to deal with the waves of pain shooting through the top of my head. Apparently this is the result of G-CSF growth factor (more on this below). I have an entirely new appreciation for the daily tribulations those who suffer migraines endure – thankfully it’s not an issue I’ve really had to face until now. It’s debilitating. Last night was a new low point with the following set of issues presenting at various points, often in combination:

  • Burning in my stomach (chemo targeting the cancer cells, I think)
  • Heartburn/acid reflux
  • Shooting headache – waves every 1-2 minutes and lasting hours
  • Swollen knees – suspect I’m retaining of water in my joints for some reason
  • Possible nerve damage in my thumb from a few weeks ago. I was reminded of it when trying to rub my head at weird angles
  • Bronchial infection/coughing – the past couple days I’ve been coughing up yellow mucus from somewhere deep in my chest. I was basically up every 5 minutes stumbling to the bathroom to spit up phlegm

Despite the above I’m a lot stronger and healthier than most people that go through this (again, median age is closer to 65 for this disease) so what I’m describing above is likely on the mild side of what people go through. But it’s not easy.

As noted above I’m now supplementing my chemo regime with self-administered injections of G-CSF to stimulate neutrophil growth. This is a subcutaneous injection into the stomach. This is why I’m not in the hospital right now with this bronchial infection – the thinking is I should be able to fight this on my own.

At the hospital they showed me how to do it, walking through how to pinch the skin, hold the needle etc. Great I told them – I got this. No issues. No questions. I hadn’t really considered but turns out that I’ve never actually given myself a shot…

What happened when it was time to actually stick myself fort the fist time caught me off guard. You’re probably thinking this was no big deal. That’s what I thought. I’ve been stuck with needles more in the past month than the sum of all needle pricks in my whole life. I don’t flinch. But when I took out the syringe and the time came to stick this needle into my own body I froze. I would touch the sharp needle to my skin and just stop there. I really could not do it. I could not envision breaking the skin.

I tried every technique I could think of: music to get pumped, silent stoicism and deep breathing, Michelle in the room, Michelle not in the room – all to no avail. It was just me and the needle. It was really surprising. I was frozen, paralyzed, incapable of action.

I paced the room for over 45 minutes, picking the needle up, putting it down, swabbing the area around my belly button with alcohol prep, repeatedly. I took a nap to clear my head – I was getting stressed out actually. Lev had a 102 fever and was vomiting. I really could not afford to have low immunity in this context. Anyway when I got up had anything changed? Not a damn thing. Still couldn’t do it. I finally gave up, realizing no good was coming from this business. My inaction had gained momentum.

It was clear I wasn’t going to get this done on my own. Defeat. I needed support. I put my ego to the side and called my friend/neighbor Rafaela over (a nurse – but I didn’t realize what a kick-ass nurse she is!). She sat with me, assured me it was ok and talked me through it. On the count of 3 we’re doing this. Commit on 3. Eye contact. Seriousness of purpose (Bedside manner!). Do you want to count or should I? …No it’s all good, I got this.

And that was it. I stuck the needle all the way in and plunged the syringe. It was oddly satisfying to put that paralysis behind me. I need to do this each day for 5 days each round, so this is a necessary skill to master. Feels good to be on the side of action. I’ve done this three times so far and as you would expect, each one has gotten easier.

Small wins.