Erica will have eleven doses of radiation during the next four days. Each of these lasts a maximum of seven minutes. And this is where we need to introduce Stan. While little Ernie gets a bit grouchy from time to time and tugs at Erica’s catheter, Stan is just plain mean. Large and in charge, Stan looms huge on Erica’s horizon, staring at her right in the face.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Meet Ernie and Stan
Ernie stands about 1.5 feet tall and is kind of rigid in nature, not much unlike his namesake from Sesame Street. Bert is missing, but that’s okay, because I don’t think Erica could deal with having two such friends. Just too much weight to drag around. Bert’s lack of presence, however, has translated into Ernie becoming more temperamental and Erica has to keep him on a short leash.
Ernie is Erica’s saline bag. Yes, he very much looks like a wheelie that one would drag around an airport, but this bag will be a permanent fixture at Erica’s side until Saturday, keeping her hydrated during the radiation process, which started this morning and ends on Friday.
Big, bad Stan is the radiation machine that irradiates Erica three times a day. As you can see above, he’s not pretty and does not get any points for being a nice guy. But, as we all know Erica, Stan is really not the top dog. Whilst large, he is still merely Erica’s younger, oafish step-brother, in a manner of speaking, zapping away the little nasties that are in her marrow. So there is no confusion, Erica has already sent him a message about who is boss.
The most emotional part of today was, at 7:30 am this morning, when they strapped Erica into the booth for the first radiation dose of the day. There was no worse feeling than to see this beautiful young woman being submitted to something as dreadful as radiation, even if for the greater good, without being able to do as much as lift a finger in aid but for a final little, blown kiss. The almost draconian setup of the booth, with straps, levers, hanging pieces of lead, made it appear that not much has advanced since Marie Curie carried out experiments with radiography almost a century ago. That, or she was going to be privy to torture techniques from the Middle Ages. But, the professionalism and knowledge of the radiation therapy staff at the Stanford Cancer Center helped prove that we are now in the 21st Century.
Those first seven minutes were some of the longest of my life, watching her on a video camera from another room. And this was a pittance of how long it must have been for Erica, holding herself up straight reminding Stan who was boss.
Today Erica has faced three doses of radiation. And has confronted each with a strength and grace that would make a bamboo proud. To boot, according to one nurse, she’s the cutest patient they have right now. But, we already knew that.
Three down and eight to go. And Ernie and Stan are watching her back.