Friday, July 3, 2009

8 - Side Effects of Radiation

Digression on the Side Effects of Radiation

What are the side effects of radiation? Well, there are some obvious ones. First, sunburn. The radiation has to go through the skin to get where it's going, and that beats up any tissues that get in the way. Skin is the layer of defense, hence the first victim. The discoloration I notice is mainly from the e-beam radiation. Two perfect little circles, still discolored a year later.

Second, other things in the path don't work. For instance, about midway through the radiation, I start having bad intestinal cramps, I guess due to the cumulative damage of the radiation in the area. A fiber additive such as Metamucil helps a lot. And of the things that don't work now, some of them come back and others don't. Some nerves in the area just aren't quite so lively as they used to be, even a year later.

Other things that may or may not be directly related happen, too. I also have bad tinnitus, which I've always had a little of, but something in the treatments turns up the volume control dramatically for a couple weeks. Tinnitus, for the young and/or fortunate who are not familiar with the phenomenon, is a ringing in the ear. We all have this now and then, a ringing that starts suddenly, goes on for a while, then fades, right? Suppose it doesn't fade. Suppose it stays forever. At a lower volume than the short-term events, sure, but forever. A constant whistling in the left ear. When it's soft, I can ignore it. When it's louder, it's a distraction much of the time.

The main side effect is that one feels like crap. I thought with weeks of time off and nothing to do I would make a dent in my unread books pile, which has got way out of hand in recent years. Ha. Doesn't work that way. Between the drugs and the enervation of the radiation and the chemo, I lost weeks. Weeks when I couldn't hold a book in my hand. Hell, weeks when I couldn't maintain consciousness for any length of time. Weeks when I could barely push the buttons on a remote control.

Aside: I need to invent a gooseneck device to hold a book for me in any position, overhead, by the side of the bed, under the edge of the bed, whatever. Something to hold a Bookmate in an arbitrary position but still let you turn pages. Hmmm. Good idea.

During those weeks I took some notes on the drugs I took and that's all I have now to show for all that time. I do have a nice Excel spreadsheet of the quantities of morphine and hydrocodone I consumed, how wonderful, but no memories.

Another aside: I was really worried about becoming addicted to the (wonderful) drugs for the various pains, so I kept careful track of every pill or drop taken, what dose at what time. There were a couple predictable peaks during the really bad times after surgery, after chemo, and after the radiation. But thankfully there was a steady decline at the end. Eventually I needed them only to sleep, and then down to just a couple Tylenol, and then nothing.

For the mouth sores from the chemo, the right stuff is liquid morphine sulfate. Yeow, a wonderful trip that! Just a drop or two in a little glass of soda and the pain becomes somebody else's pain. That pain? That's not my pain anymore. That must be somebody else's pain. I can just lie there and smile and breathe and let time wash over me for a couple hours until it's time for some more drops. It's easy to understand how people get addicted to this. They gave me two bottles of it, just little bottles but enough in each of them to kill a horse. Wow. Have to be careful measuring out doses with an eyedropper. Three drops for moderate pain. Four drops for bad pain. Five drops if I want to go to sleep right here, right now.

Yet another aside. the port-a-cath is intended for regular use. If, like me, one has chemo irregularly with weeks between doses, then one has to get the port-a-cath flushed now and then. Go in to the chemo room and get a liter of saline. Just a quick oil change. It keeps clots out of the output tube so that a liquid can flow freely when it ought to. I did this every three-four weeks.

No comments:

Post a Comment