A week ago last Friday, I had an out-patient surgery designed to make my life easier and safer while getting chemotherapy infusions. My surgeon implanted a chemo port just below my right collarbone. Instead of connecting my chemo IV to a vein in my arm, all of my infusions will go through the port.
I knew this was a necessary evil. Evidently one of my chemo drugs is so caustic and nasty that if it leaks underneath the skin, it can do quite a bit of damage. So the port is there to simplify treatments, as well as to protect me from the treatment itself.
I opted for only local anesthesia during the surgery because I wanted to have some idea of the process as it was happening. Unfortunately, the anesthesiologist gave me something to “relax” me which made me promptly fall asleep as soon as the procedure got underway. The only thing I remember is being wrapped up “like a burrito” as the nurse said, with my arms strapped to my sides. The next thing I knew, it was over, and I was being wheeled back to the recovery room.
Two things surprised me when I first looked in the mirror at my new “implant.” One: it was huge, sticking out of my chest like a ghastly alien who had decided to take up residence in my body. And two: the tube wasn’t fed down into my chest like the surgeon had told me it would be, but was attached to a vein in my neck.
It was grisly. It stuck out from my chest and neck in gruesome relief, a Frankensteinish adaptation that made my stomach turn.
My first impulse was to start shouting for the surgeon to come remove this thing from my body pronto. I couldn’t see how I would ever get used to it being inside me, and worse, sticking out of me. I couldn’t turn my neck, I couldn’t touch it. I couldn’t even look at it.
But I stuffed my panic back inside and got dressed. I told myself it’s only temporary. I told myself other people get ports all the time. Somehow they find a way to live with it.
For a few days, I tried to ignore it, tried to forget that it was there. Which was pretty hard to do considering that I wasn’t able to do anything that required the use of my neck muscles without experiencing intense pain. The first night I was unable to lie down in bed, so I tried sleeping in a recliner. I’ve never been able to sleep sitting upright, so that was a short-lived experiment.
It took me about a week to become resigned to the idea of this thing being in my body for at least the next six months. Sleeping had become somewhat easier by then; I could even turn onto my right side for brief periods of time. I bought a few shirts with collars that would hide the reflection of the weirdness every time I passed a mirror.
At the time of my first chemo, it had been in me for almost a week. It worked as it was intended to during the infusion; for some reason, I was surprised that it actually worked so well. My alien had proved useful. It was at this point that I decided we needed to be on more intimate terms.
If we were going to be friends, he needed a name. I decided after all of a three-second consideration that I would call him “Pete.” I guess as in “Pete the Port.” Not terribly original, but it seemed a good-enough name for a chunk of plastic. My boyfriend suggested I call him “Starboard,” but I didn’t think that was funny. My friend who underwent chemo several years ago called her port “Athena.” But I wasn’t in a mythological mood. So Pete it was.
Pete and I have been together almost two weeks now. I can’t say we’re best buds yet, but he is at least letting me get some sleep these days. I suppose I may as well get used to him hanging around with me. Like it or not, he’s going to be a part of my life for a while. At least our relationship is a functional one. He helps me get the drugs that will hopefully heal me, and occasionally, I let him peek out of my collar to watch the world pass by.