So I arrived at the hospital, early for my appointment, armed with two new books, ready for a day of various infusions. Check in was smooth, apparently being setup as a serial patient means your paperwork stays done! Good news I guess... if it's good news being here that often. It was a busy day in the morning unit and surgical patients get the priority, so it was a while before the nurse came in to get things going. I should have had a clue about things to come when one of the bags said "Chemotherapy."
First up was a bag of saline to flush and hydrate the system. The nurse set the pump to dispense the bag in an hour and we were underway!
Next on was the Cidofovir, an anti-viral. It was set to drip through in two hours. This is the drug whose prime side effect is damage to the kidney. They kept close tabs on my condition, checking vitals frequently. Everything went smoothly and I was feeling fine.
Lunchtime came along with a turkey sandwich. There was another chair in the room and it was interesting visiting with my roommate and his wife. They'd gotten married when they got out of the Navy after the war and now live near a lake about an hour south of Dallas. They've been in and out of Baylor Hospital many times over the years, first for their children and more recently for his liver transplant, his battle with throat cancer and now his impending battle with lung cancer. He was in receiving two units of blood, his second treatment of transfusions. They've been lucky, she's had good insurance since her first job and doesn't know what they would have done without it. They worry about their son who has a small business with just two or three employees and there's just not enough money to cover the cost of insurance. So the son just does without.
When the Cidofovir was done, they emptied the previous bag of saline then began the IVIG (IntraVenous ImmunoGlobulin) infusion. (IVIG, that's what they call it, those in the know!) Because it was my first treatment, they took it slow, taking about three hours for the infusion. And that was it! They gave me the standard Out-Patient list of symptoms to look out for and I gone. Happy to be walking and stretching and getting the hell out of there.
The aches started about ten minutes from the house. It felt like when you're getting the flu. I was shaking and breathing heavily when I got home and the aching was really starting to hurt. I lay down on the bed hoping things would calm down, but the aching, shaking and breathing just intensified. I was feeling feverish and nauseous. I got up and called the nurse at the clinic and really don't remember much of that conversation. I remember she asked about my temperature. I remember saying that even if I could find a thermometer, I was shaking so hard the chances of getting it in my mouth were about as good as poking it in my eye!
After that clever retort, I headed to back to bed and managed to fall into a deep sleep. I awoke and the phone started to ring (or maybe it was already ringing.) It was Susan, calling from San Antonio, and she caught me at my absolute groggiest. I still hadn't reached the point of rationality. She had the good sense to call my sister who came over and sat with me. The shaking had stopped. I was able to drink some ginger ale and take some pain-reliever. The reaction had reached a plateau.
I thought I felt good enough the next morning to get dressed, scramble an egg and go to work. After wandering around like a zombie for an hour, I decided to go home, much to the relief of my coworkers. The rest of the day was spent with a splitting, throbbing headache which caused its own nausea which lasted through most of the next day. Three days later I almost feel normal.
So, which drug was the culprit?
Poking and googling points to the IVIG therapy. One study shows 83% of the patients reported headaches lasting from 4 hours to several days. Some were considered mild, most were described as having severe intensity with a throbbing, pounding, pulsating quality with some causing fever, nausea and vomiting. Sounds pretty familiar.
So, OK. Why wasn't I prepared?
I thought I'd done my research. But I really focused on the Cidofovir and that was my mistake. But the doctors didn't say anything about possible side effects from either drug. The infusion was under the supervision of a doctor, but all I saw was his/her name. Never had a chance to visit. The handout at discharge was generic and primarily concerned about infection.
Shoulda known better....