The Red Death

I worked in research in the pharmaceutical industry for many years, so of course I believe in the power of modern medicine.

Some drugs prove more challenging than others, it’s true. In particular, drugs for psychiatric illnesses are notoriously difficult to administer successfully since the doses vary so greatly from person to person and even an individual’s dose can change over time.

But anti-nausea meds?  Straightforward.

So when the nurse pushed the first dose of chemo into my vein and told me that the strong anti-nausea meds in my IV would prevent me from feeling sick for at least 24 hours, I believed her. I left the cancer center feeling good, armed with pills to take the next morning, if I felt nauseous.

In fact, I felt good enough to go out to lunch with Rich before he went back to work – because I’d be fine.

Day 351 - They are not f*ck'in around with the Adriamycin...

[photo credit]

Two hours later, I threw up my lunch. I didn’t blame the red death. After all, I had powerful anti-emetics coursing through my bloodstream. I figured maybe I ate something that didn’t agree with me since I felt fine after that involuntary purge.

I drank a ton of water to flush out my system but expelled the water twenty minutes later. Just like the first time, the nausea had hit hard and with very little warning.

Twenty minutes after that, I heaved relentlessly until bile came up.

After that episode,  I called the cancer center. Instead of offering me a solution or any other form of comfort, the nurse insisted that my vomiting was psychosomatic. Anyone that knows me at all will recognize the absurdity of that suggestion. I am the last person in the world who would have that type of reaction. I had believed in those meds.

Until they didn’t work. For three entire days, I threw up violently every twenty minutes until I was so dehydrated that I had to be hospitalized.

My oncologist told me he’d never seen anyone get so sick while taking anti-emetics. So one month later, the second time the nurse poisoned me with the red death, he told me to start taking the pills right away rather than waiting until the next day.

The pills didn’t help one bit.

After 24 hours of intense heaving despite the “best” drugs, my oncologist admitted me to the hospital for the next two days. Miraculously, as long as I received the anti-emetics continuously by IV, I didn’t get sick.

For my last two treatments, I begged to stay in the hospital for those three days post-chemo. At first my oncologist refused – doctors don’t like to go outside of their treatment paradigms when no precedence exists, especially if there’s an associated cost.  So I argued as if my life depended on it. In the end he couldn’t deny that for some strange reason the traditional administration of anti-nausa meds had failed me badly, leaving me dangerously dehydrated. For my effort, I won two all expenses paid trips to the hospital.

Of course, the last two chemo cycles in the hospital weren’t exactly fun. I did have to contend with nurses frequently waking me up in the middle of the night to check my vitals, but at least I didn’t get violently ill.

And hospital food never tasted so good.


Thankfully, I am nearly 15 years cancer-free. Click on the links if you’d like to read about my diagnosis, an acquaintance’s missed diagnosis, or how I can’t bear to part with my pre-cancer ponytail.

I’m in my usual Tuesday spot, hanging out with all of the cool kids at yeah write. Go check out all of the awesome blogs on the grid!

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65 Responses to “The Red Death”

  1. KristinJanuary 29, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    It’s like an intense insult to injury – the vomiting in spite of the drugs meant to quell it. Love the last line. Mmmmmm hospital food.

    • StacieJanuary 29, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      It was terrible! I’ve never been sicker – much worse than food poisoning. So glad to be done.

  2. DianeJanuary 29, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Oh UGH!!! You poor thing! That was my worst fear…vomiting. Thankfully the drugs worked for me. Woo-hoo to nearly 15 years!!! 😀

    • StacieJanuary 29, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      Fortunately, they do for most people. I was a point WAY off the curve.

  3. DanaJanuary 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    So glad to hear you’ve been cancer-free for nearly 15 years! What a time to go through – I’m glad you’ve made it out the other side and are sharing your stories.

    • StacieJanuary 29, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

      Thanks Dana 🙂

  4. Mod Mom Beyond IndieDomJanuary 29, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    When I was undergoing my first C-section, the nurse gave me this little cup of green liquid, promising that it would prevent me from vomiting. You know where this is going. I turned my head to the left where my loving husband was sitting in his hospital scrubs and I pulled a Linda Blair all over him. Hugs to you!

    • StacieJanuary 29, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

      Oh I don’t like hearing that! I had a c-sect too. But when I felt nauseous, the anesthesiologist gave me something in my IV that worked wonders. Glad I didn’t get the green stuff!

  5. Samantha Brinn MerelJanuary 29, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    You are such a strong fighter. That is what I think every single time I read one of your posts about cancer. Good for you for advocating for yourself, and getting exactly what you needed to feel better.

    • StacieJanuary 29, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

      Aw thanks Samantha. It did help that I had a science background. I was a horrible patient b/c I argued with everything!

  6. My Half Assed LifeJanuary 29, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    15 years free is worth noting.

    I’ve seen good hospital food and I’ve seen bad. I’m not sure anyone could enjoy what looked like a steamed grilled cheese sandwich.

    • StacieJanuary 29, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

      I was just happy to be keeping anything down!

  7. MamarificJanuary 29, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    I think nausea & vomiting are the worst things on the planet. Give me the flu or bronchitis any day over that. I had severe nausea with my second pregnancy, which is probably still nothing close to what you endured, but was still miserable! So impressed at your ability to fight through that and get the care you needed. Glad you are well 🙂

    • StacieJanuary 29, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      Thanks! Funny enough, I had zero morning sickness with either kid. So, I feel for you on that.

  8. icescreammamaJanuary 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    yeah! what samatha said. even weakened, you were strong enough to get what you needed. amazing. and i don’t there is (almost) nothing worse than being violently nauseous! thank goodness it was 15 years ago!! poo poo poo (sorry my grandma made me do that) 🙂

    • StacieJanuary 29, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      Haha! It’s nice it’s WAY in the past now.

  9. ZoJanuary 29, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

    How awful. I’m one of those “can count on one hand how many times” types of people and can’t imagine having to deal with that on its own, let alone the way you were dealing with it (and yes, having gotten the “no way is it gonna happen” meds just makes it worse!)

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      It was weird b/c I’d never felt better when I was diagnosed, but the cure about killed me!

  10. BeeJanuary 29, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Ugh, what an ordeal. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. It’s frustrating and confusing when a “straightforward” drug is supposed to work but doesn’t.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      At least it was a long time ago now!

  11. winopantsJanuary 29, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    Psychosomatic? That’s awful. What a way to kick you when you are already down. Good for you for fighting to get the right care.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:24 am #

      You really do have to be your own advocate sometimes. I was definitely one of those annoying patients.

  12. Cindy - The Reedster SpeaksJanuary 29, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    I feel miserable for you just reading this.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:26 am #

      No need, it’s done now! But I have never been sicker and I hope I never have to do that again.

  13. LadygoogoogagaJanuary 29, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    Very powerful…..glad you are well:)

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:26 am #

      Thank you!

  14. KristinJanuary 29, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Stacie, I barely know you, but I love you and admire your strength. 15 years is amazing! You must have been so super young…I can’t imagine.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      You are so sweet, thank you! I was 34.

  15. Mayor GiaJanuary 30, 2013 at 12:19 am #

    Oh man, that sounds just awful. Glad you’re better now.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Thanks, me too!

  16. Mary @ A Teachable MomJanuary 30, 2013 at 12:35 am #

    You’ve got some courage in them veins, girl! I can’t imagine going through chemo without the violent nausea, let alone with extra IVs and hospital stays. I also admire the fighter in you whenever I read one of your cancer posts. You’re an inspiration!

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      I was happy to be on the IV by comparison!

  17. LarksJanuary 30, 2013 at 3:36 am #

    Man. See, I believe in modern medicine but one of my pet peeves is when medical professions believe in modern medicine like it’s a religion or Truth. The patient says, “but I feel x or y” and the nurse/doctor is like, “nonsense, silly patient! Medicine has spoken!” Grrrrrrrr… I’m so sorry you had to go though that on top of cancer. Ugh.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:30 am #

      It’s true. On the one hand, the medical professionals use their experience base to usually do the right thing the first time. But when there are new situations, they don’t always grasp that it’s real. If someone else was unlucky enough to get that sick, I hope my case helped them.

  18. JackJanuary 30, 2013 at 3:47 am #

    I know nurses see lots of different people but I fail to understand why we hear stories like yours about how they “doubt” what we are saying.

    Everyone is different and there is always a first.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:31 am #

      It is frustrating. But to be fair, some people really are hypochondriacs. At least I was finally able to convince the oncologist!

  19. Louise DucoteJanuary 30, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    Oh Stacie, I just hate to think of you like that! However, this is a wonderful piece: restrained, elegant and moving without trying to be.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      Thanks Louise, I’m glad. I didn’t want to come off pitiful (which certainly is how I was feeling when I went through this).

  20. cathy@1970kikiprojectJanuary 30, 2013 at 6:48 am #

    thanks for sharing your story, stacie. hugs to you!!!
    just goes to show, once again, that we are all experiments of one. i am so glad you got your way with the hospital stays. and that you are sharing a life chapter from FIFTEEN YEARS AGO!!! hooray for you!!

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      Thanks Cath! I am so glad it’s well in the past. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

  21. Jared KarolJanuary 30, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Glad to hear that you are 15 years cancer free! 🙂

    My wife is a PT in a hospital, and she tells me stories of doctors and nurses who are unwilling to stray from the prescribed treatments that “work for everyone.” I guess it’s just something about people w/ authority knowing that they’re right, despite evidence to the contrary. Sorry you had to experience all that. . .

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:36 am #

      Thanks Jared! I think sometimes it’s a fine line. I’m not at all an exaggerator – but some people are and they don’t know who’s who. Plus, they’d really never seen anything like that. I was thankful the oncologist did listen to me in the end.

  22. JaniceJanuary 30, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    I’m glad you are cancer (and vomit) free! I have to say, if you thought the hospital food was good, you MUST have been sick.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 11:36 am #

      It tasted a lot better than bile!

  23. Stephanie SayeJanuary 30, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    “…the nurse insisted that my vomiting was psychosomatic.”

    I am floored by this. I’ve had doctors tell me this before as an explanation for certain conditions. I’ve also had an orthopedic surgeon tell me that I’m getting “old” as a reason for my knee pain – and at the time I was only 28. Good on you for standing up for yourself. I can’t imagine going through what you did.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

      Old at 28? My word! I’m pretty pushy and it helps to have a science background (although I’m the patient that drives doctors crazy!).

  24. Michelle LongoJanuary 30, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    That sounds dreadful. So glad it’s behind you now!

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

      Me too Michelle!

  25. DanaJanuary 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    What an awful experience that you went through. So happy you are well now, of course, but I’m sending you a virtual hug anyway!

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      I always accept virtual hugs!

  26. Brett Minor (@brettminor)January 30, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    Nausea is the worst. I would rather being in pain than nauseous. I’m glad they finally listened to you.

    • StacieJanuary 30, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

      I don’t think either is good! Luckily it’s pretty far in my past now.

  27. Christie TateJanuary 30, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    I fucking hate that you had cancer. So glad you are here.

    • StacieJanuary 31, 2013 at 9:27 am #

      Me too! At least “had” is the operative word.

  28. IASoupMamaJanuary 31, 2013 at 12:31 am #

    I’m so glad that you fought for what you needed, even if that was crappy hospital food and annoying nurses. Good on you!

    And I get nauseas when I take anything stronger than ibuprofen, so I ended up with IV anti-nausea meds with the epidurals I had for my first and third births — and they say that epidurals don’t affect you that way, ha! Thank goodness the nurses believed me ASAP.

    And I love that it has been 15 years and that you are here. always love that 🙂

    • StacieJanuary 31, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      That doesn’t sound any fun either! Funny thing about me is that I was never prone to nausea – not even a touch of morning sickness while pregnant. So weird. I’m happy to be here, and I never complain about getting older!

  29. Dawn BeronillaJanuary 31, 2013 at 1:09 am #

    I love your courage. I love your writing. I love your honesty.
    And I love YOU!
    You are such a special person. I love how beautifully and honestly you share such an ugly experience with us.
    Wowzers, lady!

    • StacieJanuary 31, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

      What an amazing comment, thanks! You are making me blush 😉

  30. BridgetJanuary 31, 2013 at 1:33 am #

    Congratulations on 15 cancer free years! This is a great post. I learned from a friend who also had breast cancer that you have to advocate for yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you.

    • StacieJanuary 31, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

      Thanks so much Bridget! Unfortunately, often that’s true.

  31. The Dose of RealityJanuary 31, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    Oh, Stacie!
    I’m glad that they/you finally found a process that was tolerable (with the IV anti-emetic) but horrified that you had to convince them to do it properly. (and downright infuriated that you were first accused of being psychosomatic in your initial nausea.)

    So glad that you are a survivor, in every way! 🙂

    • StacieJanuary 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

      Thanks, me too!

  32. PeachJanuary 31, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    This world would not be the same without you, Stacie. I’m grateful for a doctor who listened, but most, I’m grateful to know you. Shaddap, I’m feeling sappy today. 😉 Hugs to you. xox

    • StacieJanuary 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

      Aw, I like you sappy. Thanks Peach!


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