Close Encounters with Science: Picks
The Red Devil by Julie Achtermeier
The nurses bustle from patient to patient, plastic smiles plastered on their faces. The familiar chemical smell fills my nostrils and ignites a new fear; how much more can I take? A perky nurse leads me and my husband to an area with a big La-Z-Boy chair and tells me to get comfortable. Comfortable? Here? She tries to start an IV line but can’t find a vein.
“Your veins are hiding," she jokes.
“They’re smarter than I am,” I say, aware that my body is staging its own revolt. She smiles and wraps my arm in a warm blanket.
“We’ll try again in a few minutes.”
While we wait, I lean over to Richard and whisper, “Sweetie, you are never, ever to buy me a La-Z-boy recliner unless you’d like to be served with divorce papers.” He looks at me stunned then glances around the room and nods, a weak smile playing at the corners of his mouth. He knows I'm just trying to be brave. We both are.
The warm blankets eventually work, coaxing my timid veins to the surface and with the IV line in place, the nurse brings out my chemo cocktail on a tray. Three large vials; one with a clear liquid and two contain The Red Devil. She dresses in a special gown and snaps on a second pair of gloves to protect her from the toxic drugs; the same drugs that are about to invade my bloodstream yet again.
The first vial always goes in without a problem. But the Red Devil burns, lighting my veins on fire; living up to its well-deserved nickname. I watch as it swirls around in the IV line; taunting me. It’s the Red Devil that sears my bladder and turns the toilet water pink. It's the Red Devil that coats my pallet with the sharp taste of metal, then keeps me up for twelve hours, retching in the bathroom. They say it will save my life, but my spirit is snuffed out a little each time the poison runs through my body.
I reach for my new shirt, fingers tracing along the outline of my children's painted hand prints. I close my eyes and can see their faces; delicate features framed by strawberry blond hair. The image of their sparkling blue eyes, innocent and unaffected by the realities of my world, reminds me why I return to this place.
I look back at the red vial with renewed determination. Cancer will not win, and the Red Devil won’t break me. Not today.
Julie Achtermeier is from Newmarket, ON