April 29, 2009
I went into my last Remicade infusion at St. Vincent Cancer Center–last Monday–with too much hubris. They hooked me up, the IV went well (save for a bit of “digging” for a wayward vein), and the goop went into my body in record speed. Start to finish in 2.5 hours.
I ate an unwise quantity of Doritos on Friday night at a friend’s house. When I came home and readied for sleep I got weirdly nauseous but I thought it was just an overindulgence of chipness. Within an hour or two it was the full-on shaking, shivers, cramps and sweating of what seemed like a bout of food poisoning, that kind of sick that you can’t ignore and can’t sleep through. I was up all night and it was only my very last dose of emergency anti-nausea drugs that saved my life.
For the next few days I felt weird: no appetite, low-grade fever, shaking, weakness, general malaise. I finally saw my doctor yesterday because I was starting to miss work (my litmus test for the doctor these days). After poking at me for a while and making the comment that my situation seemed “very real,” he announced the culprit: “serum sickness” from the mouse proteins in the Remicade.
Really?, I thought. What is this, a Jules Verne novel? Is this my secret super power? What’s the antidote?
Back when vaccines were formulated with pieces of horses, serum sickness was not uncommon. Nowadays there aren’t a lot of folks getting smallpox vaccines on rural farms or whatever so it’s a fairly rare thing. It’s a double-barreled allergic reaction, an antibody defense gone whack-afoul. Fevers and glands and enlarged spleens and general ugh-ness.
Turns out there is no cure. You just wait for it to go away. Like an ebbing tide of mild flu it is leaving my shores, though not without a layer of trash and rotting fish in its wake. I’m starting to feel hungry again, but everything seems attenuated and bright. They took so many blood samples yesterday I’m surprised I could walk. Tests so odd the phlebotomists shook their heads: anti double-stranded DNA, anti-chimeric antibodies, a half dozen other peculiarities scrawled onto an order sheet by my doctor.
Also: the infusion nurses at St. Vincent are in TROU-BLE (sing song voice). Remicade is never supposed to take less than three hours to infuse–it took less than two hours last time. The increased speed of shoving that crap into my system could have been part of what made me susceptible to this weird mutation or syndrome or god I would prefer this didn’t happen again side effect thing. There are some prophylactic things I can ingest on the day of my next infusion: steroids, strong anti-histamines, a grip of acetominiphen. That might prevent–or at least lessen–the super duper experience that is serum sickness.
Also, I am tiny. But that warrants a separate post, another time.