now been three weeks of IMRT—that’s fifteen radiation treatments. The procedure
is simple enough, which is somehow reassuring. I arrive Monday through Friday
afternoon at the Arizona Avenue Emergency Entrance of St. John’s Health Care
Center. If possible, I find a parking place on the street. Otherwise, it’s
Valet Parking, with Fernando smiling broadly, “Don Rafael!” and a five-dollar
deduction if I have my parking ticket stamped in the treatment center.
Making my way to the radiation unit was a
challenge. On my first visits, I used my cane to hobble down a corridor lined
with photographs of previous Directors of St. John’s, and stretching most of
the way from Arizona to Santa Monica. Then I took an elevator down to the
Garden Floor (No “Basements” here). Then another long trek, passing beneath a
Commemorative Tablet honoring Vasek Polak, the prostate cancer patron (his
money built the IMRT unit). Finally I arrived at the “PRESS HERE” electronic
door into the Radiation wing.
my bad knees, even using a cane, it was a long haul. And since I’ll be making
it for 44 days in all, I reckoned it was time for a change. I remembered seeing
a clutch of black canvas-backed, metal-framed wheelchairs just inside the door
from Valet Parking. So I appealed to “Transportation.” After only a few
minutes, a blue-smocked, gray haired lady volunteer arrived, settled me into a
wheel chair, and wheeled me down to Radiation. And so it would continue—someone
to wheel me down, someone to wheel me back, for the remaining treatments.
an improvement! I never thought about wheelchairs before—I was never wheelchair
“bound” before IMRT. I learned that the first known “dedicated” wheelchair
(called an “invalid’s chair”) was made in 1595 for Phillip II of Spain by an
unknown inventor. I bless his unknown memory as the wheels turn and I ride at
aide parks me just inside the door of the bright comfortable waiting room.
There are usually several people sitting in the lounge chairs, reading out of
date magazines, waiting for a friend or family member to return from treatment.
Or waiting to stretch out and fit into their own treatment mold.
routine is the same every day. I sit in the waiting room until collected by
James or another radiation tech or nurse, who takes me into the changing area
and hands me a blue, open–in-the-rear, cotton garment to change into. Then I am
escorted through the Ops area (Computer screens frozen on the vast Ion Chamber,
charts and graphs, the empty, waiting slide) and into the treatment room with
its futuristic cyclorama unit where I am settled into my custom-fitted lower
body mold. My three tattoos are aligned with the brilliant green, needle-thin
laser beam, followed by my daily MRI. And when all is aligned, the canned Tchaikovsky starts up, and the
whirring of gears announces that the flow of electrons has begun. The zapping
itself is surprisingly brief: my prostate is receiving radiation for barely two
a week, Dr. Chaiken and one of the nurses interviewed me: Any pain? Blood in
urine? Rectal discomfort? Urinary problems? They each repeat the same questions.
Covering the bases twice, just to make sure. I had no unwelcome side-effects. More important, I now
believe, I never felt anxious. Never
felt a sliver of doubt. I knew that all would be well.
twenty-nine or thirty treatments to go.