Kage Baker was seldom in hospital, until the last year or so of her life. She rapidly formed a low opinion of the amenities available to the medical frequent flyer. The food, the gowns, the furniture – all completely devoid of style or comfort. She was therefore pleasantly surprised by the luxury of infusion clinics.
It’s not something most people ever think about. You don’t find out about them unless you find yourself with lots of invasive scans to accomplish. Or dialysis. Or chemotherapy.
But someone somewhere decided that a patient who had to sit still while dangerous (and usually chilled) substances were run into their veins with a needle, might just deserve a little comfort. In all the infusion clinics Kage visited, that was scrupulously observed. There were deeply padded leather recliners; tons of pillows; soft, warmed blankets. Visual delights like windows with real views were common; live plants abounded, and of course aquaria. Fish tanks show up everywhere very sick people go to and fro …
Anyway Kage liked her infusion clinic, even when she had to go in and out in a wheel chair. It was so very comfortable! She could doze while I knitted; then wake up and dictate to me in the privacy of our little room. She said it was like being a nun, safe in a cozy cell. With Coca Cola to hand.
Today I had one of my own turns in the infusion clinic – I was having some contrast scans, which require radio-opaque dye injected into one’s veins. Also oral contrast media poorly disguised as a smoothie, to illuminate one’s digestive tract. The oral contrast comes in 4 so-called flavours: apple, mocha, berries and banana. It looks like white show polish, has the texture of mucilage, and its designers have managed an amazing thing – they’ve succeeded in making something that actually tastes worse with every mouthful. I picked the berry. It was … horrible. Pro tip, Dear Readers: Never pick the banana.
The clinic all around me was gorgeous. The infusion clinic’s main room is two stories high; clerestory windows let in the light and keep out the glare. In the middle of the room is a glass column, which houses the required aquarium, stocked with big fat gleaming carp. Flanking the aquarium are living gingko trees that reach almost to the ceiling. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were an artificial thunderstorm and rain show, with singing tikis descending from the roof … the recliners were delightful, the pillows were soft, and I almost fell back asleep while a nice little phlebotomist with a charming London accent installed a temporary port in my arm. I expected the port to be presented on a silver salver. And I could have stayed there all day, perfectly happy.
But eventually someone came to take me off to the CT room, where there another very nice aquarium (of course). This one was stocked with fish in all the colours of moonlight; pearly whites, soft greys, silvers and pewters. There were, alas, no recliners. They’ve just got an ordinary waiting room, maybe to make you feel humble until you are ushered into the silent sanctum of the CT machine.
Kage hated CT scans. She said it was like being shoved into a cigar tube. I don’t mind them, because they don’t hurt. All I really objected to was suddenly being ordered to top up on the damned oral contrast smoothie, which meant glugging a sudden extra cup of the nasty stuff. Nor was I given the luxury of a choice. It was the dreaded banana, and it was vile beyond belief or description.
Artificial banana flavour doesn’t actually improve anything under the sun – I’ve no idea why people make popsickles, Now ‘N Laters, ice cream, and other staples of life flavoured with it. It tastes like death, with saccharin. It’s just plain gaggy. But I think I know why they slip it into that last-minute top off drink. It’s because no one in their right mind ever asks for it in the infusion clinic, and they need to get it off their shelves before it escapes and breeds …
While I was laying there and gagging, the tech threw a sheet over me and told me “Okay, unfasten your pants and slide them down to your knees.” I beg your pardon? While laying on my back on a narrow gurney, wound up in a sheet? Hey, I’m 60 now! I haven’t done this kind of thing for 30 years! Luckily, it turns out that shinnying out of your pants is like riding a bicycle: apparently, you never forget how.
But there is a weird, Tantric subtext to a CT scan. Posture is very important, and breathing properly … I had to keep one arm behind my head on the pillow, and the other – with the port – straight up in the air. While being slid in and out of the CT machine over and over, holding my breath or breathing at command. To make sure you get that right, there are little illuminated cartoon faces – one holding its breath, one gasping through a gaping mouth – on the white wall of the scanner, so you don’t forget. And every few seconds, there’s a pulse of radioactive dye squirting into your arm, which brings on a few instants of feeling incredibly hot and enormously heavy – you feel like a lump of neutronium, about to burn right through the gurney and all the floors beneath you.
But it ends. Then you get to do the reverse wriggle back into your pants (I could still do that, too, thank God) and then they are done with you. Kimberly got me out of the building without mishap – I was lost, as usual – and home before the heat of the day quite peaked. It’ll be days before I know what they saw. I am resolved not to fret over it. I actually liked the infusion clinic, so I’ll surely never have to go back.
And in the meanwhile, I am safely home with real berries, and iced coffee, and ice cream, too. As Kage used to say, Good stuff, Maynard.