Before I started my chemotherapy treatment, I wondered how the treatment room would look like. Will there be beds? Does it look like an inpatient ward? How many nurses are there? What will the patients look like? What will the patients be doing to pass time? And many more questions.
Unfortunately, most online search returned US-based results so I didn’t have a clear picture. But at least it gave me a glimpse of what to expect. And now, let me tell you how the chemotherapy ward at University Malaya Specialist Center (UMSC) is like.
The chemo ward at UMSC is referred to as Daycare Ward. So far, all patients I’ve seen in here are chemotherapy patients but not limited to cancer patients only. The ward is not too big; it fits 10 comfort chairs slanted towards a TV, 2 washrooms and a consultation counter.
There’s no space for visitors because visitors are not allowed in the chemo ward. I wanted to recruit different friends to accompany me to my chemotherapy initially as an educational trip for them. But the plan had to be scrapped off the moment I saw the “no visitor” signage. Visitors can only drop by for a while, mostly to drop off food to patients, etc. The nurses would actually chase visitors away if visitors stay too long because visitors obstruct the space.
There are about 6 nurses at the chemotherapy ward each time I go. Same group of nurse who work on 8-hour shift Mon-Fri. The chemo ward operates from 7am to 6pm and closes on weekend. So if I need anything beyond the operating hour, I’d have to go to the inpatient ward located within the same building, to be attended by other nurses.
I thought patients would look extremely weak and would be vomiting during treatment but nope. The first patient that I saw when I went for my first blood test looked energetic and was sweaty from her jog around the UMSC compound. If not for the scarf to cover her bald head, I wouldn’t guess she’s sick.
In fact, many patients here don’t look sick, especially those with hair. Sidetrack a little. Not all cancer chemotherapy patients lose hair. Taking me as an example, I experience hair fall but not total hair loss because my chemotherapy drug is not as aggressive as breast cancer chemotherapy drug, for example. And yes, different cancer gets different drugs. Remember, cancer is not 1 disease but many many different diseases, depending on where the cancer happens.
From the blogs I read, patients in US work on their hobbies to pass time — knitting, colouring, sudoku, puzzle, reading, etc. But over here in UMSC, the sight of me writing on a book caught the attention of the nurses. Most patients just chill, sleep, snore, eat, watch TV, watch people, attach to the phone (me) and at most, read a book.
In terms of the vibes, it’s a mix, depending on the patients. Some patients are sad and sobbing silently from time to time. Most patients are expressionless. Some patients are bubbly and look confident. The nurses always seem friendly so that’s great. Caregivers who sit outside the ward seem to make more friends than patients who sit inside though. Hmm.
Today, I witnessed an emergency situation in the chemo ward for the first time. I’ve spent a full day here for the 5th time now and only today a patient vomited during chemo. Yes, it’s been peace all along; a pleasant surprise for me for sure.
The patient gave out a hard cough while the nurses were busy attention to things as usual. The nearest nurse caught it and asked her if she’s ok. The minute the patient said she felt a little hard to breathe, the nurse immediately raised her chair, asked her to drink water and get her vitals. The patient started sobbing silently. At this point, all nurses were on their feet already. They washed her face. They fanned her. They asked her not to fall asleep. They kept tapping on her. They put her on oxygen mask. They alerted senior nurses from inpatient ward but her oncologist (my doctor too) turned up instead. They pushed in a monitor to further check on her. Consultation went on and they stopped the drug that was suspected to cause her allergic reaction. And all this happened and concluded within 15 minutes. Half an hour later, radiologist came to do ultrasound scan. Later in the evening, a cardiologist came to check on her heart.
I was surprised by the situation but pleased at the alertness of the nurses here. Thankfully, the patient is fine. I think everyone at the ward was very concerned and prayed for the patient silently though most of us preferred to appear indifferent. I tried not to be alarmed by the situation too because I need to keep my vitals in check. I was in the midst of chemotherapy myself!
So there you go. This is my experience at the doing chemotherapy at UMSC. I’m sure it’s gonna be pretty much the same for my remaining 6 cycles.