August 2009. After radiation, Temador, and Avastin all failed to stop the tumor, and the surgeon had reduced the mass in Laura’s head, the surgeon and the same radiation oncologist who never showed up for the first “team” meeting announced that they were going to use stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) to attack the pieces of tumor remaining along the edges of where the surgeon cut. To map out these sites, they needed more CT scans with contrast. Laura weighed less than a hundred pounds by this time. All her blood vessels had shrunk, along with the rest of her wasted body. It had been hard enough last August to find one of her small veins and get a needle into it.
Laura gasped in pain on the first unsuccessful stick. She writhed and grimaced during the second try. She had had many sticks during the last year. Some more painful than others. Some of the Avastin infusions had required more than one stick before they found the vein. Those hurt, but not like today.
The year before I had been sitting in a chair next to Laura’s bed while the nurses struggled to get the needle into her arm. This time she was sitting on an examining chair, somewhat raised, with me in a chair about two feet behind the nurse. I was facing Laura. I had never seen someone being tortured before. In real life. Even with a movie as disturbing as Closet Land, I could always tell myself it was only a movie. Not this.
When the second nurse struggled on the third try to get the needle in, Laura started to cry. All year she had never cried over physical pain. Not even the gastrointestinal turmoil. Aphasia. Yes. The prospect of death. Yes. But not acute bodily pain. The nurses were full of apologies after they finally got the port in on the fourth try. My blood pressure went down. Laura relaxed a little, but was still weepy.
The black and blue mark from those sticks faded over time, but it was still on Laura’s arm when she died six months later. The physical confirmation of bodily harm that can help make the pain of one person real to another. Scarry (56)