MDX 1106: The First Transfusionby Chris Battle, survivor on March 4, 2011
Note: This article is cross posted from The Kidney Cancer Chronicles.
Monday’s transfusion went off without a hitch. My throat did not swell up with an allergic reaction. My eye did not turn red and bloody (which happened to somebody else). No rashes, vomiting or joint pain. My lungs did not freeze up. No hideous little aliens burst forth from my stomach, and there were no hallucinations involving spider monkeys and whipped cream. All of these were reactions for which the oncology team was on the watch. Well, most of them.
The liquid pumping into my veins may as well have been saline as MDX 1106. Nothing happened. When we were done, I hopped up and headed over to the food court for some pizza. A very different experience from the IL-2 infusions, which involved fainting, nausea, chills, pains, near organ failure and psychotic clowns with happyface stickers.
The cancer center (do we still use the term ward?) – with its various divisions for radiology and screening, phlebotomy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc. – is all conveniently located in one building at Johns Hopkins, as opposed to being spread out among different buildings as you’ll find at some other facilities.
There is a unit hidden away in the back for research programs, and this is where I go initially to meet with my oncology team. This, I discovered, is why I have my own phlebotomist – there is a separate phlebotomy lab for research patients. During one of the many blood draws I underwent – they removed 18 vials by the time the day was over – I went to the regular phlebotomy lab.
“We don’t usually come over here,” I was told, “but our chairs are full and they’ve got an opening so we’ll take it.”
I wanted to tell them that I didn’t mind getting my blood drawn with commoners. Sometimes I even eat with them.
When it was time for the infusion, we went up to the second floor, past radiology, to the chemotherapy area, which is a private set of several interlocking rooms. Each room is filled with pod-like centers. Big chairs with broad armrests so that you can prop up your forearm invitingly for the IV lines, next to machines that monitor your vitals (heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) In front of each chair sits a table with magazines and a small-screen TV with cable. Think of a first-class seat on an airline flight – except they don’t serve alcoholic drinks. (Don’t worry: I have written a strongly worded letter protesting this outrageous rule.) They even have a stewardess who comes around with the snack cart. Peanuts, pretzels, cookies, juice. There are a few pods built into the walls, where you can actually stretch out, with the TV on the wall at your feet. Think of a small sleeper cell in a train. I staked out one of these. Dena crawled in next to me and began reading on her iPad. The nurse asked if we wanted to close the drapes so we could have some privacy. I’m not sure what she was implying.
The infusion of the MDX 1106 itself took about an hour, but I was required to stay put in my pod for another hour for observation. They drew blood before the infusion. They drew blood after the infusion. They scheduled one four hours after the infusion and another one four hours after that. This on top of the ten vials of blood they had already drawn in the morning.
Our day had started at 4:30 in the morning so that we could arrive for the 7 a.m. blood draws, ECG, physical exam with the oncologist and then the infusion. It was 6:30 when we left the hospital and 8 p.m. when we arrived home. That’s a fifteen-and-a-half hour day. They’re going to get another strongly worded letter. What do they think we are – child laborers? If I want to put in hours like that I’ll go back to working on Capitol Hill or running drugs in Burma.
There have been some minor side effects since Monday, but I’ll save that for another post. All in all, though, I feel just fine. A little tired but otherwise in perfectly good shape.