April 2, 2008

When I was writing the description to one of the new photos I posted on Flickr last night, I mentioned that my food is pureed because regular food can be abrasive to the sore-riddled tissue in my mouth. As I was typing that, I idly wondered just how sensitive my mouth actually is.

Last night I found out.

(Warning: The rest of this message is not for the squeamish.)

Before I go to bed every night, I clean the inside of my mouth as best as I can. For a while I brushed my teeth and gums anywhere that it didn't hurt to do so, but eventually rinsing out the baking soda toothpaste I use became too painful. A few days back Elly, a nursing student here, gave me a rinse that's made up of hydrogen peroxide buffered with glycerin and some other stuff—it cleans and only burns a little. So part of my new oral hygiene routine involves using an oral swab (it looks like a big spongy Q-Tip) to wipe the inside of my cheek and my gums using the rinse.

Normally this procedure is a little messy, because it also picks up the gunk from the thrush that developed in there. There's some whitish-orange stuff on the swab, I go "Ew," then I throw it away and do a rinse and spit. But last night was different: I took the swab out, and it was covered in goo, blood, and pieces of flesh that had just come off.

I was just shocked enough that it took me a second to throw away the swab and run the water in the sink. When I spat out what I thought would just be collected saliva and bits of blood, I was even more shocked to see a few more pieces of flesh.

Then came the blood. my platelet count is a little low (I've been hovering near the point where I'll need a transfusion), so cuts of any kind bleed more profusely. The first time was the worst: a thick, red mix of blood and saliva that spattered the sink with a fine pink spray. (I hadn't noticed it yet, but some of the larger pieces of flesh I had spit out were blocking some of the drain, so it was getting kind of icky in there.) The clinical part of my brain sprang into action: I was going to have to rinse my mouth out, but would the peroxide mix make things better or worse? Was there something in particular I should use or do? I reached behind me and pressed the nurse call button. Just as I spat out the second mouthful of goo, the speaker came on: "Can I help you?"

Gah. "I need to see my nurse, Stephanie, please." Spit.

Another nurse shows up, which is what happens if your nurse is otherwise occupied. He gets there just in time to see me spitting more gunk—more saliva than blood now—into the sink, and the first thing he asks is if I'm nauseous. I briefly think to myself, I suppose I should be, with all this vile stuff happening right now. It takes me a while to explain everything, and he says rinsing with a mild saline is the best way. When he came back a few moments later, my spitup was mostly saliva. I did a swirl and spit with a small amount of the saline (hoping that, even at .9%, the salt wouldn't burn the open cuts), and the whole thing was finally over. I washed my face, finished the rest of my evening routine, turned out the light and fell into the bed behind me, utterly exhausted.

The last thing I thought as I pulled the covers over myself was, "New rule: no more swabbing."


posted by Emru Townsend at


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