HELL ON A TABLE.
Whole body hyperthermia.
By Chris Thibault
In a nutshell…this was no fun. Maybe it’s because it just happened and it’s in the forefront of my brain space, but I can’t recall a worse experience I’ve had. Ever. It was that bad. Why? Well it was so, so long. It never seemed to end. Let me start from the beginning. If you’re eating, you might want to come back to this later.
First of all, as it was explained it to me, the whole body hyperthermia procedure is used to potentially disrupt cancer cells and also create a “fire alarm” in your body, awakening your immune system in a way that can’t be done otherwise. Your immune system has no choice but to scramble and try to figure out what the hell is happening. And when your immune system is on red-alert, maybe it will try and eat some of these cancer cells in the process.
Stock image. Not me. I was in something similar but I wasn’t allowed to film it.
So I wake up early on the day of. I’m hungry but I can’t eat because in the instructions for the procedure it clearly states to not consume any food for 6 hours prior. The procedure is in 3 hours. Will they know if I sneak a granola bar or something? Yes. How will they know? Because I might have an accident on the table when they insert, or pull out the butt thermometer if I am not running on an empty tank. And nobody wants that. Yes, a rectal thermometer will be used on me during the treatment.
This has been on my brain since before I got to Canada. It’s the little things, you know? But it’s not just the rectal thermometer on my brain this morning, it’s is the fact that I have to self administer an enema. They didn’t tell me about this until yesterday! I have to mentally prepare for this kind of thing! So wait, let’s get this straight, what you’re saying is that I have to lay on the bathroom floor with my legs in a semi-fetal position while I insert this thing in me and then proceed to squirt this questionable liquid in a place that doesn’t normally accept questionable liquids?! You’re really trying to break me universe aren’t you? I opted for the “Left-side position”, obviously.
After bitching about it to Missy for longer than she liked to hear about it, I ended up getting my shit together (pun intended) and got the enema thing going. Did I belt out an aggravating scream while it was happening? Maybe. I thought I’ve seen some sad sights in my life but looking at myself in the mirror after getting up off that cold bathroom floor takes the cake. Turns out, enemas are not really my thing. Morning is off to a great start!
Today is Whole Body Hyperthermia Day (insert monster truck promo voice) and this machine is located downstairs in a small room, tucked away from everything else. Fitting. I do like the doctor that is administering this though. Pleasant guy. Also a medical doctor, which is good for this particular treatment I think. But the first thing he asks me when I get there is “Do you have your jammies?”
Like, pajama-jammies? I thought to myself. It flowed so natural off his tongue like he used the word “jammies” everyday. But no, I actually didn’t bring my jammies, didn’t get that memo. As a matter of fact, come to think of it, I don’t have jammies anymore. Because I’m 36. Haven’t had them for roughly 30 years! So I had to use their jammies. It’s a fun word to say, go ahead try it. Jammies! But what he meant was long, comfortable pants and a long sleeve shirt. The reason you need that is because your skin needs to be fully covered throughout the process and not exposed to the intense infrared lights. If skin is left exposed, you would end up with severe burns very quickly. So he gives me some and tells me to head to the bathroom. But he stops me just as I start to go and gives me one last thing. A condom catheter.
Again, last minute curveball here. Why not have a little contraption in the front while the rectal thermometer is in the back. Not exactly my idea of a good time but hey, I’m down for new experiences right?
So I get everything on (took a while) and walk back to the room. He lays me down on a table that is boxed in with a reflective “tent” that houses the infrared lights above. My body from the neck down is enclosed in a separate compartment than my head. He places a monitor on my toe and then puts thick socks over it. He also puts socks over my hands. He hooks up a bunch of wires on my chest for the EKG and then puts an IV in my arm. And he saves the best for last, the rectal thermometer. He advises Missy that this may be awkward if she stays, I agree. She leaves and he proceeds to ratchet wrench this thing in me. At least that’s how it felt, like he was screwing in a little slippery light bulb. But hey, I’m a newbie. He then hooks up the catheter connection and nonchalantly tells me one last thing. “The rubber on the condom will heat up first, so let me know when it gets too hot.” This keeps getting better doesn’t it! So the first thing to feel some pain from the heat is my penis?! Awesome. I’m in a bad dream right? Ok, moving right along.
Hot dog anyone?
So now that I’m fully stuck, plugged and pricked, he proceeds to zip up the “tent” that is housing my body. There is a sign right above my head that reads “Do not touch the reflectors as they get hot”. I keep my hands stiffly by my side. He also encloses the portion with my head in it. This area does not have any direct light, but still gets very hot. He proceeds to turn the lights on and we are off to the races. It immediately gets very hot, like you were laying on a beach wearing a black jumpsuit and wool blanket. My hands immediately felt sweaty under the socks. Hot, but not terrible. I can do this. At this point, I’m in good spirits. 5-10 minutes in I’m cracking jokes with Missy, having a good old laugh with the doc. No big deal.
15 minutes goes by and, ok, it’s starting to very hot and annoying. Body temperature is 99.5°. Hanging in there. The main issue at this point is that I keep getting this intense itch on the same part of my head. It feels like a spider is crawling in the same spot. On the right side of the top of my head. And my arms can’t move so I have to ask the doctor to wipe my head and itch it. Which is weird. He ended up letting Missy do that for me later. The whole thing is annoying at this point. Isn’t the right side of your brain the creative side? Maybe the heat was making my brain itchy. More than likely it’s probably just a bead of sweat dripping down in the same spot.
Oh, and remember the rubber condom getting hot? Yeah, it got hot alright. Doc proceeded to put a towel over that area so it didn’t overcook the frank and beans.
30 minutes in my body temp is 102° I am starting to get a nauseous sensation and a little bit of a headache. No more cracking jokes, I need to concentrate. I’m breathing a bit heavier as well. Very uncomfortable.
At 60 minutes I’m now at a 103° temp. I am trying to breathe in and out in a controlled manner and concentrate on finishing this thing. I don’t feel like I am going to puke but I feel it is right around the corner if I don’t concentrate. I mentally try to avoid full blown nausea because getting sick on this table, in this position would be disastrous.
70 minutes in I hit a 104° temp. That’s the magic number. Hyperthermic. I hate life at this point. My clothes are drenched with sweat. My head is so hot. I feel very uneasy. This has to end soon.
Missy asks how I am doing. I don’t answer her. Why? Because I am having a full blown conversation in my head. I’m desperately trying not to throw in the towel.
“Just quit now, they already got your temp up, it’s fine.”
“Imagine that, I come all the way out here to quit before its done.”
“Dude, they are taking advantage of you. The thermometer in your ass, the awkward condom catheter, the jammies. It’s all bullshit.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Just call it. Better yet, to make a statement, violently kick through this tent! Show them who’s boss!”
“All I need is them to shut off the lights for 2 minutes and I’ll be good.”
“Quit. Trust me, just quit.”
“What would Brandon do in this situation?”
All of a sudden, the doctor shuts the heat lamps off. It’s all done?! I still feel like total shit but a sense of relief comes over me. He tells me the “heating up” process is all done. Now all we have to do is wait until my body gets back to normal temperature. I was very happy at the moment but wasn’t aware that the process would take another 2 hours from that point. Additionally, even though the heat lamps were off, my body temperature was still expected to rise a little bit during this time. It wasn’t over my friends, it has just begun!
The next 2 hours felt like 12. I felt sick and hot and constantly was dealing with thoughts of quitting. I never vocalized that out loud, and Missy was surprised to hear that, but the thoughts were present. Missy brought up the act of child birth. A lot of people do it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t painfully hard! I kept on going back to what I teach my step-son Brayden. With anything new and hard to do, you’re supposed to be nervous and afraid and want to quit. That’s part of it. Being fearless is not the objective, it’s knowing you may have fear and moving forward anyway.
With saying that, hyperthermia is not something I ever want to do again. But, at least for this trip, I have to. I elected to do it one more time before I leave here in an attempt to get this healing on the fast track.
I do feel better than I did when I got here. I think something may be having an effect on me. So that’s good. But I can’t wait to get back home at this point.
The Thibault family has set up a way to donate to their ongoing fight with cancer. Your contributions will help tremendously and we truly appreciate your support.
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