Tuesday, February 2, 2016

#SOL16: Lucid Dreaming, Dilaudid, and Cancer

And Full of Sleep (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

"...Into the bowl in which their wine was mixed, she slipped a drug that had the power of robbing grief and anger of their sting and banishing all painful memories. No one who swallowed this dissolved in their wine could shed a single tear that day, even for the death of his mother or father, or if they put his brother or his own son to the sword and he were there to see it done..." Homer, Odyssey


It's about 5:45 AM when my cell phone rings--the phone I keep bedside since Rob was first diagnosed with lung cancer back in August. 

It's Rob. 

He's calling to alert me that he's okay, but he has been in a train wreck. 

                                                                  Or maybe it was a multiple car crash out on the highway.  

Whichever it is he tells me it is all over the Internet and he says this while trying to open his laptop. He's worried because I'll see it and think he was badly hurt. He assures me he wasn't. When I explain to him that he has not been in any kind of crash and was moved more than a week ago from the physical rehab to the hospital because of a staph infection, he plows on unconvinced and reaffirms that he was in some type of massive accident.

"It was when they were moving me. I'll show you. I can't get my computer to work. I didn't want you to see it and worry."

I tell him where he is again and why and what happened yesterday and he starts to calm down. A profound sadness edges his words filling in the spaces this confusion causes and he begins to realize that what I am telling him feels truthful. He begins sifting and remembers bits of yesterday and for now knows me to be the one to tell him what's real.

"I must have been dreaming. It feels so real."


Rob has been taking Dilaudid for breakthrough pain and with the new spots of cancer being found in his body this week, it is not surprising that the pain has increased. Breakthrough pain is pain that he experiences even though he is wearing several fentanyl transdermal patches on his arm. That's how painful lung cancer is when metastases are present.  Someone once described the pain from spinal metastases as icepicks being driven into his spine. Over and over.

Dilaudid is an effective pain medicine. At midweek, Rob was writhing in pain and the use of the drug ended that misery.  Watching him be in pain guts me. Any touch causes him more pain. It takes all of his energy to simply be.

Unfortunately, dilaudid overuse causes a set of serious problems. When Rob takes Dilaudid regularly, the person I know disappears. He becomes confused, paranoid and vehemently denies the dilaudid is an issue. He sleeps a lot, shakes, and his breathing becomes labored; his oxygen levels fall. I write about this as so often when we talk about cancer we don't necessarily talk about the stuff that rests below the common rhetoric of chemo, hair loss and nausea.  

Rob is off Dilaudid.  He and his doctor discussed it and a different drug will be used when the pain becomes unmanageable.  What's most significant though is the Rob recognized in a moment of clarity his loss of self. 


  1. Oh Mary Anne. How I, well no, despite knowing pain and knowing dilaudid too well, I can't know, though you have again created a window that allows us to share just a bit. And share we will in hopes that empathy helps. Grace.

    1. What I am most learning is the inability to know another's pain and our capacity to feel nonetheless.