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A Piece of My Mind
December 14, 2005

Fourth Floor

Author Affiliations

A Piece of My Mind Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2005;294(22):2821-2822. doi:10.1001/jama.294.22.2821

The fourth floor always smelled . . . like chemicals. It assaulted her the moment she stepped off the elevator onto the faded, hard linoleum. There it was: rank and caustic, overwhelming and pungent enough to make her nostrils burn. Her stomach lurched, took a tumble, remembering, recalling that . . . bitter stench. It was permanently inscribed, as Oscar Wilde would say, in the diary that she carried about with her.

Was it the chemotherapy that she smelled? It was a familiar, sinister odor that brought her back to her own oncologist's office five years before. There she was, the weary patient, sitting motionless and too terrified to move. She quickly turned away (Don't look!) as the nurse slowly punctured the bulging, bluish vein in her right hand with a needle. She had never seen a needle so large! It reminded her of the needles used to hook rugs! That determined nurse's eyes narrowed as she insistently pushed the needle further and further into her hand, until she swore it would come out the other side. Overhead, like a hawk scoping out its prey, loomed the chemo IV solution; the tonic promising to keep away the boogiemen. A mixed bag full of toxins to make her well: gleaming red like Hawaiian Punch, fierce in its hectic flush, slowly dripping into her body. She would never forget that smell. It was in her mouth, it bore its way deep into her pores, it snuck its way into her urine. It surrounded her like a noxious cloud, weighing her down like a lead blanket.

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