a person reaching toward a group of circles representing dopamine while being blocked by four bottles of medication NB

Bladder Cancer and Drugs

Up until my bladder cancer, I rarely used drugs. I rarely even took aspirin, let alone morphine. But cancer will change many things in our life. In my case, it was the use of pharmaceuticals.

The pre-op

The first introduction came when I met the anesthetists.

Before surgery, Dr. Henderson arrived accompanied by a bodyguard; this guy was massive and ripped. I mean, he could have been the Incredible Hulk if he was just green and maybe a bit smaller. He was wearing scrubs and began to ask me questions about allergies to medication. I finally realized that this wasn't a bodyguard. After all, he was the anesthetist.

A short time later, a couple of people wheeled me to the operating room and helped me onto the operating table. My memory starts getting fuzzy here. I know I was awake when the Hulk came in to put me to sleep, but I don't really remember it.

The post-op itch

Then at some point, I was in a different room. It was small and only held my bed. I soon came to understand it was still a recovery room, not the hospital room I would eventually be assigned. I wasn't in pain, but I itched to high heaven. I had compression cuffs on my legs, and I could not get my legs to scratch. I started looking around the room for something I could use to stick in the cuffs to relieve the itch. My daughter volunteered to check the gift shop to see if they had something I could use. The only thing she found was a bright pink ruler.

Dr. Henderson stopped by just as my daughter arrived back in my room with the ruler. He got a funny look on his face when she handed it to me and said, "Dad, I got you this at the gift shop." He was probably even more confused by my obvious glee at the gift. Then he laughed harder than I had ever heard him laugh before when I shoved it down the leg cuffs and began to vigorously relieve the itching.


I've heard people sing morphine's high praises after surgery. It didn't work out that way for me. Before I was taken to my regular room, the Hulk came in and explained the box on the pole. A box containing morphine was fixed to a pole and attached to me. It delivered a small dose at a steady rate, but if I were in pain, I could press a button and get a larger dose. There was a limit to how much of the happy juice I could get the box to dispense, but it was supposed to be a high enough dose to help with the pain.

The itch culprit: identified

The only real problem was that I wasn't in pain. What's more, I soon came to find out that the incessant itching I was experiencing was likely due to the morphine. Nurses would come in, check the box and see that I hadn't pressed the magic button. They would assume I was unaware of it and explain its function. Of course, they would want to demonstrate by pressing it. Fortunately, I had a nifty pink ruler to help dissuade such demonstrations.

Word soon got around the ward that if you didn't want your knuckles rapped, to keep your fingers off of that darn button.

The Hulk returns

The Incredible Hulk came by the next day to check on me. I learned that in addition to administering the anesthesia, he was in charge of my pain management. He noticed that I hadn't been using the magic button and, like everybody else, assumed that I was unaware of it. The ruler stayed at my side as that massive hand reached toward it to demonstrate its use. They removed my bladder, not my brain.

I did manage to stop him from pressing it with a heartfelt plea. I explained that I simply wasn't in pain and that the itching the drug was likely causing was far more uncomfortable than any post-surgical discomfort it was supposed to relieve. He looked at me as though I had been speaking another language.

Eventually, his mind was able to translate the sounds I was making into the communication that I did not want the drug. I think he was a bit insulted. "Well, if you're not going to use it, we might we might as well unhook it," he said with a tinge of attitude.

Hindsight is 20/20

In the following decade, at my doctor's instruction, I would wind up on blood thinners, blood pressure medicine, and taking over-the-counter anti-acids and decongestants. I even take a couple of acetaminophen tablets (Tylenol) to help with arthritis.

I suppose it is possible that the growing pile of pills I take would have happened without the bladder cancer, simply due to age. But I can't shake the feeling that cancer was the event that sent me spiraling down the path. I will always wonder how different my life would have been without the appearance of cancer. How has bladder cancer changed your life?

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