Most psychology students or graduates (like myself) know the stories and experiments of Ivan Pavlov.

By: Robin Harry

Most psychology students or graduates (like myself) know the stories and experiments of Ivan Pavlov. In what is probably his most famous experiment, Pavlov would ring a bell every time he was about to feed a dog. The poor dog subconsciously associated the arrival of food with a ringing bell, and eventually would salivate on reflex whenever the bell was rung – food or no food. That experiment was one of the first (if I recall correctly) to show classical conditioning. An otherwise harmless or neutral sensory stimulus becomes associated with something either really good or really bad, and the neutral thing ends up causing the same response as the good or bad stimulus. A conditioned reflex. Yes, I’m a nerd but I promise I’m going somewhere with this…

Today I was at work at the hospital. I work in an outpatient unit, but there’s an inpatient ward just down the hall, and sometimes the patients get bored and take a walk down our hallway. This morning, a patient was walking around with an IV infusion pump which kept making that “beep-boop…beep-boop” sound. It’s a sound I’ve become very, very familiar with during chemotherapy; the IV pump makes that sound whenever the infusion stops – either the drug is done being pumped into the veins, or the tube is bent somewhere so the drug isn’t flowing through the IV. So today, each time I heard the sound I would just think to myself, “Uh-oh, someone’s IV needs checking..” and get back to whatever it is I was working on.

Now, a few times during the morning, I felt a little bit sick, kinda nauseated. It never lasted very long, but I wasn’t sure why I felt sick in the first place. I’m well between chemo sessions, no new medications, I wasn’t hot flashing, I hadn’t eaten anything weird, I was well hydrated. So I wasn’t sure what was going on. And then around noon, when I was having another flash of nausea, I think someone in our office mentioned the noise outside. And that’s when I realized what was going on! The stupid “beep-boop” infusion pump sound is so married to my sicky chemotherapy sessions, just the sound on its own is enough to make me feel sick! FASCINATING!

After I realized that was what was happening, it was pretty unmistakeable. Every time I heard the sound in the hall after that, the wave of nausea was right behind it. And even when I was telling a colleague about it and imagining the sound in my head, it made me feel sick. It’s one thing to study conditioning in school, it’s quite another to see how clearly I had been conditioned. And to think, behaviour modification was one of my worst classes in my psych degree. Poor Pavlov’s dog…

Other Side Effects:


Chemo Brain

Stomach issues

Hot Flashes and Neuropathy

Muscle Soreness

Hair Loss

Taste Distortion


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