Monday, September 20, 2010

951. 99.9%, part 1

I took these notes last Monday morning:

9/13, 10:30am

Sitting in the hospital's cancer treatment center waiting room waiting for the donor liaison, who will shepherd me through repeat blood tests. Other people here with colorful scarves on their heads, walking in and out wearing surgical masks and beautiful but obvious wigs, some smiling, sone stony-faced. And others, like me, whose reason for being present can't be guessed from appearance alone.

Then C. arrived, and I had stop writing. And it seemed there wouldn't be much of interest to say until the donation, because the tests were uneventful--5 more vials of blood (a breeze!--I think I'm finally cured of my fear of needles), another nurse poking the crooks of my arms to assess the state of my veins (could they have changed from a few months ago?), more of the same questions about travel, drug use, and sexual history (just as boring as back in May). "So this is really, finally going to happen?" I asked. "Yes," said C. "100% sure."

The blood bank head nurse also gave me a little tour of where I'd hang out all those hours, a subterranean but cheery room bustling with energy and purpose. She explained that a new blood bank was being built, but for now the only window was a painting donated by a former patient, a beach scene in tropical colors that would be visible from my bed, the one next to the big, noisy Frankensteinian filtering device. (Otherwise known as an apheresis machine, aka thing that performs miracles. I made a mental note to ask someone to explain, over the course of the 8 hours I'd be tethered, exactly how it knows which are the stem cells.) It was reassuring to see that exact spot, and be reminded that this event was routine for everyone except me. (In the next bed was a bored-looking teenager hooked up to an iPod and cell phone as well as a central line. The nurse explained that she was getting an infusion to treat a neurological disease. All in a day's work.)

The nurse also reminded me that I wouldn't be able to go to the bathroom for 4 hours, so not to drank any coffee beforehand. I think this aspect of the experience makes me more nervous than anything else. But I'll live.

By then the blood tests had been rushed through, and C. reviewed them: no change, all was normal. He also volunteered the weight of the recipient, more than mine, and explained that this meant a large number of stem cells were needed and so the donation might take the full two days--unless my blood decided to flow quickly. An anticoagulant would encourage the process. (I wonder if the rabbis ever devised a prayer for fast-flowing blood? Maybe one of those psalms that compare life to a swift stream would do the trick.)

(It's strange to know nothing more about a person than age, illness, and number of kilograms. When I told some friends, they got worried--she needs to lose weight! It can't be good for her health! Then we considered the possibility that she was taller than I was, as is the case with much of the world. And then we realized how ridiculous we sounded.)

I got back home and reviewed the facts; tests OK, person in charge said it would definitely happen. I had told some friends about the whole saga, but not everyone. This seemed a good time to share the news on Facebook.

I posted, and comments started coming in--yes, it's amazing.

And then the phone rang, a familiar area code. (Continued here.)

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