Saturday, July 20, 2013

Drill, Baby, Drill!

Three times a week since I’ve been cut loose from the VA Hospital, my blood counts and chemistry have been monitored very closely. I’m now intimately familiar with WBC, RBC, HGB, HCT, PLT, ANC, and some other fun medical terms and drugs that I wish I didn’t know anything about. Since I have a central catheter (PICC) installed, getting a blood draw or an infusion of chemo, blood, or platelets are essentially painless procedures. They’re just time consuming. That became more of an issue as the weather got warmer and I became restless with being confined to the hospital. I got more of a case of cabin fever than anything else!

With a 28-day chemo cycle, my body's response was pretty predictable. That was the drill.

And then the call from Seattle came telling me that a bone marrow donor had been found and the routine changed. To be prepared for this new chapter, a bone marrow biopsy was required to ensure that I’m still in remission. I’ve had a lot of procedures, tests, pokes, and prods since this all began and honestly it hasn’t been bad.  More often than not, it’s a series of inconvenient truths that landed me in a hospital room and only when it became a cumulative thing did it really become what I would call bad. I would get something that, on a scale of 1 to 10, was a nominal 1 or 2, but when added to other 1s or 2s, it got worse and at some point, the group of small things overflowed and I would have my own personal meltdown.  A blood draw is not fun, but it’s barely a 1.  A headache is a 1.  Getting a PICC line installed is a solid 3, but those are really minor in the grand scheme of things because they pass rather quickly.  And let’s face it, a headache passes within 20 or 30 minutes after taking a pain reliever, so you can see that it hasn’t been too terribly onerous.

But there is one procedure I’ve had to undergo that has actually been pretty durned painful – the bone marrow biopsy.  There’s no getting around it – it hurts like a bear and makes you want to cuss like a sailor, but there’s no other way to test the marrow for cancer, so it’s a necessary thing.  Let me tell you how that works. The only way to get to the marrow is to get through the bone, of course. The site of choice is the pelvis and it’s closest to the skin in the small of the back.  If you reach behind you just above the waist line of your pants about 3” to either side of your spine, you’ll feel that special place where all the magic happens.

The nurse with that great combination of a smile and sympathetic look will introduce herself and bring in a cart full of goodies that would make Santa jealous. Then comes the doctor, replete with euphemisms and a packet covered in sterile white plastic with implements of torture that would make Torquemada jealous.  Remember, no one plans for the Spanish Inquisition, but they do schedule you for biopsies! This was my fourth…I know the drill, pun intended. The smiling doctor and the sympathetic smiling nurse then explain the procedure in a way that would sound no more unpleasant than a telemarketer calling during dinner (aka ‘pain in the ass’). Oh, the lies…they’re good at it with all the practice…and they smile all the while! I remember seeing a guy across the hall getting the briefing about a biopsy and I wanted to shout out to him, “It’s gonna hurt, get the drugs!” But the nurse closed the door. I never saw him again (insert frowny face here). Sure, it was because his procedure was done before mine and I was given some oral drugs for my chemo in my spinal cord, but we’re splitting hairs here!

Since this was my fourth biopsy, I asked the good doctor to spare me the euphemisms and move straight to me signing the release. I smiled and was polite about it of course.  I am a decent and polite guy, if not sporting a lively sense of humor with a touch of brashness at times, but hey, I know Santa Claus isn’t real and I know this is gonna hurt...bad.

Let the games begin!

So, I take my shoes off and hike my shorts down a bit and the good doctor starts to give me a sterilizing sponge bath on my back side. Isopropyl 2013? Open that puppy and let’s have a whiff of that lovely cork! Lovely bouquet with oaky undertones. Whine spectator gives it a 91! How many of you can say you’ve had that one, hmmm? It’s nothing special—it’s cold and you know you’ll have a questionable stain later. Yeah, it’s from the iodine, but people are just so suspicious! Alas, I digress.

Let the euphemisms flow effortlessly off the tongue!

“So, here’s that little bee sting” (translation – I’m giving you a shot to numb your back side so I can really hurt you). So, I feel the needle and the lidocaine expanding under my skin. My heart races a bit because I know what’s next.  At this point, she makes a small incision down to my pelvis, which I don’t really feel too much, but there’s some "pressure."  She tells me she’s numbing the bone, which I think is not something that is really possible, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? At this point, things take an ugly turn and I’m having flashbacks to Westerns where they give the cowboy with an imbedded bullet that needs to come out; and our unfortunate hero needs something to chew on.  In my case, I buried my face into the pillow and tried to grab on to something. For a lovely petite Asian gal, the doctor can wield an auger! I’ll be her forearms are shredded! Those white coats hide a lot, I’m sure. She takes a hand drill and pushes it into my pelvis and damn, it hurts.


For a petite lady, she sure could put some serious power behind that auger.  "And now, you'll feel some pressure."  Ya think? So, she drills through the pelvis and gets into the marrow. Where's that leather strap to chew on when you really need it?
Drill, baby, drill!

Once the drill has gone into the inside of the bone, she withdraws the bone core and draws out the marrow. Sucking that out also hurts like hell. She then withdraws the auger and puts a rather large Band-Aid on the wound and I’m done. She has me lay on my back for about half an hour and then I walk away. It takes all of about 15 minutes start to finish and I’m left with a dull throb.  My pain level spiked at a solid 6 or 7, but now as I walk out, it’s barely a 1…and I’m feeling a bit shaky. The nurse with the sympathetic look? Well, she's really looking the part now and the doctor has said, "sorry" about 8 times. She knows she hurt me.
You can see the doctor pulling out the aspirate marrow.  Lovely, huh?

I have a pretty high threshold of pain and I realize this is something I need to have done since AML is a disorder focusing on marrow and I of course, am getting a marrow transplant, but there has to be a way to alleviate the pain more than popping a couple of pills.  It’s not important that I’m awake for the procedure even. Alas I digress once again and I am not, by nature, a complainer or whiner and I don’t even take aspirin unless I have a helluva headache…but come on! I have a PICC line in my arm.  Would it hurt to put something to take the edge off in that little line?

Ah well, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? I guess I should be getting pretty strong.

Be well, stay strong, and much love to you all!
Today's music - Broken by Lifehouse
 


The broken clock is a comfort
It helps me sleep tonight
Maybe it can start tomorrow
From stealing all my time
And I am here still waiting
Though I still have my doubts
I am damaged at best
Like you've already figured out
I'm falling apart
I'm barley breathing
With a broken heart
That's still beating
In the pain
There is healing
In your name
I find meaning
So I'm holding on
I'm holding on
I'm holding on
I'm barely holding on to you
The broken locks were a warning
You got inside my head
I tried my best to be guarded
I'm an open book instead
And I still see your reflection
Inside of my eyes
That are looking for purpose
They're still looking for life
I'm falling apart
I'm barely breathing
With a broken heart
That's still beating
In the pain(In the pain)
Is there healing?
In your name(In your name)
I find meaning
So I'm holding on(I'm still holding)
I'm holding on(I'm still holding)
I'm holding on(I'm still holding)
I'm barely holding on to you
I'm hanging on another day
Just to see what you will throw my way
And I'm hanging on to the words you say
You said that I will be okay
Broken lights on the freeway
Left me here alone
I may have lost my way now
I haven't forgotten my way home
I'm falling apart
I'm barely breathing
With a broken heart
That's still beating
In the pain(In the pain)
There is healing
In your name(In your name)
I find meaning
So I'm holding on(I'm still holding)
I'm holding on(I'm still holding)
I'm holding on(I'm still holding)
I'm barely holding on to you
I'm holding on(I'm still holding)
I'm holding on(I'm still holding)
I'm holding on(I'm still holding)
I'm barely holding on to you