Thursday, August 15, 2013

Embrace the Suck



Just when you think you have broken the code, they change the rules! After five inpatient stays at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City, I thought I had things figured out. There are certainly parts of being hospitalized that don’t change, but the level of things for the bone marrow transplant here at the Seattle VA are ratcheted up a few notches with respect to keeping things ├╝ber-sterile.  I’m now well into the process of killing my immune system off to make way for the new one, courtesy of “Hans,” my mystery donor. This is Spring Cleaning taken to a whole new level!
And to take Spring Fever to a whole new level, I settled into the new digs in the room at the end of the hall of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit (MTU).  It has a lovely view and I don’t even have to walk to the window to see where I’d really rather be. My son and I had a quick intro to some rules of the road from the night nurse and he was off…I was not. I’ll be here for 3-4 weeks while I get my chemo and the life-saving transplant.

With that in mind, I set out to start learning the new slate of names of the medical and support staff that make up the MTU and to be sure, I want them to remember me. In the time prior to being admitted, I found a souvenir shop downtown Seattle with a metal sign that was intended for a bar that read name your poison. Being one to be literal when it suits me, I bought the sign, wrote Busulfan on the sign, and hung it on my door. Keeping things light!  I have a few other smaller things for the upcoming days. I’m intent on keeping people smiling so that when I feel lousy, they'll get me smiling again.
With my sign on the left and my new fancy dancing partner flashing her toxic chemical goodness for all to see. I'll bet you're *so* jealous! ;-)

Late in the day yesterday, I thought we might be getting close to one of those points where I’d need a little help smiling. PICC lines have been the point of infusion and blood draws for the past six months, the most recent of which was installed about 2½ months ago. Sometimes, these catheters migrate a little and can be difficult to draw blood from.  Such was the case yesterday, so after some contortions to see if the we could get a blood return and half a dozen unsuccessful sticks into my skin (peripherals), I ended up having to get a new line installed. While it’s not as painful as a biopsy, neither is it painless. Essentially, a narrow tube about 16” long is routed through a vein in my arm up to a junction just above my heart near the superior vena cava. To get to a vein big enough to support that catheter, the nurse has to use an ultrasound and get rather deep into my arm. It’s semi-surgical. I stay awake for the whole thing and get a local injection of Lidocaine. When I found out I’d be getting a new PICC line installed, I was less than happy. This is actually my fifth. One of the nurses who had been trying (in vein?!)  to draw blood earlier was watching the procedure and was actually rather quick to offer me something for pain. I’m tired of hurting, so I accepted. I actually have developed a rather high threshold of pain, but after this long, I’m ready to adopt better life through chemistry as my motto until this odyssey is over.

This is a PICC catheter going in and yes, that's me. The keyboard to your left goes to an ultrasound machine that helps the nurse/IV technician find the best vein. Inside the central line catheter, there is a little metallic piece that is picked up by the gray yoke/magnetometer on my chest so the exact location can be determined. After he positions the PICC, I get an X-Ray to confirm it is in the right place and they put a sterile dressing on the insertion sight. You can see the line going in my arm through a small incision.



Thankfully, the pain passes in a day or so and I get back to my normal jovial self. Even my favorite Brooklyn-born nurse told me I that I looked good today. I’m feeling good…for now. I know everything could change on a dime, so I’m doing what I can to enjoy the moment – carpe momentum! – or something like that anyway. By the time the late afternoon arrived, it was just the two nurses and me – from a pretty noisy day to a quiet ward. Suffice it to say, with no other inpatients, the nurses and I struck up a good conversation until sleep finally caught me.  I don’t know if it was the pre-meds, nerves, or something I ate, but I was back to my old hospital habit of staring at the ceiling in the wee hours of the morning.  Last night though, I was out cold.

I started chemo yesterday morning at 0-dark 15. It had to be started with near military precision so that blood levels could be measured at prescribed intervals. That tells the pharmacist how to adjust the dosage – something called pharmacokinetics. Say that 3 times fast! Since it’s impossible to reverse, I’m strapping in and holding on for the rough ride ahead. The transplant itself is less than a week away…hard to imagine that in six days, I’ll begin the process of coming alive.  So many parallels could be drawn at this point, but I’ll hold back until I actually have the new stem cells coursing through my veins.

Certainly, there will be much to think about as my body starts succumbing to the toxic chemical goodness and I take a nose dive back into frailty. There will be a lot as well to build up on the recovery side. I took a tour of the all new Salt Lake City Public Safety Building just before I left for Seattle and I saw the particular members of the structure that made it capable of withstanding an earthquake. Much like that, I know that my own body will resemble that in a way. It may appear similar on the outside, but perhaps a bit different than I can conceive; and I know the rebuilding will be good as well as necessary and it will belie the inner strength that comes from a visit with death. You can’t not be changed when you stare death in the face, but neither should one be cavalier about it. The stakes are just too high and they are permanent. It’s gonna hurt and it’s gonna suck, but the cost of life doesn’t have a price tag. Time to embrace the pain; time to embrace the suck (see note below)

Be well, stay strong, and much love to you all!

Music for the day from the Goo Goo Dolls - Better Days

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days
Cuz I don't need boxes wrapped in strings
And desire and love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again

And it's someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And thats faith and trust and peace while we're alive
And the one poor child that saved this world
And there's 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again