Friday, July 15, 2011

Checked into the Hospital

Okay, what's interesting about being checked into the hospital?

Well, there was the nurse this morning who put my PICC line in. A PICC line is a tube that's threaded through an artery in your arm all the way into the vena cava, the huge vein leading into your heart. (Okay, I'm not sure that the vena cava should be called a vein, nor that I used artery and vein correctly there.) They'll use that to give me my medications and to draw blood. It has two "connectors" coming off it. I guess one's in and one's out.

Waiting in admissions lobby
Anyway, the nurse's name was Cheryl, and she was guiding the tube into the artery with an ultrasound machine. They had to measure it to exact length (44", almost 4 feet!). The result is that you can taste your medication when it goes in.


So it turns out that Cheryl had AML, and she was cured by a blood marrow transplant in 1994. Cheryl has a positive attitude. I thought I had a positive attitude. I don't; Cheryl does. Maybe I have a C- in positive attitude.

I told her that she got her marrow transplant back in the stone ages of that procedure. She assured me they've been doing it since the 60's. (I'm pretty sure she left out the part where almost everyone died when they did it in the 60's and that about 80% died when they did it in 1994.)

I asked her about the nausea. She said I probably wouldn't have any until near the time of the marrow transplant. She started listing nausea medications. "One of them will work for you," she said.

I told her about how I'm a writer and how leukemia is a great tool for creating an audience. "Well, unless I die," I quipped.

Nurse saw this on my computer and liked it--Auburn, CA in fall
"Pshaw," she huffed back. "Lots of people got famous after they died."

No out-positiving her, nor out reality-ing her.

"Just stay busy," she told me. "I sewed six dresses while I was up there. I knew another guy who ran his business from his room. It's like a vacation; make good use of it."

I knew it. I'm just on vacation. Everyone's expressing their condolences, and I'm lounging in a condo in Nashville for the summer, working on whatever I want to work on, attendants checking on me every few hours.

And poisoning and destroying my immune system.

Ah, well, no avoiding that.

As a result, though, I'm only allowed packaged or cooked foods. No fruit; no raw vegetables. No risk of bacteria at all.

So much for my whole/fresh food diet.

On the other hand, I guess that whole/fresh food diet is to bolster the immune system, and feed all the other systems through the blood. I won't have an immune system, and my blood will have mostly come from other people.

I wonder what they ate before they gave blood?

The Newsy Part

Chemo starts tomorrow. My leukemia is acute, but otherwise it doesn't fit any categories well. They look at my DNA, at deformed cells, at what makes them deformed ... all those things. I have cells like childhood ALL, and I have cells like adult AML, and I have mixed-up stuff.

Until today, Dr. Strickland and Dr., uh, oh-oh--Greer?--have been calling experts trying to determine the best regimen for me. Dr. Greer found me this evening to tell me they're going to give me medicines that treat both ALL and AML.

Okay, I trust them.

Young and Healthy

All images below were in some manner provided by the U.S. government. As such, they are in the public domain. They are provided courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For the last few years, whenever I've played soccer with the teens, I'm the old, fat, slow guy. I have some experience, so I'm not awful, but all the young people are better than me. Even 11-year-olds can outrun me.

Now, though, I'm a leukemia patient. For a leukemia patient I'm young and healthy.

Dr. Greer (name?) found me on the exercise bike, out of my room, when he came to tell me about the decision on the regimen. He saw me--it was the first time--and he said, "I think I'm looking for you."

I told him, "Yep, I'm Paul," and shook his hand.

He said, "You really looked too healthy to be the guy I'm looking for."

"Yeah," I said. "That's me."

No, actually I told him I got blood yesterday, so I was feeling a lot better. I showed him the tumors on my back, so then he could be confident I was the sick guy.

I also got an echocardiogram today, where they use sonar to look at my heart. The guy who did that--a father of five, all grown, who moved here from Fairbanks, Alaska last year--said, "I don't know what they told you last week, but you seem to have a really good heart."

So we talked about running, about marathons, about ultramarathons, and about the Badwater I want to run some day. He's run a few half marathons.

Oh, he's also flown on a small plane onto a glacier fifteen miles from Mt. McKinley. Oh, man. He was so excited about it that I could practically see it. Of course, it helps that I've seen Mt. McKinley from a plane on a sunny, cloudless day. (Cloudless makes sunny redundant, but it sure doesn't provide the same mind picture, does it?)

He said catching his first salmon in Alaska may have been even better.

Or, picture this. Again, it's easier for me because I've seen some pretty glorious Northern Lights in Alaska already: He's out cross-country skiing with his teenage son. He looks up, and the Aurora Borealis (same thing as the Northern Lights) comes out a couple hours earlier than usual against the dark sky. He looks down, and a moose crosses his path in the snowy field.

He said he could hardly believe that was possible.


  1. Love you Shammah, Thanks for the window into your life there. Sounds like your getting settled in. Enjoy your kiddos this weekend!

  2. I sure hope so. We'll find out soon who's able to visit. I'm hearing that it matters that most of them haven't been immunized!