My friend Jerry started his transplant chemo on Wednesday. He's not as healthy as I am. He worked in a coal mine for over a decade earlier in life, and his lungs aren't the greatest. He also had a major heart attack a few years ago, so his heart only runs at about 60% normal capacity.
The doctors told me there's a 20% chance of the transplant preparation killing me, and there's another 15% chance or so of dying from Graft-versus-Host disease afterward. The doctor told Jerry that he had a 40% chance of surviving the whole process.
As it turns out, his brother is such a good match as a bone marrow donor that they raised his survival chances to 50%. Still, that's not the kind of treatment that's easy to face. (His attitude is awesome!)
Today is considered day -5 (minus five) for him. The first day of chemo was -7. They'll give him six days of chemo, and then on the seventh day he'll have a day off. That day will be -1. The day after that is day 0, and it's the day they give him his brother Dump's bone marrow stem cells.
Jerry told me there's a T-shirt out that says, "Life begins at day zero."
Please pray for Jerry.
Oh, and I already asked you to pray for him about his liver function. I was praying that God would just heal his liver, and the counts would be good. That didn't happen, but what did happen is that they looked at his liver on a PET scan and decided that his liver was doing well enough to go through with the transplant. His transplant was delayed for the liver counts, but they put him right back on track. They think the elevated liver counts in his blood is because of an overdose of Tylenol or from his gall bladder, which they already know has problems (which can wait till the leukemia is cured).
This Thanksgiving I am especially grateful that lying around for about eight hours did the job for preventing the leak of spinal fluid. Unlike previous spinal taps, I had no headaches the day after, and today has been just as headache-free.
For those that have never had a spinal tap, they stick a long needle through your back muscles, then through the coating around your spinal column, where all your nerves are. There's a fluid in the spinal column. In my case, they drew off about ten millimeters of that fluid, then injected some chemotherapy, called methotextrate, to kill off any leukemia cells that might still be floating around in the fluid.
Apparently there are several layers to the coating around the spinal column. My wife was just telling me that when a woman in childbirth gets an "epidural," they only go through the outer layer. The danger in an epidural is that they'll go too deep and create a leak in the spinal fluid. In a spinal tap, they have no choice. They have to go all the way into the fluid.
Anyway, when they're down inside your lower spinal column, they're right next to all the nerves of your lower body. Each of the last two times, they managed to tap those nerves with the needles, shooting tremors through my buttock and thigh. I think they tapped the nerves three times yesterday.
It's really not bad. The jolt is very, very quick, almost too quick to actually be painful. But it's somewhat terrifying. In the end, my nervousness was much worse than the procedure.
I have one more to be frightened through next Wednesday. That one will be in the afternoon. Day before yesterday it was in the morning, and I think it made the tension and my sensitivity to pain higher. There's not a lot of pain involved, but that shot with the lidocaine does burn as it goes in. It's much worse than an immunization shot. The radiologist told me that some people prefer to get the spinal tap without the anesthetic because the big needle hurts less than the lidocaine does.
Further, the lidocaine only numbs the surface. You can feel the needle pressing through the muscle sheath deep down, both as it goes in and as it comes out. That's not real painful, either, but it is a strange, somewhat uncomfortable sensation. It's like your back calls up to your brain, "Hey, I don't know what's going on, but something's not quite right down here!"
Early yesterday morning I got the first of what I knew would be coming all day ... Happy Thanksgiving texts. I can be a grump about those things. "Yeah, I know it's a holiday, and you're texting 35 people, and I happen to be one of them. I'd rather have a real conversation with you on a different day."
A little later in the morning, I saw something either in a commercial or on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade that reminded me that there are a lot of people almost alone in the world. They don't get texts, phone calls, or cards; not on Thanksgiving or any other day. Suddenly I felt like a real jerk, and I decided that what I would be thankful for on this Thanksgiving weekend is all the family and friends I have who want to include me on their group "Happy Thanksgiving" texts.
This morning, I went out to Dunkin' Donuts with my family, including my mother-in-law. That was nice. Donuts are no longer part of my diet (never again), but I had a breakfast sandwich there.
The breakfast sandwich is important. I still don't have my old appetite, especially in the mornings. Having a smaller appetite would have been great a few years ago, but it's not good now. I'm working hard not to lose anymore weight because twenty pounds of excess is a good thing to have before a massive chemo dose and bone marrow transplant.
Afterward, my wife and I visited Jerry at the infusion center, while he was getting his chemo. They're giving it to him on an outpatient basis! Who would have thought?
Then we went out to visit a lady, Sylvia, that I met in the hospital. She runs a home where she houses functional but mentally ill ladies. We visited with her for a while, then made arrangements to do a little get together with those ladies next week. Sylvia will provide hors d'oeuvres, and I'll tell some Bible stories that have been popular with my kids and their friends.
Sylvia doesn't know it yet, but after we left we called a friend of ours who plays guitar so that we can do some Christmas carols with them, too. She's going to drive out to Nashville just to do that with us.
I'm kind of excited about it.
I hope y'all are having as great a weekend as I am!