Friday, December 2, 2011

Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover

Meghan, the hematology nurse practitioner, called me this morning to tell me that both of the last two spinal taps are confirmed clear (no abnormal cells).

I wanted to write this blog Wednesday evening after the spinal tap, but I've been feeling so much better that I took on the project of reorganizing my Christian history site instead. (If you go there, the reorganization is really only started. You'll see a new Navigation menu, but not too much else is different except the "Teachings" section.)

These ladies ran a half marathon on my behalf
Wednesday I went into the hospital much more relaxed than I have for the last several spinal taps. Thank you for your prayers, as that's the only explanation I have for the difference.

Prior to the spinal tap, I had my blood counts checked and saw the nurse. I usually do that twice a week, but only once this week. It takes about two hours, though there's only about 15 minutes of activity in that time. I go to the hospital and wait for paperwork for about 5 minutes. They give me the paperwork and verify my contact information. Then I wait 15 to 30 minutes to be called into the lab. There they take about 2 minutes to draw my blood. Then I go to hematology and wait about 5 minutes to be called for blood pressure and other vital signs. Then I get put in a room to wait for 45 minutes to an hour before I see Meghan for 5 to 10 minutes. The wait in the room allows my blood counts to come back from the lab before Meghan checks me over for mouth sores and swollen lymph glands and things like that.

My lovely and patient wife endures all this waiting with me. It's nice time together. In the waiting rooms we talk. In the little room for an hour, we sometimes play "Words with Friends" on our iPhones together.

Because there's all that waiting involved, I didn't go straight from the lab to hematology. Jerry was getting the stem cells from his brother, and we wanted to see them.

After my blood was drawn we put on masks, washed our hands, and went to Jerry's room bearing gifts.

Jerry had told us that "day zero," the day on which you get your stem cell transplant is your new birthday, according to the nurses. So Tuesday night my wife and I went to the store for a couple helium balloons and a birthday card.

Have you ever went to the store and felt like you really hit the jackpot?

We did. My wife found "Zero" candy bars. She bought one for Dump, who donated the cells, and one for Jerry, who was getting them.

Then, she found a card with a picture of a bunch of Labrador Retriever puppies. They all had caption bubbles saying things like "Well done!" and "Very good!" Inside, the card said, "The lab results are in. You did great!" We got that one for Dump.

Understand, Dump endured a week of weakness, feeling bloated, and aches and pains in his bones bad enough that Alleve, the only pain reliever he was allowed to take, didn't help. We had to pray for him so he could get sleep at night, and the nurses told him most of those symptoms will last two more weeks. This is a small price to pay for your brother's life, in my opinion (and in Dump's), but it's a price.

So the card was perfect for him.

A great picture of Alaina at the half marathon
We were early, which turned out to be good. We broke into his room excited, wishing him happy birthday and handing out the balloons and candy bars. It was great fun, and my wife told me she saw a tear in Dump's eye, which was very rewarding. (I don't think Dump reads my blog, so I'm mentioning it.)

You might as well go into your new life excited, especially when you have an incredibly difficult, life-threatening two to three week battle in front of you, followed by a less difficult, more comfortable, and almost as life-threatening three month battle after.

You've probably heard the phrase, "Those are good people." The more we get to know Jerry, Dump, and their wives, the more we would say that. They are such a joy.

Oh, and the reason it turned out to be good that we were early is that we came back again after I saw the nurse. We took a risk of being a little late to radiology so we could see Jerry actually getting Dump's stem cells, which the nurse had called "the prettiest batch of cells she'd ever seen."

The cells were pink, but with no other stem cells to compare them to, I can't say whether they were pretty.

Jerry, however, looked awful. He was very red, and he seemed barely awake. His wife, Rayetta, told us he was feeling nauseous, too. Apparently, the anti-rejection medicines (which are primarily to prevent the transplant from rejecting him and attacking his body, not him from rejecting the transplant) are very rough on him. I was glad we'd seen him an hour or two earlier.

Okay, two stories.

Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover

When I finally got to my spinal tap, I was still feeling unusually relaxed.

Then the doctor came in.

It looked like they'd grabbed one of the homeless guys from one of Nashville's street corners, dressed him in scrubs—which didn't make him look any less homeless—and sent him in to do the spinal tap. He then gave me the least polished warning about side effects that I've received and left me with the consent sheet to read and sign. Only he didn't leave me a pen.

Panic began to well up in my chest.

I took a deep breath, asked for a pen, and purposely remembered my reaction to the nurse who did my third marrow biopsy, about three months ago. In a previous appointment I had become worried that she was clumsy and less than professional, but it turned out that she was awesome at giving marrow biopsies. She was quick, accurate (no fishing around to try and get marrow), and gentle.

As I laid down on the table, I thought, "Don't judge a book by its cover."

At the side of the room, I heard the nurse ask, "He said he gets headaches. Does that mean you want to use the #22 needle?"

"No," he said. "Let's use the 20 ... well, let's do 21."

I knew what that meant from the last time. Smaller numbers are bigger needles, and the bigger the needle the more likely you are to leak fluid after the spinal tap. Leaking fluid is what leads to headaches, and low spinal fluid headaches are brutal.

The last doctor I had, who was 10 or 15 years younger than this one, had told me that I was listed as a "slow dripper." It's hard to get the spinal fluid out of my spine and into the syringe. That calls for a larger needle or a very long wait to get all the fluid. That doctor, however, had opted for the smallest possible needle anyway. He told me that he'd surveyed patients, and they'd all said they prefer an extra 10 minutes on the table to headaches after the procedure.

This doctor apparently didn't think that was a good idea.

Just before he came to the table, I heard him whisper to the nurse, "You know what, let's do twenty ... "

His whisper trailed off at the end. I couldn't tell whether he'd just gone from 21 to 20 or from 21 to 22.


I took a deep breath and tried to relax.

It wasn't a problem. I really have been thinking about the things I wrote in my last post. God's in control, not me. And, "don't judge a book by its cover!"

Except the "stick and a burn" that is unavoidable when they give you surface anesthetic, I never felt a thing, which is the first time that's happened. I have always felt the needle going through the muscle sheath deep down near my spine. I know now, from where the Band-aid was afterward, that this doctor went in about three inches lower on my back than the others. Perhaps that was the difference.

The doctor was gentle, continually asked me how I was doing, and struck up a very pleasant conversation while we were waiting for me to drip the syringe full. He was very positive, and he loves his job and the people he works with. It was almost delightful.

Oh, and no headaches on Thursday. Laying around for six to eight hours after a spinal tap apparently works for me. I wish I'd known that the first time.

Sorry, Big Brother, I Guess You're Gonna Die

Dump told me that he met a guy at the hospital who asked him about everything he was going through as a donor. As it turned out, the man had a brother with leukemia, and he'd turned up as a match. Vanderbilt wanted to get the transplant from this man for his brother.

Dump told me that when the man asked him how he could have such a good attitude about going through all that discomfort, Dump was speechless. "Family's family," he thought. Dump couldn't even conceive of the idea of refusing to donate marrow stem cells, and he had no idea what to say to someone who would actually refuse to save his brother's life.

Shortly after, Dump ran into the wife of the brother with leukemia. She told Dump that it looked pretty certain that her brother-in-law was going to back out.

I don't even know how to wrap my brain around that.

The nurse told Dump and Jerry that they would be amazed how many siblings refuse to donate marrow. Usually, this means they go to the National Marrow Donor Program to find a stranger that is a match. Yeah, a stranger that cares more about the person than the sibling does.

Siblings, if they match on the important points in the DNA, are always a better option.

I won't comment further. I don't know what to say. What kind of person ... ?

Well, I said I wouldn't comment.

Maybe I should have put that story in the middle and followed it with something positive. I hope you have a great day anyway.


  1. I have to say, that I don't consider myself to be the closest to my family, but that being said, I would never turn my family down on anything. I am just totally blown away by that guy. I actually cried. I have to say I understand this world or people sometimes. I know I was raised different than most of the people I know in this world, but I would never ever turn someone down, specially my family, with something I could give and save their life.

    Why do people not put others first? Really? Yes, I get mad, yes, I say things I shouldn't sometimes, but 90% of the time I try really hard to think of someone else before I do or say something.

  2. I am so glad to hear that your spinal taps came out clear!! praise the Lord! And that they went well. I can imagine how bad those headaches must be and im glad you didnt have one afterwards! love you!