Thursday, April 30, 2015

Two is the loneliest number

Depending on the delivery system you use to read my columns, you might know that May 6 will be the first anniversary of my stem cell transplant. Those who read it online, through my blog, will recall it was part of my look at birthdays and their general lack of value, except as you pile them up, since that means you're still alive.

Regardless, the point is... My medical team has told me to think of May 6th as the first day of the rest of my life. Hmmm.

Thinking about that: Both lives start with an abrupt shock to the system. In birth, you're pushed out of a warm, safe environment, and whether or not you have your bottom slapped to get you jump started, it is, literally, a rude awakening. With my stem cell transplant, all the blood was removed from my system, the “good” stem cells taken out and frozen, then I was given a double dose of a chemotherapy strong enough to kill me. Rude awakening indeed.

To avoid the aforementioned “kill me,” my baby stem cells, or sea monkeys as we came to think of them, were put back and left to their own devices. The idea was that they would start generating healthy white blood cells to bring back my immune system which was destroyed during the kill me stage. That was the idea. If that did not work, see previous references- “rude awakening” and “kill me.”

While my nurses and doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital were all, “This will take time,” and “Things look good,” I was all, “Really?” There was a dry erase board in my room that I could see from my bed and the key number I kept following was my WBC (White Blood Cell) count. While the staff was being reasonably optimistic and definitely encouraging, the first time I looked at the WBC on the board and it was 2, my first thought was that the 2 must stand for something. Two hundred? Two thousand? Two something.

As it turned out, it did stand for something- 2. When I talked to Sheri about it, I felt like The Count from Sesame Street. “Vun vhite blood cell. Two vhite blood cells.” I thought about naming them, but I just didn't have the energy at that point that being a smart aleck required.

Since the WBC count had to be at least 6,000 before the doctors would even consider letting me go home, we seemed like a long way from Tipperary. Two. Though we didn't find this out until quite a bit later, at the time, I had as many white blood cells as I did spleens. Go figure.

Well, after some IV this, and some injected that, and some pills containing the other, my WBC climbed quickly. Then I needed to look at the other key number, at least for me. That was- how many of the WBCs were surviving? The staff had a ratio/formula, but I didn't really care. That's what the doctors and nurses were for. My job was make sure that I asked “Can I go home yet?” at least every other hour.

I must say: the first few days of the rest of my life kinda... well... sort of... they sucked is what they did. My sea monkeys were doing their part, busting their little sea monkey butts trying to help me heal, but I wasn't sleeping or eating and I think we all know that's not a good thing. Right?

Still, the sea monkeys won their battle and dragged me along in the process, which included going home after 17 days in isolation. Frankly, that seemed more like the first day of the rest of my life. And, as written in the Gospel of the Mainenites, “It was good.”

And it has been ever since. Now, since life doesn't give you too many do-overs, you'd think I would swear up and down that I was going to do it differently this time. Well, is it to my credit or detriment that I didn't even swear up, never mind up and down. I was very happy to have my life extended by an incredible team of health professionals, but... there is nothing in my history to indicate that I would do too much different faced with the chance. Oh yeah, I would try...still.

Look, I still forget my grandchilren's birthdays. I'm still unsure how old a couple of them are. I do remember their names, which, while it counts for something, just doesn't seem like enough. I love my wife and children, and my cat, with all my heart. That's a plus, right? I reach out to others and try to share my hope with them. I hand out encouragement like candy bars on Halloween (The good ones. You know, actually full-size candy bars.)

And, I guess, since I'm only a year old in my new life, that will do for now. If I can provide a positive example for anyone who struggles with a major issue in their life... well, happy first transplant day anniversary to me!

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere