I am in the second hour of my stem cell collection. Currently, a bag of my stem cells is filling up behind me. One lumen of my leukapheresis catheter is feeding blood to what appears to be some sort of Rube Goldberg machine, with a bunch of spinning dials, and the other is returning blood back to me.
They covered the lines for me with a blanket, because I’m a little squeamish. I accidentally took a look as the nurse drew a big vial of blood from my chest catheter and it really gave me the heebie-jeebies. Apparently, the blood is being taken out, spun around and then returned.
My stem cell bag is filling up, but I don’t know what 5 million stem cells look like. If I had to guess, like those jellybean contests at stores, I’d say I have about 3 million. We’ll see if I’m right. I have to come back every day until I reach 5 million. I’d like to be done soon, since I’m running out of places for the Neuopogen injections.
I’ve been here since a little after 8 am for a marathon of tests. They slated one after the other so I could get them out of the way before my stem cell collection at noon. Everything has gone smoothly so far, aside from my decision to take the train instead of taking a car. I thought I’d miss rush hour, but I forgot how crazy the 4, 5 and 6 trains are in the mornings.
I started with a pulmonary function test. I think this is my third or fourth one, so I’m an old pro. I wonder if my scores are worsening—not from potential lung damage, but because I haven’t been to Bikram yoga in a year, so I haven’t been doing any pranayama breathing. The test is a bit like that, without the head and arm motions. You blow into an apparatus as hard as you can and take a sharp inhale a few times, and there are a few other exercises where you completely empty and fill your lungs.
My finger also gets hooked up to a machine and I step up and down some stairs while it records my heart rate. Sometimes, I’m tempted to think of something that makes me angry to see if I can make my heart rate go up, but I never do.
Then I had an EKG. It’s the test, where they put those 3M poster-hanger things on you, followed by an echocardiogram. More breath-holding, this time with ultrasound goo and heart images.
After yesterday’s unsympathetic nurse, I finally got the reaction I wanted from the person who did my echocardiogram. “Phlebitis? Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “That really hurts.”
Yes. Thank you. That’s all I wanted. Some sympathy and acknowledgement of pain.
My arm is even more swollen that yesterday. I have two giant, swollen bumps, one in the crook of my arm so I can’t bend it. My arm feels like it weighs 50 pounds. I usually use my other arm to move it around.
The good news is that the doctors had me pop by to take a look at it. The bad news is that they can’t do much. Since my platelets and counts are low, I can’t do blood thinners right now. (Alas! If I could celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I could thin my blood on my own with some festive drinks!) In the meantime, I’m on antibiotics. Once my counts go up, they will consider the Lovenox again.
As for the painful bump on my belly, where we’ve been doing injections, it’s just a little bit of bleeding from the shots. It feels like a mini-phebitis. It hurts. Like a broken heart, it just needs time to heal. Sigh…
I also got a dressing change while I was there. It’s a piece of protective plastic around the chest catheter with a tape edge. The nurse has to write the date on it, and the nurse practitioner drew a shamrock on it, so I feel decidedly more festive.
The nurses at the stem cell collection room are decked out for St. Patrick’s Day. I think I have about 45 minutes left before I can go home. Since I usually spend my afternoons in bed with my laptop, not much is different aside from the big blood machine and the noticeable lack of cats.
I also had an appointment at the dental office here, so they can check to make sure I don’t have any tooth issues before my stem cell transplant and radiation. My teeth look good! I feel as if it’s the one area of me that’s not falling apart in some way.
On the way to the office, I got lost and spent some time wandering the back halls of this massive complex. When I found the elevators to leave, I realized I’d been steps from where I started, after a very long detour. I have no sense of direction, so this was not very much of a surprise.
In a few hours, I expect to get the call about my stem cell count. I hope it’s good news and that this big bag of stem cells hits the 5 million mark. I was worried I’d be a few short, but the nurse says if it’s close, it should be good enough.
We’re having pizza for dinner—just in case I need the calcium. I didn’t have lunch because I don’t want to have to get unhooked to use the restroom. I’m looking forward to sitting in front of the space heater with some food and cats.
I salute all those who have been going outside all winter. I’ve been outside a total of 10 or 15 minutes, and I can’t deal with one more second of winter. I’m ready to retreat to my hermitage until the weather improves.
Note: I feel conspicuous taking a photo here, so here is another photo of my cats.