The Gift of Life


Treatment is going well, and I feel OK. Will be home by tomorrow night, and then in bed for a few days of sleep.

This morning, because my hemoglobin is still low (a normal chemo side-effect), I received the gift of life, granted by one of my oldest and closest friends Neil Schwartz, who donated a pint of his finest for me last Sunday. The blood has been irradiated to make sure that his strain of cooties doesn’t get passed on to me.

So thanks Neil, I am deeply touched by your gesture and your generosity. As a lymphoma survivor I am ineligible ever to give blood again. What can I give you? You’ve also got a full head of hair, so a hair transplant is out of the question. Hmmmm, I’ve only got one kidney so I can’t spare one of those. Tell you what, if you ever need some extra back hair, I am happy to share. Just let me know.

The only strange side effect of the transfusion so far, is that I’ve found myself calling Neil’s college girlfriends just to say hello. Hi Stacy Sager. Hello random girl at The Jumbo.

In college, if you put Neil, myself, and a guy named Brett Ruth together it looked like we were related by degrees with Brett being the missing link between us. But after the transfusion, I’ve been through a bit of a metamorphosis and now look like this…

The Trumpet Box?

Everything is good, but what a strange night last night was.

Got the call from Penn at around 5ish yesterday that my bed was ready, and after a great day of shopping for the baby, I took Otis for a walk in the rain, packed up the car, had my daily shot of whiskey, and headed over to the hospital.

At around 7pm we boarded the elevator in the Rhoads Pavilion to head up to my room. I noticed right away another couple on the elevator with us. They were dressed oddly for a rainy Philadelphia night–he wearing a bolo tie, she these giant rhinestone-trimmed eyeglasses that suggested Boca Raton or the South Shore of Long Island. And, they must have been big fans of Johnny Cash, the man in black, as they both looked like they were heading to a funeral. He carried a wooden case that I figured was for a trumpet, or maybe even an accordion. Were they a family act that traveled from hospital to hospital across the land to entertain bored patients? Was my night going to be filled with the musical stylings of Johnny Cash on the trumpet, or even worse, a night of chemo patients doing the polka?

Since Jacq is very large these days, we are used to people striking up conversation with us wherever we go. “When are you due…?” “What are you having…?” “I’ll bet my house that your baby has a giant nose…” This particular elevator ride was no different. The woman in the rhinestone glasses immediately chatted us up. She was in good spirits, friendly in a way that might make us city-folks a bit uncomfortable.

WARNING: THE STORY GETS PRETTY GRISLY HERE ON OUT. SO IF YOU ARE EXPECTING OR HAVE A WEAK STOMACH YOU MAY WANT TO STOP READING HERE AND SKIP TO THE ALTERNATE ENDING

Once the rhinestone-glassed woman realized that we too were on our way up to Rhoads 7, she felt the need to share with us (why, WE DO NOT KNOW!) that they were funeral directors, coming to the hospital to retrieve the fetus of a patient on our floor who had just miscarried. The box, it turns out, did not contain a musical instrument, but would be used to… well you know what it was for.

We were mortified. Not normally short on words, I didn’t know what to say. Jacqui, equally quick with a quip, managed to blurt out something like, “I am really glad you shared that with me.” The folks in black said nothing more, sauntered off the elevator, and disappeared down the hall to do their sad and grisly business.

I checked in with the nurse, got Jacqui into our room, and immediately retold our crazy story to the nurses and doctors at the front desk. They were mortified, and to their credit, did an incredible job protecting us and reassuring us (without violating HIPAA rules) for the rest of the night and into today. We were both very upset (obviously), and I told Jacqui that we should leave. We cried a little, and decided that it was best to stay on schedule, and within a few minutes we managed to crack a few jokes about the whole crazy situation. Within an hour, we realized that what had happened was so outrageous and bizarre, that we were laughing and back to focusing on the important matters at hand–delymphomatization and a healthy baby-to-be.

The nurses, who today were still enraged at what had transpired, have let hospital administrators know what went on (as I will as well), so that we are sure that this never happens again, and that the accordion playing, fetus gathering, funeral directors know that they are not welcomed in this hospital.

ALTERNATE ENDING: THE COUPLE IN BLACK WISHED US WELL, PLAYED A FEW POLKA TUNES, AND HEADED BACK ON THE ROAD TO WISH OTHER PREGNANT COUPLES ALL THE BEST.

Time

Last week, it seems, was summer. I finished the Philadelphia Triathlon on June 25, we closed on our home on the 26th, and then Jacqui and I spent a few days on the beach in Cape May over the July 4th weekend. I had scans a week or so later, and so began a month of testing which led to where I am today–bald, low on hemoglobin, and wishing that I could travel back in time to stop myself from drinking that pesticide flavored milkshake that probably caused my lymphoma. Mmmmmmm, pesticides.

And then suddenly it was fall. Earlier this week I noticed that the leaves had begun to change on the tree outside our bedroom window. A few days later I felt a chill in the air for the first time, and today I got several unsolicited suggestions that I dress as Nosferatu for Halloween.

I have had little sense of the passage of time these last three-plus months. It was shocking when I realized it was Fall. I suppose I could write this off as some strange chemo side-effect, or caused by watching reruns of Star Trek over and over again, but I think that it feels more like time outside of our home has been suspended rather than its having slipped away. By this I mean that when I am home and recovering with Jacqui and Otis and whoever else comes to visit I feel far away from the passage of time in the outside world (which includes, I’ve been told, a country that actually seems to be marching backwards in time).

My best measurement of time has been Jacqui’s growing belly, and the continued growth of our baby-to-be. Unlike the suddenness of fall, each day when Jacqui comes home I see her growing belly and realize that we are getting closer to that extraordinary day. Next thing I know it will be “Junior’s” fifth birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese, his or her Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or parent’s weekend at college. Better start saving now.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), should a bed be available on 6 or 7 Rhoades at Penn, treatment 2A in the HYPR-CVAD chemo cycle begins, and we are a little bit further down the road to de-lymphomatization.

I was hoping for this week off, but my blood counts keep bouncing back quickly (a good sign, I am told by my doctors), and so my life as a lymphoma patient continues and time marches on.

A Sleepy Week

Just a quick update to let you all know that I am doing fine.

Last week and into the weekend I slept a lot. No, I pretty much only slept, sleeping off what was a really rough “B” cycle in the chemo. Last cycle, the “A”, I may have vomited up my gall bladder, but I recovered quickly and was back in the gym 10 days following discharge. This time, no gym so far. The most exercise I’ve gotten is walking the dog.

The doctor predicted this, but is quite happy with how quickly my body has bounced back. Last week he didn’t expect my blood counts to be high enough for me to be on schedule for the next round of treatment this week. Unfortunately (because I really wanted this week off to do some writing and relaxing), my counts were creeping towards normal on Friday, and tomorrow, after more tests, we’ll know for sure if they are good enough for me to start chemo again on Wednesday.

Also, for those of you still seeking to donate blood to me, I am covered for the moment. I am deeply touched by the response I got for the call for blood. Thank you. But I still may need more for the next round. So don’t go shooting up heroin any of you A’s or O’s.

So there you have it. I will put up a post tomorrow to let you know if I am going in later this week. If so, visitors are welcomed and encouraged. Scrabble anyone?

Ow, Ow, Ow, Ow, Leg, Leg, Leg


I am, unfortunately, not the only one suffering from strange side effects in the Yudell-Rick household.

When I am in recovery mode, poor little Otis seems to misbehave more than normal, and he doesn’t seem to like to be too close to me. I wonder if he can smell the chemo, and if it just stinks to his doggie-senses.

Jacqui too, growing by the minute, has had some strange pregnancy-related side effects. Not to mention the exhaustion from caring for me, Otis, and the growing baby–all at the same time–Jacq has suffered from intense leg cramps which leave her sore, sometimes for days. They almost always happen about an hour before we are supposed to wake up in the morning, and it almost always goes like this: I am in a deep sleep, usually dreaming of getting a haircut, and I am torn from the barber’s chair by Jacqui yelling, “OW, OW, OW, OW, LEG, LEG, LEG,” which apparently is the universal call by pregnant women for rousing their husbands from slumber to massage their cramped up legs. After rubbing Jacqui’s calf for a few minutes, I am permitted to go back to sleep for a while.

While the doctor has told us that these cramps are a normal side effect of carrying around extra pounds and of changing body chemistry, given my limited ability to take care of Jacq in these final few months of her pregnancy, I actually kind of like this routine. It is one of my few opportunities to return, at the bare minimum, what Jacqui has done for me these last few months–the staying with me in the hospital on an air mattress, the nursing me back to health, the walking up and down the stairs to make me food when I can barely sit up in bed, and, of course, her driving to NYC in the middle of the night to get some fresh bagels.

None of this surprises me. But I am so in love.

The Great Yom Kippur Nose Bleed of 5767

Today was Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, the culminating day of the Jewish High Holy Days. For me, although a dedicated member of a synagogue, I normally prefer to split my day between going to Temple for a few hours, and going on a long hike, where I can spend time reflecting on the year that was and the year that lie ahead. Unfortunately, still with little blood coarsing through my veins, most of today’s holiday was spent sitting on my tush, waiting for this neutropenia to pass, and hoping that I could be inscribed in the book of life from the comfort of my new couch.

I know there are those of you out there who are saying to yourselves: “it is Yom Kippur, Mike’s stuck at home watching horrible television for the 8th straight day, he’s too tired to read and work on his book, so he MUST have been picking his nose.” And since it is past sundown for the year 5767 and I have a full year to apologize for all of my sins, I can tell you in all honesty, that no, I was not picking, I was just scratching my nose because of the dryness from chemotherapy.

And then it started to bleed. A slow drip, but a steady one, nonetheless. And two hours later I decided that it was prudent to go to the doctor.

I was told that this round of chemo was more immunosuppressive than the last. And when I saw the report which listed my platelet level with an exclamation point next to it, I knew the chemo was officially kicking my butt. Normal platelet levels are between 150-400. Mine was at 3, meaning that it was pretty much as low as it could go without blood beginning to shoot from my eyes in some strange, Monty Python-esque kind of way. So to remedy the situation I was given an infusion of platelets. The bag-o-platelets looked like it was filled with horse urine, but the nurse assured me that this was not the case. The infusion was painless, and we are at home now relaxing.

Odds are that I will need a blood transfusion after the next round as the cumulative effect of the treatment further denigrates my once normal blood count (don’t worry, this is a normal side effect, and my blood counts will return to normal after de-lymphomatization). So I am reaching out to friends and family who may be donor-types for me. Despite the overall safety of the public blood supply, I would rather get the gift of life from someone I know.

So, if you are willing, and if you are a potential match for me, I would be ever-grateful should you be able to do this. I am first reaching out to friends in the Philadelphia area. After that, we’ll move on out.

My blood type is A+, which means I am a potential recipient from those of you with types O or A.

So if you know your blood type and are willing to be a donor, please let me know.

For eligibility guidelines, please take a look at this link from the Red Cross:

http://www.redcross.org/services/biomed/0,1082,0_557_,00.html