Today was a big day towards my transplant progress. Today was harvest day, which is the day where they harvest all the stem cells that have been pulling out of my bone marrow for the last week. This is the whole reason I’ve had to go through bone pain and nausea and daily injections.
I had to wake up a little earlier today and take my Neupogen injection and medication at 6:30 am, because I had to have a catheter put in my neck going into my jugular, and I needed to be at the hospital at 7:30 am. I’ve been fearing this day for a long time because of this catheter… the dreaded vas catheter! It’s not like a normal IV, but an actual long plastic valve that goes into your jugular and all the way down to your heart. You actually have to go into an operating room to have this thing put in!
Anyway, I had a little bit of down time waiting for them to wheel me in, so I got good and nervous, but the good part is, I started seeing other people who are having the same procedure done with me, so it was good to talk to some of them and get acquainted. When they wheeled me into the operating room, they acted like it was an actual surgery or something, where I had to lay over and have my face covered with sheets. They had X-ray technicians, ultrasound technicians, and about three other kinds of technicians introduce themselves and explain what each of them would be doing on the procedure.
When it got started I was trying to think of anything I could to keep my mind off of what they were about to do. None of this was about pain. The idea of the thing going into my neck and towards my heart really got to me. They gave me a shot to numb it, which I barely felt, and they described to me what they were doing, as they were doing it. Even though I couldn’t really feel it, I could totally picture what they were doing and it was driving me nuts! Every time they took it and gave a big push, I could feel the pressure of that catheter going deeper inside me!
The whole thing only took about 15 or 20 minutes, once they got going, but that was long enough! They also had to put stitches in my neck to secure the catheter down so it wouldn’t get pulled around. All of this was painless.
As soon as I left from there, I headed over to the Blood Center, where they would be taking the stem cells later. They did a blood draw, so they could get an estimate of how many stem cells they thought I would produce later. While they were doing their numbers, I was able to leave for about an hour and go eat breakfast. I also met up with my sister Laurie, who came down from Aurora to babysit Olivia, so Liz could hang out with me, while I was having my stem cells drawn. This was really a good thing because the short time while Olivia was at the Blood Center, she was running all over the place and trying to get into everything she could!
After breakfast, I went back to the Blood Center, and they hooked the catheter in my neck up to the machine and started it up. At first, this was visually hard for me to watch the blood coming out of the tubes in my neck. You could actually watch it pouring into the machine by the beats of my own heart. I’m a very visual person and any kind of blood coming from the beat of a heart is hard for me to stomach. I don’t mind seeing people splattered all over the place, or blood splattered all over walls, I’ve but seen a lot there’s of violence at work but something about if a person is alive, and watching the blood pump through any kind of tube or hose drives me nuts. I also cant watch a person have any kind of surgery either or even look when they’re putting an IV in my arm.
The room we were in was nice and comfortable, and they gave me a nice reclining chair. We also had TV and an endless supply of Ginger Ale. While we were in there, it got easier for me to look at the blood flowing into machine and the time started to fly by. At one point, I started to tingle, so the nurse came in and gave me more Calcium. This is important so your blood doesn’t clot. I got a short nap, and a couple other people who are having the same procedure done stopped by the room, or their spouse’s did, and it was great to get acquainted with them. They are all awesome and handling this like rock stars! I’m glad to be going through this with such a positive group. It seems like the last few months of my life have been consumed with thinking about this procedure, and getting ready for it so it’s good to meet people who are going through the same thing!
At one point, Allison, one of Dr Burt’s nurse practitioners, came in to do a check up on me. She told me that my counts were good and my immune system had been coming back up for the last couple days. She also told me that I didn’t need to be wearing a mask around the hospital or around town anymore, which was great news, because I hate wearing that stupid mask! We also had a good laugh about it, because the other people we’ve been seeing today were still wearing their masks too, yet none of us needed to be wearing them. We just thought it was kind of funny!
Anyway, at about 3:00 p.m., they took me off the machine and told me I could go back to the hotel for an hour while they check my stem cells, to see if they had enough. They needed two million stem cells to do the procedure, so as long as I had that, I’m good.
When we came back an hour later, she told us that I had harvested fifteen million stem cells, so they were able to take the catheter out of my neck. Taking it out wasn’t nearly as bad as putting it in, and it was over it quickly! I was a little disgusted looking at it though, realizing how deep that sucker was inside me. Can’t tell you what a relief it was to have collected enough stem cells on the first try. I was also lucky that I got the catheter out on the same day. A lot of people aren’t so lucky.
For the next 24 hours they don’t want me taking a shower, bending over, picking up anything heavy (including Olivia), or overdoing it in any way. When we left the hospital, we walked past the park and let Olivia go on the slides, and I pushed her in the swings. Being with her, at the end of a hard day, always seems to bring back a lot of joy and erase a lot of the stress that has been bothering me.
It was also great to come back to the hotel and relax for the rest of the night, and see the huge response of friends checking in on me for what I was going through today and cheering me on. It’s amazing how much the support of others helps you get through things. I even got an encouraging message from one of my buddies I train with for triathlons, and talk a lot of friendly trash to, and The 807th, the first class I taught at the Academy, when I was a PT instructor. These guys have really rallied behind me and supported me through this process, and it really made my day to get this from these guys. As a nice finish to the evening, to be able to watch Arizona beat Xavier in the sweet 16 was icing on the cake.
Harvest Day is the day that I’ll never forget, but I’m looking forward to what should be an easy week, before I get it sent it back into the hospital next Thursday to start chemo again. I’m glad they give us some down time to recover and spend time with our families before going back! I am really looking forward to this. Also, it’s been a week and a half since chemo, and I still have my hair. They estimate that on Monday it should start falling out. Take your time hair, take your time!
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