Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 5/Extraction-Part 2

And so begins the final chapter in my peripheral blood stem cell donation saga. I know you all have been dying to hear the rest of the story. Well, actually, maybe you have been, but I just remember where we left off, which is terribly exciting.

As a reminder, it was about 10am, I was just starting a movie, but I desperately had to go to the bathroom. I've got to add a disclaimer before we begin: I'm just trying to describe my whole experience as accurately as possible, so I hope this isn't weird to read. Not that I think it's that bad, other wise I would definitely not be sharing this!

Anyway, I was warned before the whole process that I would likely have to use the bathroom, because who can hold it for 5 plus hours? All the nurses were very sweet and told me not to worry about it, because everyone has to go during the extraction. It really wouldn't have been so awkward, but you can't just get up and go into the handy private bathroom and be hooked to the machine at the same time. For one thing, the tubes aren't long enough, plus I couldn't move very easily on my own. It's amazing how much you use your arms (yes, I know, duh!) but I really take full movement for granted. I couldn't even scoot up in my bed without help. And they didn't want me to anyway, because it could cause too many problems.

So the solution to not being able to go the toilet, is to bring one to me! Yeah, you bet I was excited! It was just a little backless chair with a hole in it. It had a bucket attached to it for obvious reasons. I suppose to make it easier to clean, etc, they put another removable bucket over the other one, just under the seat. I wasn't too stressed about it, because I'd rather use the potty chair than wet the bed, plus, I learned to lighten up after giving birth twice. Of course I prefer modesty, but when it comes to medical situations, you just go with it. I had been reclined in bed for over 2 hours, and without the use of my right arm, it was a slow process to turn and scoot off the left side of the bed. And I had to be careful to keep my right arm straight the whole time too. I felt very clumsy as I tried to pull down my sweat pants, since I could only use my left arm...seriously, try it sometime, not easy. But I finally got it, and was all set.

I think sometimes I just don't worry enough about certain things. I didn't think this would be a big deal at all, in spite of the fact that I have naturally low blood pressure, and some of my blood was currently circulating through a machine, rather than flowing through my body. Perhaps you can see where this is going. Almost as soon as I sat down, I started feeling light-headed. I knew immediately, having vast experience with this feeling, that I was headed for a blackout. So the two nurses came right back over to support me. (They were trying to give me a tiny bit of privacy by moving to the other side of the room.) I had to put my head between my knees, as best I could, but despite my best efforts, I did blackout for a second. If you have never passed out, it's a sensation that's pretty unique. I could tell that I was literally only out for a split-second, but it's exhausting. Well, when you don't have enough blood flow to your head, I guess that's a logical side effect. They put a pillow on my lap, and I just remember trying to keep my head down, but supported with the pillow, without smothering myself. And I was yawning uncontrollably.

At this point the nurses just wanted me to pee and get back in bed! I know it's silly as a grown woman, but I still have a bit of stage-fright when it comes to using the bathroom around other people, and then when you add trying not to fall on my head, it was hard to relax! I had to just force something out of my bladder, anything, to relieve the urge to go so I could get through the rest of the morning without going through that again. The whole experience was pretty frantic, and I had at least 4 nurses in there at one point. The sad thing was that I couldn't even wipe myself since I was so woozy and and flushed and tingly. I get really hot when I pass out, and actually sometimes that's the cause. So they took my socks off, at my request, and ended up taking my sweat pants off when I was getting back into bed to keep me cool. I had to get in bed and be laying down before I could be modest and pull my pants back up, but what are you going to do? The head nurse took off my sweat pants, and told me I could just leave my "uh...shorts on." I would have laughed if there was someone else there to share the joke.

I was told I looked horribly pale, no surprise, and they reclined my head even more in bed. Once I was laying down, I felt much better, but my hands were very tingly. That's a side effect that the calcium alleviates, so I got another push. This time I was either so flushed to begin with that I didn't notice, or I got it a lot slower, because I didn't have any more hot flashes. I got to eat some crushed ice and that was really refreshing. For the rest of the time, I had a blood pressure cuff on my ankle to monitor my condition. It didn't take long for me to feel better, but it took a while for my pressure to go up. My blood pressure is usually around 115 over 90, but it was 93 over something (can't remember!) right after I got back into bed. It eventually went up to 135 over something else...and then normalized by the time I was finished.

I'm happy to report that the rest of day was fairly uneventful. After the delays with pressure in my return line and that whole bathroom incident, my end time was pushed back a bit. I should have been able to walk out of the hospital at 1:30, but that's when the cycle was completely finished. At 10:30, when things settled down, I was able to watch the almost 3 of the 4 hours of the movie I brought. It was a really fun movie and it really helped pass the time.

I have to admit that I was counting the minutes for the last hour or so. Not because I was bored or anything like that, but the fact that I had a short bathroom experience previously made me anxious to relieve myself! Also, my right arm was getting kind of achy. I'm sure some of it had to do with the fact that it was straight for five and a half hours, but obviously a lot had to do with having a large needle in my elbow.

When 1:30pm finally rolled around, and the machine stopped, the first thing to do was remove the needle. Yea! But I still had to wait for the blood to finish it's course through the machine and return in my left arm before I could be all unhooked. Now I know the bone aches are uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but that was nothing to the pain I experienced when I had to bend my right arm to stem the flow of blood when the needle was removed! I know it sounds crazy, but my arm was so stiff that I couldn't move it on my own, and the nurse had to do it for me...ouchy! Once the blood flow had slowed down enough, she wrapped it up, and that arm was done.

But I still had to go to the bathroom too, and worse than before. But there was no way I was trying the chair again...disaster. It took probably 5 or 10 more minutes for all my blood to return to my body and for the nurse to heat seal the return line so it could be cut. While that was wrapping up, they took a few more vials of blood to test again to make sure I was ok to leave. After that was done, the nurse let me go to the bathroom with the return line still dangling from my arm so I wouldn't have to wait any longer than necessary.

The other pain that ranks in the top two worst of the whole experience was when the nurse took the plastic tape off my arm that was right over the return line. It was a really sticky plastic sheet that kept everything in place, not that hardly-sticky medical tape. Because I was able to move my left arm a little bit, the return line had to be completely secure so it wouldn't come out. Pulling that off hurt worse than getting stuck with the needles. I'm actually surprised that those things hurt the most because they were secondary to the actual procedure. I got that arm wrapped up and I was all done!

Even with my stiff arm, I was able to put my pants and shoes and socks all by myself. I felt like such a big girl! I ordered lunch right before I was finished, so it arrived while I was waiting for Jon-Michael to show up to take me home. I also had to wait for the results of my most recent blood tests.

Ok, now for the cool part. Pictures! I actually don't have that many since I couldn't take them myself. The nurse was really sweet to take them, but I didn't want to make her take fifty of them like I would have. So this is a close up of the machine that separated my blood. The red bag on the right contains my stem cells. The next one contains some of my plasma, which the patient also needs. I'm not sure why, but I don't know all the medical details! The clear bag with the blue writing contained a saline drip that was included in my return line. I'm not sure what the other bag is, but I'd be willing to bet it contained the anticoagulant that kept my blood from clotting. You can see from all the tubing that my blood had to travel pretty far to get from one arm to the other. I'm seriously amazed at the medical technology that allows such a crazy thing like this to happen.
And here is another charming picture of me in bed. It was close to 1:30 when all these pictures were taken, and I had some awesome bed head. It didn't help that I had cold washcloths on my forehead and neck for a while to cool me off after I passed out because my hair dried all funny. I guess it's good that how I look doesn't affect the stem cells! The bottom portion of the machine is where the blood spins around and is separated. I think that would have been cool to look at, but it was obviously all closed up.

Patty came back and met me to pick up the stem cells and plasma because she was on a deadline! She ran an ice-filled cooler containing the bags down to a special courier who sent them on their way. She told me that I would go home, take a nap, eat a good dinner, and have a good nights sleep. And I did! And by Tuesday morning, I felt great. I was still a tiny bit tired, but that's how I feel every morning. :) My elbow was, and still is a bit stiff, but much, much better than Monday afternoon. I just can't hyper-extend my right arm, but it's getting better all the time. I have a bit of bruising in my right elbow, and at my two blown veins. You can tell where the needle was inside my arm, because I have a bruise following my vein about an inch and half up my arm. Before I left the hospital, my red cell count was the same as when I was admitted, and my platelet level was a little low, but that was completely normal. So really I'd say I'm completely recovered.

Patty called me yesterday and again today to make sure I was feeling ok, and to give me some updates. The cells arrived at their destination, which is good! She told me that I could get an update on my patient as soon as 30 to 45 days, but more likely 45 days. Sometimes, though, it's hard to get updates on international patients, so I could potentially be waiting for months. It's really out of our control, but hopefully I'll hear sooner rather than later.

At this point, I've done all I can do. And I hope it's enough. But if not, I hope my patient's family can feel the same peace mine has experienced. I feel like this has really come full circle for me, and it's a real blessing. It's so hard when you feel like there is nothing you can do for someone you love, and this is the best thing I think I can do for someone else in that situation. My sister told me that the family is probably so grateful to me, and I know it seems silly, but I didn't even think of that. Honestly, I'm just as grateful that I've been able to serve someone else. I testify that the words of the Savior in Matthew 16:25 are true. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." Not that I've given up anything that I will ever miss. My health and life expectancy will not ever be affected by this experience, but my spirit forever will. The opportunity to serve gives us the chance to understand how much love our Savior has for us. My love for this man that I will probably never meet is such that I don't even know how to express it. I can't help but cry as I type this because I don't know how else to express my emotions. I'm so grateful to have had this opportunity, and still wish I could do more. Though the physical experience wasn't necessarily pleasant, the spiritual experience is overwhelming. I would do this again and again and again, purely for selfish reasons! I feel so blessed, and it has been so rewarding to work with such wonderful people in the Colorado Marrow Donor Program and everyone else at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center and Presbyterian/St Luke Hospital. I'm a bit sad that this is over, but still full of gratitude to share this, hopefully, life-saving part of myself with someone else.

Thank you to all of you who have read this. It makes me feel so good to know that you have enjoyed the journey with me. I love reading your comments, and though I don't deserve all your praise, it does make me feel really good! The thing that makes this so much more rewarding is to hear that someone else has joined the registry. Really, besides documenting this experience for myself, I hope that I can inspire another to be willing to possibly save someone else's life. I promise it will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.


Itty_Bitty_Wittes said...

I have a weird question.

Do they send you a bill for all of the time you were in the hospital or because you are donating is it free?

Do they charge you for the lab work and stuff like that too or does the recipient of your gift pay for that?

Not that the money would deter me from doing it, but I wonder how it all works from that perspective.

You do deserve the praise and I hope you get back to normal soon!:)

PS I can't pee in public either. hahaha

Heather said...

That's not a weird question at all. You're not the first to ask it either. Everything is paid for by the patient, through the Colorado Marrow Donor Program, in my case here. I don't get paid for anything either though. It's a volunteer donation. I do get reimbursed for miles for all the appointments and everything, and Patty gave me a little Target gift card as a thank you from the CMDP. It was really sweet. Honestly, I wouldn't be able to afford everything I had done if I had to pay for it out of pocket! I was lucky to be close by though, I believe they will pay for all travel expenses if that's required too. It certainly would have made this a little more difficult if I had to travel a significant distance, because of my kids and everything, but it all in all, it wasn't bad for me.

Shannon said...

Thanks for sharing this incredible adventure with us! Loved reading about it!

Marie said...

would you mind if i linked your blog to my facebook to try and get people to sign up for the registry that my work is hosting?