Transplant day started earlier than usual. The night nurse came in at 5am to draw blood and to give me a preparatory infusion. I was too groggy at the time remember now if it was an anti-biotic or an immune system suppressant or something else. I was awoken again shortly after 7am with more preparations. I was hooked up to a big bag of immune-suppressants and to a smaller one of water. I sat at my desk for a while and then the transplant doctor came in. She told me the plan. The transplant would happen in the morning. Enough stem cells had been harvested yesterday to do the transplant before noon. There were not enough to freeze extras should they be needed, but the donor would be available for more in that event.
My blood counts suggest that the chemo had achieved the intended effect. I have entered into aplasia. My white counts have hit nearly the bottom. The platelets counts are the lowest ever. And I have anemia like never before. I used the stool this morning when showering. I’ll remain transfusion dependent now for at least two weeks.
The anonymous donor travelled several hours yesterday to be here to donate. He’s 32 years old, and from a large city in the east. He is a perfect match. He even has the same blood type. I don’t know any more about him. I wonder what conviction led him to help. Why was he so generous with his time and body? Perhaps he’s a member of a helping profession, and donating is part of the professional culture. Maybe a fireman. Or maybe it’s done out of religious faith. Maybe there is a family history of similar illness. I’ve never known anyone to donate stem cells. Plenty of people donate blood, especially at colleges and universities. Even I have done that. But donating stem cells is less common. Maybe with stem cell donation there is a deeper sense of satisfaction. The donor is the person making the life-savings effort possible; the stem cell donor is not just one of many donors contributing to the cause.
Whatever his reason to help, it was with a deep sense of gratitude that I accepted his communion gift this morning at about 10:50am. I was connected to a bag of his stem cells; some 5.4 million, I’m told. The tube flowed red for about an hour. But I was also hooked up to some kind anti-allergen infusion, which made me drowsy. So, I drifted in and out on a sleep as sweet as frankincense.
Now we wait, once again. The stem cells need to graft, and then begin the formation of the new marrow. We hope to find evidence of the pump being primed, in the form of rising blood counts, in two weeks. Risk of infection will be the main threat during that time. After that we hope that the new immune system takes its guard dog duty seriously and attacks only hostile outsiders.
I know the process is not over yet. But I feel a little lighter today. Whatever else, that disease is past. So, say a toast tonight for the demise of a disease, and for further health! I’d like nothing more than to join in, but on this ward tonight I get nothing stronger than the words of T.S. Eliot: “[T]o make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”