Monday night I went to bed feeling a little achy. I slept well and woke up to the sound of a hotel alarm clock at 5:45am on Tuesday morning. I couldn’t have anything to eat since I was getting a central line inserted, so I drank a couple of big glasses of water, put on my comfie clothes and Frank and I headed to the hospital for the last time. We made ourselves comfortable in our own private room, complete with a bed for me, a chair for Frank and a television. One of the nurses came in and drew several tubes of blood, then gave me one last filgrastim injection. The last sting! We waited for the radiology group to call me down to get my central line and as soon as they were ready I headed that way. I was led to a large room that looked similar to this:
I had to put on a gown as four or five doctors and nurses moved around very fast doing doctor and nurse things. One of them put on some music and as I laid on the bed, with the commotion and movement and music that sounded like The Fray, I felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and tried to stifle my nerves.
The young Dr. Horner talked to me about going to medical school at KU, then told me that inserting a central line was easy – the easiest, most routine thing they do all day – but that he knew it wasn’t easy for me. He said that the hardest part would be the anticipation, not the procedure, and he was right. One of the nurses hung a sheet near my face so that I couldn’t see what was going on, and Dr. Horner injected some lidocaine in the general area of my neck. That stung a little bit, but not as bad as that first filgrastim shot. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I could feel pressure. Not pain, pressure. I felt like a clown’s pocket – like I was getting stuffed full of handkerchiefs. I had no idea what was going on, but it felt weird. Then it was over.
Dr. Horner said something about the Coldplay song playing – that it was “safe – you can’t offend anyone with Coldplay.” He was right, but I asked him what he likes to listen to, if not the safety of Coldplay. He said – and I’m not kidding – 60’s-era jazz organ records. I would have busted out laughing if I didn’t have a thing sticking out of my neck. I asked the room in general if anyone had ever heard of The Mighty Boosh and one awesome nurse answered affirmatively and started laughing. I said that Dr. Horner was Howard Moon, then we talked about Old Gregg and the Crack Fox until it was time for me to go back to my room. I thanked Dr. Horner for stabbing me in the neck and wished them all well.
‘Back in my room, it was donation time. The central line in my neck made it difficult to turn my head – the nurses told me it was fine, but I was scared the line would pop out and blood would gush out all over everywhere and next thing you know it looks like Night of the Living Dead all up in here. So I kept head movements to a minimum. I then got hooked up to this machine:
Sort of looks like some retro Atari rig, right? There were two tubes coming out of my neck, so they hooked an output tube to one and an input to another. Over the next five hours, my blood was sucked out, passed through this machine where the stem cells were separated out and filtered to a collection bag, then the rest of my blood was pumped back into my body. Since I could’t (wouldn’t) turn my head, I didn’t really see much of this happening, but Mr. Awesome said it looked really cool, if not a bit freaky.
During the collection, I did the following:
- Ate a Denver omelette
- Read Cooking Light magazine
- Watched an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they made the world’s best blueberry muffins
When I wasn’t sleeping, I looked pretty much like this:
That’s multitasking, right there.
Then, around 2:30 pm, a nurse checked the progress of the collection and determined that I was all done. Not only was I done, they were able to collect TWICE as many stem cells as were needed, so the extras could be frozen for use by the patient if she needed more! How awesome is that?!
Here I am, during one of the proudest moments of my whole life:
Shortly after, a courier arrived to pick up my cells and rush them to the airport for a 3:30 flight. It was right about then that I started to get all teary. All the emotion of the day, of the whole experience, was compressed into that bag and the courier and the journey my cells would be taking over the next several hours. It’s unfathomable, really. Ain’t science grand?
It was now time to remove the central line from my neck. Long story short, the nurses pulled it out, and then held pressure to the hole in my neck for about 5 full minutes. Then they put a chunky white patch over the area and told me not to do anything to strain my neck for a couple of days (like lifting luggage, bending over, etc.) No problem, ladies. I didn’t want to see the thing they pulled out of my neck right then, but Mr. Awesome took a picture so I could look at it later. I debated posting the picture here, but decided against it because it’s pretty disturbing. Not that the picture above of me holding a bag of blood isn’t disturbing, but you get the idea.
I got dressed, put on my shoes (without bending over – no easy task), then said farewell to the great nurses who took such good care of me and Mr. Awesome during our stay:
They’re laughing because Mr. Awesome tried to get foam hand sanitizer out of a dispenser, and it sprayed all over him. I sort of laughed, but didn’t because I was afraid of the whole Night of the Living Dead thing. You know how it is.
And that was it. I was officially a bone marrow donor!
The process wasn’t completely painless, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected, either. I didn’t have lots of soreness due to the injections like some people report. I preemptively addressed some of that by having Tylenol at the ready just in case and by drinking lots of water. The donation process itself was very easy. Mine was a bit more complicated because of the central line, but I highly recommend a central line to other donors because it keeps your hands free and because they can collect more cells in a shorter period.
I would donate again tomorrow if I asked. No hesitation.
We went back to the hotel, freshened up a bit, then headed to a celebratory dinner. Yep – I felt good enough to go out to dinner. I wore a turtleneck and you couldn’t even tell I had a huge patch on my neck covering a gaping clown hanky hole.
With dinner, our day went from AMAZING to OMFGAMAZING. How? We had the best sushi we’ve ever eaten. In landlocked Denver. A mile above sea level. On a Tuesday.
is the most incredible sushi restaurant we’ve ever experienced. Operated by the Kizaki brothers, Toshi, Yasu & Koichi, this is sushi like no other. Toshi and Yasu live in Denver and run the restaurant. Koichi lives in Japan and buys fish in one of Japan’s largest fish markets every morning, then ships it to his brothers the same day. The result is that there is fish on the menu in Denver that was swimming 24 hours before. That’s not something you run into every day in the midwest or mountains. Among the incredible pieces we sampled was some seared fatty tuna. It was a flavor and texture that was entirely new to me and I could have eaten a whole plate of it. We’re looking forward to a trip to Colorado next summer for lots of reasons, including a return visit to Sushi Den.
Donation done, dinner eaten, back to the hotel for a nice, long sleep.
Next up – the day after, and we learn about Shoulder Season.
(This is a cross-post with my not-so-foodie site, Sit. Stay. Good Blog.
It’s important, so I want as many people to learn about bone marrow donation as possible.)