Archive for January 26th, 2009

A bad day

This isn’t going to be a pretty journal entry. If you are squeamish or don’t want to read all of the gory details of this particular day, then I highly recommend that you read up until the warning point in this entry, and then skip to the end.

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There have been many bad days for Geraldine in this battle, but the worst that I’ve personally witnessed had to be Saturday, January 24th 2009. She had been in the hospital for less than a week (checked in that Tuesday) and had been in relatively good spirits up until then. Her chemo regimen this time consists of different drugs, whereas last time she only had the Melphalan. On Saturday, she was having the last chemotherapy drug for this transplant.  Unfortunately, it is also one of the most toxic.

The drug’s name is Cytoxan. For those of you who may just be tuning in, the second bone marrow transplant (she’s doing two back-to-back) will work just like the first one, where her existing bone marrow is killed off by high-dose chemotherapy drugs. Her own stem cells, which were harvested around Thanksgiving, are given back to her so that new bone marrow can be regrown. This process completely destroys her entire immune system, replacing it with a brand new one. It takes about a month and a half, with a major danger period being during the first three weeks of that process.

That’s if she can survive the chemo. The doses used here are near lethal and extremely toxic. On Saturday, I walked in to find her in seriously bad shape.

Warning – if you are easily grossed out, skip to the end of this post (The next morning…)

I’m used to her sleeping, and even getting nauseous from time to time. There’s a convenient little device built into the toilets of these hospital rooms. It’s basically like a shower-head on an arm that swings down over the bowl. It allows you to hold the “bucket” that they give patients to vomit into over the toilet, bring the arm down, and flush the contents into the drain. It makes it very easy to clean this out and return it to the patient without getting your hands too dirty. It also gives them some comfort, because they don’t have to keep puking into the already filled container.

I emptied that container at least 10 times in one hour. Just when I thought there was nothing left, there would be more. It was bile, all bile. It looked like Mountain Dew, and at times it was thick. It smelled awful. I can’t imagine how hard it was on her. From my understanding, she had been doing this for at least 6 hours straight, and it was getting worse.

She didn’t look right either. They had to give her a lot of fluids. I’m also used to seeing her a bit puffy when they do this, but she looked swollen this time. Her eyes were dark, sunken, and almost closed. She wasn’t coherent. She really couldn’t talk much. She couldn’t sleep, no matter how much they encouraged her by eliminating all noise and light. When she wasn’t puking, she would lay down, but there was this constant sound of heaving – almost sounded like hiccups, only worse. With these heaves, her whole body would twitch. It was constant at one point, and the twitching heaves were about 2 seconds apart. They had given her as many anti-nausea drugs as they could, and the medical professional that was taking care of her, well to me he looked really worried. He was doing everything he could think of to calm this whole thing down. Finally, with the addition of some morphine to ease the heaving/twitching, she fell asleep. The vomiting stopped. I left for the evening and went to stay with some friends who were kind enough to put me up for the night in Richmond. (Thanks Emily and Jeff!)

The next morning, when I got to her room, I was very surprised and relieved to see her up and smiling at me, albeit weakly. She even cracked a joke or two. I watched her order food and eat it without fear of it coming back up. I was amazed and very, very grateful. That day by comparison was one of her best. She had tons of visitors, including her daughter and parents.

I went to say goodbye that evening, and she was sleepy, but happy. And of course, she was still talking shit. You know she’s feeling better when she’s busting on you or saying some ridiculously dirty thing.

Ah, Geraldine. You have such strength and resilience. And you’re a complete pain in the ass. 😉