This Improvised Life - Sunday, 25 October 2015
I laid there in one of the beds in the Apheresis unit at Cleveland Clinic on a Tuesday morning. Ugh, it was too early. Just too, too early! There were five other people with me, but not all of us were having our stem cells harvested. Some of the people were there for plasma infusions and other exciting procedures that looked like, but were not oil changes. One of the people who was there with me was Gina, the lady from Toledo who would be admitted for stem cell transplantation at the same time as I the following week.
It was pretty quiet in that room and it was freezing, too. Some people slept while others occupied their time with books or the televisions that were part of their bed rigs. I chose to pass my time with my Chomebook and Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please! on Audible. On occasion, I might’ve laughed a little too loudly and for those around me, that probably sucked. This is supposed to be a somber zone, right? I mean, it is a hospital after all. Oh, I guess I could’ve been a little more sensitive to everyone else’s needs, but, by God, I think they should’ve been a little more sensitive to mine as well! I mean, I wanted it to seem more like a party and not something so completely sad or frightening. I wanted it to be like a day at summer camp, but with beds, and tubes, and sick people, and arctic temperatures.
Welcome to “Camp Frigiwanda”!
In some ways, I guess I probably made it fun. The nurses and the techs who were working in the unit all seemed to have a good time with me. And I’m pretty sure the adorable Asian toddler in the bed across from mine appreciated someone else who was playing and keeping things light. Gina was certainly having a great time as we rolled our eyes at each other or communicated silently in a game of hospital charades while the quiet, boring and chilly hours passed in that room. It probably helped that I engratiated myself to the staff because, as it turned out, I had to use the bathroom a number of times while I was there.
Let me explain: “using the bathroom” wasn’t just a matter of letting me get up and go use the bathroom, which was actually only about 12 feet away from me. I was hooked up to a machine and couldn’t be uncoupled from it for the entire duration of the process; a process which lasted almost seven hours. What happened was that they needed to bring me a jug to pee into and then they had to position me just right or the flow of blood going into the filtering machine would be interrupted and it would make an annoying beeping sound until someone came by to shut it off. Honestly, it didn’t matter if I was in or out of the bed, that machine just kept sounding its alarm that whole morning. I was special, apparently. Anyhow, after they gave me the jug and positioned me, they would have to close the wraparound curtain so I could go ahead and relieve myself. Looking back on that, it probably wasn’t a good idea to continue listening to Amy Poehler when all that was happening because I am pretty sure the giggling coming from behind the curtain caused people to wonder what was really going on back there while I was obviously touching myself.
After I completed my personal duties, I’d have to yell for a nurse and tell her I was finished. This is not something I have had to do since I was about three years old-- you know, yell for someone more responsible to let them know I had finished going to the bathroom. I digress-- the nurse would come by, open the curtain, smile politely and take the pee jug away. For some reason, my body felt the need to repeat this process about once an hour even though I barely had anything to drink in the morning or while I was there. I was like some sort of human dehumidifier that was pulling all the moisture out of the air and filtering it through my kidneys. It was a little embarrassing, but we all lived.
Before I realised, it was 2:30. It was the magical moment they determined the bag of pulpy orange stuff that had come from my blood was full enough for the day and told me it was time to go home. Great! I have to go to the bathroom again. This time I could wait until they unhooked me from the apheresis machine and sent me on my way with or without a lollipop.
When the nurse started to detach the tubes that were connected to the ones in my chest, she happened to look down at the floor. She screwed up her face, which made me look at the floor. Beneath the machine were little pools of red liquid that sort of looked like blood or something like blood. The nurse could tell that I knew something wasn’t quite right, so she just decided to open up the front hatch on the machine to have a look. What the two of us saw resembled a crime scene. The first words out of her mouth were, “This isn’t normal.”
We looked at each other, looked at the blood-splattered innards of the filtering device and looked at each other again. Her eyes grew wide and she said, “this has never happened before. I’m going to have to go get someone.” Of course this has never happened before-- these things only happen when I’m a part of the equation!!
I had to wait for a tech to come by and it was taking quite a while. By this time, I really had to pee again. Thankfully, I was unhooked from the machine so I could make it to the actual bathroom at long last. Relief for all parties involved! Waiting for the tech to arrive felt like waiting for the principal to arrive. I felt like I was going to get a stern talking-to for breaking the expensive device and my punishment would be that my insurance would be billed for it. Go ahead, I’ve already paid my deductible and met the out-of-pocket maximum, so I wasn’t responsible for anything else! The tech arrived about 10 minutes later and she just stared at the machine, not knowing what to make of it. Gina was still on her leash and silently kept gesticulating at me, asking what was going on. All I could do was shrug.
The tech got up from the machine. “This isn’t normal. This has never happened before.”
Is there a specific script for what to say when a machine blows up? Apparently, this actually hadn’t happened before. I was hooked up to a relatively new apheresis module and it shouldn’t have failed. My superhuman alien blood broke a part on the unit and they needed to notify the manufacturer. OK, that was pretty neat.
They sent me on my way and told me to wait for a call from the nurse who was assigned to me. She would tell me whether or not they were able to get the five million cells needed to perform the stem cell transplant. I was really hoping that they did because that would mean I wouldn’t have to go back. Well, I never got that call because this malfunction was such a big deal that the head of the department herself phoned me. I was told that they had collected well over the five million cells that they needed to perform my stem cell transplant. This was good news. I was then informed that they would need to run tests to see if the the draw had been compromised with bacteria. That was bad news. They tried to spin it by saying they didn’t think that it would be contaminated and that everything was probably alright, but just to be safe, they wanted me to come back the next day for another collection.
Are you freaking kidding me?! We have to do this again tomorrow? Is anyone really looking forward to this? If nothing else, I’m sure these folks will forever remember me as that giggling guy who peed a lot and broke their new apheresis machine.
Well honey, pack my bags-- I’m heading back to “Camp Frigiwanda”!