Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Day Zero

Yesterday my stem cells were returned to me, like a liberating army marching steadily into a bombarded landscape abandoned by defeated forces.

The analogy is doubtless imperfect as some of these millions of apparently valiant little troopers will contain within them the seeds of future disease: tiny Fifth Columnists preparing to open the doors again to the hostile army.

I sound ungrateful, but am in fact far from that desiccated state. It was a very good moment when the man from the lab wheeled his trolley into Ambi Care. On it was a shipper, a brown outer urn-shaped shell, within which was a large white insulated vessel containing four bags of my previously harvested cells frozen in liquid nitrogen.

They wanted me in a bit earlier yesterday, as patients receiving stem cells have to lie down during the procedure as well as receive premeds. Both these measures are aimed at countering adverse reactions to the preservative mixed with the cells when they are stored. Also timing is crucial, in view of the need to get cells back to a patient as quickly as possible once they are thawed.

As yet, it is not possible to pass cells down a PICC line, so a cannula had to be inserted into my right arm to take a broad drip tube. The first vein tried proved unforthcoming, so a second attempt was needed and mercifully met with success. Please do not think that cannula insertion is always horrible, but I have grown rather wary of the things, which can be painful, as they were on this occasion. Enough: this was to be a good day!

Thawing takes place in a small metal tank placed at the bedside on which water is heated to 37 degrees centigrade, a healthy body temperature. My cells had been divided into four bags so that, as the cells from one bag passed down the line into my arm, the next bag was prepped, ensuring that none of the vital cells were thawed until they were actually needed.

Soon enough the line turned pink, showing that the cells were marching down the line to my rescue. The nurses had some concern that they were not proceeding fast enough, but several flushes of the line with saline enabled swifter progress.

It proved quite a long day and I was pretty dozy for much of the time, not only as a result of the premeds but also because of the increasing fatigue induced by chemo. For several periods I listened to the healing music of Bach's Goldberg Variations, both animating and soothing at the same time.

Once the cells had been infused, there was just a final bag of saline to flush everything through and along and we were free to go, the only sign to those around me that anything unusual had been taking place being the pervasive aroma of sweetcorn from the preservative used on the cells. I am told this can last another day or two, although I, the one from whom it is emanating, am completely oblivious to it.

In the evening we went for a freshly-cooked burger as I am now advised to steer clear of eateries likely to reheat their food. Afterwards we went for a leisurely walk as far as Oxford Street, returning via a vast empty building site in Mortimer Street that I soon realised with a sense of shock was the location of The Middlesex Hospital. This was where my grandmother trained as a nurse about 100 years ago, where my father trained as a doctor in the 1940s and my brother had followed in his footsteps 30 years later; it was also where my grandfather had passed the closing weeks of his final illness in the 1960s and where I had last seen him. Now the walls and floors, fittings and accoutrements had all vanished, leaving only air. There was no indication on the demolition hoardings as to what was going to be built on the site, so here it was, thronging with the silent ghosts of the living and the dead.

No comments:

Post a Comment