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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tom's Transplant Story

The first day I went in to Brigham and Women's Hospital to have my stem cells harvested, another patient was in the waiting room.  He was called in before me, and I noticed him struggling to stand up. He tried without success to take off his jacket, so the woman with him had to help him remove it.  As he shuffled into the ward, I felt really bad for him.

I ended up in the bed next to his, so over the next two days I got to know him a little.  His name is George, but his friends call him Tom.  He is a bit younger than I at 68, and he was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma last August.  Unfortunately, he was in Stage 3 when diagnosed, and he had suffered significant bone damage.  The reason Tom wasn't feeling well was that he had contracted a bad infection and had spent the previous three days in the hospital.  His doctor had considered delaying the transplant, but then decided to go ahead on schedule. 

Tom's partner, Ellen, is a very nice woman.  Both of them had lost their spouses, and they have been together for the last 6 years.  Ellen's husband died of cancer and had undergone a stem cell transplant, so this was deja vu all over again for her.  I was feeling bad for both of them.

Tom and I didn't talk too much, since we are both hard of hearing.  (Eh?  What?)  However, I learned that he was scheduled to go in for his transplant three days after me.  We talked of trying to get onto the same floor for our transplants so we could see each other.  He has a good sense of humor, so he said if we don't get on the same floor, we could meet on the court during the inter-floor basketball game.

We didn't get on the same floor, but Gretchen did go to visit Tom while we were both there.  (We missed out on the basketball game.)  We had exchanged email addresses, so we tried to stay in touch.  However, I didn't hear from him for a while, so I became worried about him.  The day after I got home, I finally got an email from Ellen saying that Tom was having a really rough time.  He suffered a mini stroke in the hospital and got a bad blood infection with a fever.  He had become delirious and was on antibiotics.  He also had to have multiple blood and platelet transfusions.  On top of that, he had bad mouth sores, as well as skin sores all over his body.  Gulp!

Needless to say, Tom didn't go home early.  In fact he was in the hospital a couple of extra days and got home on Easter Sunday.  Again I didn't hear from him for a while, and I started worrying again.  Ellen then emailed me that they had a VNA nurse coming in and that Tom had to continue taking serious antibiotics through a picc line.  His white blood cell and platelet counts were still low, and he continued to be disoriented.

Since then, I have had several emails from Tom.  Fortunately, he is starting to recover and his blood counts are going back up.  Thank goodness!  But because of the infection, his recuperation time will be much longer.  Last week, he was bummed out because the doctor told him he couldn't get close to his grandchildren for another 8 weeks.  I just heard from him again today.  His biggest problem now is shortness of breath, even when bends over to tie his shoes.  He has also lost 17 pounds since his transplant!

You know, this really doesn't seem fair.  Why is Tom having such a tough row to hoe, while I seem to be recovering just fine?  My heart goes out to him.  I almost feel guilty telling him that I am doing great while he is struggling so.  Gretchen and I would like to go visit Tom and Ellen sometime soon.  I think Gretchen and Ellen would get along and perhaps have things to share as caregivers.

In the meantime, I continue to be thankful.  If I forget to be thankful, all I have to do is think about Tom.

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