August, 2010 Archives

To The Patient In Room 2603

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August 29th, 2010

I know your room. I lived there for five weeks. Although you’ve shoved the bed over against the window in a brilliant move making you much more one with the outside and your goal. I know your pain. Yes, this phrase has become comical in its overuse but in your case, Madame Butterfly, you know […]

I know your room.

I lived there for five weeks. Although you’ve shoved the bed over against the window in a brilliant move making you much more one with the outside and your goal.

I know your pain.

Yes, this phrase has become comical in its overuse but in your case, Madame Butterfly, you know I know.

I am glad we met. You call me your mentor even though I’m your daughter’s age. I guess we mentors can be younger but you also give me strength. It may sound convoluted but since you are probably smarter than me and learned English at a later age, I’ll attempt an explanation. By allowing me to feel all-knowing about this stinky disease and by letting me in to help, you are helping me. For the entire summer I’ve relied on others for help. Now by your simple act of wanting to know more from me, I am able to give a little back. God it feels good. Thank you M.

So here’s a little more “help.” I was sitting on our insanely comfortable couch while the rest of my family sleeps this Sunday morning and I was thinking about you, sending healing thoughts across Troy and up Dequindre your way. I realized you are in the thick of it right now. You are in that place where the drugs in the bag hanging next to you are really hammering your mind and body. This is “Go Time” M. This is when you rely on everything you’ve ever known to pull you through.

Remember your own comfy spot at home. Remember your garden and your green thumb, never mind that autumn will be in the air soon. Remember your husband and your daughter, both hovering by your bedside knowing and not knowing what to do. Remember why you signed up to join this planet in the first place. Remember health.

Mostly, remember health. Because it’s looking for you and continually asks me about you. It wants so badly to visit and your nurses and doctor most certainly are trying to issue it a day pass. I saw it in the ward knocking on other people’s doors but it was pounding on yours! Ms. M, you don’t know how badly health feels for you.

But truly, the most important note I can pass on is that very soon you will succumb to health. Even my five weeks in your room — with that insane cooling vent and the bed that adjusts even when, damn it, you don’t want it to adjust — seems to have faded a little from my memory. Only just a little, but a little nevertheless.

And that’s the thing. Our cancer is the kind that allows that. Our doctor has never had a failure with this type of blood disease. Life’s not over; there’s still much more to come. Your eyes tell me you know this and want this. Now let your body realize it. Yes, the medicine that’s destroying the cancer is also bringing other sicknesses with it. You can’t imagine what was lurking in my intestines a few months ago. But I’ve seen the way you handle those invaders and I’m impressed.

In some very real ways M, you are my mentor. And I am all the better for it.

Next To Normal

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August 25th, 2010

In my hospital stays so far with this disease and the freaky blood clot over in Muskegon I’ve craved lots of different things. I was on a pizza jag for a while, then burgers. Pepsi Slurpees have always filled the bill and an occasional carmel shake has been delivered by my ever supportive family. But […]

In my hospital stays so far with this disease and the freaky blood clot over in Muskegon I’ve craved lots of different things. I was on a pizza jag for a while, then burgers. Pepsi Slurpees have always filled the bill and an occasional carmel shake has been delivered by my ever supportive family. But the growing, all-consuming craving I’m experiencing these days is for normalcy.

I know I’ve given normalcy a bad rap sometimes in my life. There were times I’ve felt if things are normal, I’m not growing or expanding my horizons. Sure, it sounds pathologic, but I used to fear contentment. I distinctly remember a conversation with a long-ago girlfriend where I said, “If I start talking about end tables, just kill me.”

Yes, I capitulated and we have an end table these days. But back then it seemed so grown up, so settled, so usual, so normal. Now I crave normal. I crave my own bed. I crave not walking around with tubes coming out of me. I crave not having to schedule time to see my family. I even crave mowing the lawn.

I was moments away from getting a day pass out of this hospital last week to go see my daughter’s marching band show and at the last minute they rescinded it. I’m a grown man asking the teacher for a slip to walk the hallways. It feels so out of my control and yet I know all of this is for a great reason, my health.

But it’s going to be a while before I see normal again.

First my brother has to give me his stem cells. Even though they still call it marrow donation they rarely actually go in and take people’s bone marrow. Instead they extract stem cells just like you’re giving blood and then whisk it up to me where it’ll just drip intravenously into my Red River.

They will have given me even more chemo and a bit of radiation beforehand, then the recovery process begins with several more weeks in the hospital then perhaps up to a year of anti-rejection precautions and crazy things like getting all my baby shots redone since I have a brand new system.

I’m looking at normal occurring sometime mid to late 2011.

But will it ever be normal? Is this the new normal? Will I be able to go on vacation again and not fear waking up in the middle of the night with a blood clot? Or will my new normal include a perspective that I normally don’t have?

Will I be thankful for every day and treat those around me with a greater abundance of respect and admiration? Will I look at this as a second chance and an opportunity to get things right? Or will I be so thankful for normalcy that I just sink back into old roles and not feel affected by the shadow of cancer in my past?

These are all the random ramblings of a guy who’s been hospitalized far too much this summer so take them with a grain of salt substitute. I know my future holds change and growth and an appreciation far greater than I’ve ever experienced. But from the viewpoint of a gray hospital morning, that future looks vague and distant.

And then a large family walks, heads bowed, out of a darkened patient’s room a few doors down and their faces show incomprehension — the telltale signs the end is near — and I feel like a jerk. Here I am, hinting towards healthy and their options have run out.

Normally, though, you know I’m not like this.

Blood Brothers

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August 19th, 2010

I didn’t know why my big brother Scott was leaning across the ripped vinyl seats in our 70s station wagon with a goofy smile plastered across his face. But when he pushed up against me and buried his mouth and nose in my chest, I knew in my nine-year-old mind I shouldn’t fear getting hit. […]

I didn’t know why my big brother Scott was leaning across the ripped vinyl seats in our 70s station wagon with a goofy smile plastered across his face. But when he pushed up against me and buried his mouth and nose in my chest, I knew in my nine-year-old mind I shouldn’t fear getting hit. From there, muffled by my shirt, I heard him sing, “Come on people now, smile on your brother …”

He was actually doing that, smiling on his brother.

Neither of us really understood how to smile on someone or what the song actually meant, but he took the initiative and gave it a whirl in the back of our puke-yellow car with the impossibly garish fake wood decals along the side. I gave him credit for trying.

My relationship with Scott has always been a sociologist’s dream. He was the youngest in the family for six years until I bumbled out of the womb and spoiled his streak. Securing the role of middle child, he fought equally hard against Dean, our oldest, and me. The battles with Dean were epic, as the two were pretty evenly matched only being 14 months apart. One time I showed up in their bedroom and heard pounding and yelling. Somehow Dean had shoved Scott into their closet and jammed the door shut with a spare crutch leftover from the time Dean’s plan to karate kick the medicine cabinet door didn’t work out exactly as planned.

Scott’s battles with me were more like the Nazi’s invading Poland, only I didn’t have the international community in an uproar over my beatings. Surrender was my only option.

I always knew Scott had my back though. The neighborhood bullies didn’t seem to come by for a second round of mayhem at my expense once he paid them a visit. And I can distinctly remember a long-ago adventure in the park at the end of our street next to the chemical factory. The place was packed and my big brother was actually a bit shaken up when he thought he’d lost me to the crowd of kids who’d gathered in the summer night to watch somebody do something — lost to time — but invariably wrong or illegal.

As we got older though, a real respect for each other began to take hold and — shock upon shock — we found out we actually enjoyed being in each other’s company. Whereas we used to pass the time goading each other until Mom or Dad yelled at us, (usually yelling at him because I played the victim card ALL the time), now we golf. He still beats me though, only now it’s with the number of swings it takes put the damn ball in the cup.

I’d say we’ve progressed up the socially acceptable ladder a rung or two.

When I got tackled by leukemia a few months ago I could see the pain in my big brother’s eyes. I don’t know this for a fact, but it seemed to me they were saying, “Come on Rodney, how am I supposed to protect you from this?”

He’s often stopped by my hospital room or swung by the house and mowed my lawn for me. He’s done what he could, lifting my spirits, talking about the Tigers, telling jokes, having his bone marrow tested, that sort of thing.

We’ve known throughout this disease that my prognosis, if everything goes according to plan, is very good. We’ve also witnessed things not going at all according to plan. For the past several weeks we’ve been on the course from remission to a cure by doing more chemotherapy and knocking leukemia completely and totally out of me forever.

The best way to do that, we’re told, is by replacing my bone marrow with someone else’s. Several people have been tested, including my brothers and a cousin and there have even been folks in the national registry, friends of mine, who’ve sent me their anonymous code numbers in case we were a match.

A couple days ago one of those anonymous numbers hit. I was told I won the Lottery. It actually was my brother Scott’s marrow which at this point looks like a perfect match for my own. He had been in the national registry years earlier for a firefighter friend of his and due to our similar genetic makeup, he appears to be the perfect donor for me. In the crass words of a couple buddies 30 years ago, “you and your brother are fucking clones.”

My creative brother figured out yet another way to smile on me.

“So Scott, how are you feeling today?” I asked when I phoned him, “how do your bones feel?” I told him the news and he was extremely happy for me and I think a bit for himself too. Upon further conversation, when he learned all he had to do was basically just give blood and not go under the knife or pickax or corkscrew he seemed even happier.

He was happier still when I agreed that a meal at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse would be the perfect way to prep his blood for sharing. The dude’s giving me his stem cells; the least I can do is order him a New York Strip.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcbrothers_cousin.jpg

Is The Patient In?

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August 15th, 2010

A short tap-tapping at the door as I’m leaving my room to make the mile lap around the ward reveals a couple candy-stripers with The Cart. One can purchase chocolate, salty snacks, little games, weekly news magazines or maybe some illicit drugs if you know the right code words. You can’t get Belgian beer or […]

A short tap-tapping at the door as I’m leaving my room to make the mile lap around the ward reveals a couple candy-stripers with The Cart. One can purchase chocolate, salty snacks, little games, weekly news magazines or maybe some illicit drugs if you know the right code words. You can’t get Belgian beer or pizza from The Cart; I’ve checked.

The two young ladies, hardly twenty, look at me then peek into my room and ask, “Is the patient here, he may want to buy something.”

Moments later, the nurses on the ward comment on how fast I’m walking those laps and how robust I look.