Friday, June 8, 2007

Where were you?

One year ago, I was unhappy with my life. I was 19 years old and battling a persistent depression. I was living in a frat house in Boston with few friends around. I was working between forty and fifty hours every week. One job I liked; one job I didn't like. I was also in a long-distance relationship that was choking me. My band had dispersed, and I was left with a notebook full of lyrics but no music. At the time, I knew of two good things: I was going to France in just over a month, and biking, which kept me moderately sane. I am revealing this super personal information because of this: Over the next roughly two weeks, my life completely changed. It started when one of my bosses - the one I didn't like - decided to "let me go." I worked at a guitar shop across the street from Berklee College of Music, and business was slow over the summer. I was just part time; I was dispensable. So that was that. One week later, as I was biking along Boston Harbor, I decided, on a whim, to find out if the boats that cruised the harbor needed any help. I was hired on the spot as a bartender. About a week after that, I was sitting along the Charles River (I like bodies of water), trying to figure out why I was so unhappy and what I could do about it. I decided I needed to break up with my boyfriend. It occurred to me that I needed to make my happiness a priority, and at the time, I wasn't. So I ended it over the phone and burst into tears. And then I was free. I had a new job. I had a new realization that I could take care of myself; I could be totally self-sufficient. And I had a new confidence that things would work out. Basically, I finally ballsed up and found my strength. The rest of the summer was pretty great. I loved working on the boats, I met crazy new people, France was probably the best thing I've ever done, and I was feeling pretty good about myself.

Flash-forward: six months ago. I was standing in a hospital room bathroom, bawling my eyes out, trying not to let the large, raucous black woman in the next bed hear me. I had just been told I had leukemia; I wouldn't be able to finish my semester; I needed to go home as soon as possible. So much for feeling good about myself.

Flash-forward: present day. I have had an absolutely crappy day. No sugar or honey, no, "they don't need to know this." It has been a bad, bad day. But here's the thing. Tomorrow will be a better day. Yesterday was a good day. Today just happened to not be. Life is actually okay. I have changed immensely over the past six months. I'd say I've matured, but maybe my perspective has just changed, yet again. I have realized just how damn strong humans can be. The past six months have been tough. The next three will probably, almost, be worse. But I'll get through it and come out on top, and I love who I am for being able to do so.

Flash-forward: six months from today. Hopefully, in six months I will be drunk as a skunk and surrounded by friends. Realistically, I'll probably be studying for finals. But I definitely won't be sitting alone in a hospital room.

The fact that a person's life can change so drastically, in so relatively short a period, amazes me. If you are unhappy with your life or your current circumstances, change them. Change your attitude. And then call me in six months, and we can buy each other drinks.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

It's windy like a maniac here.

Last I heard (last night), there was a wind advisory for Chicago, with predicted winds of up to 50 mph. Apparently it's also supposed to get up to 90 degrees today. And here I sit in my climate-controlled, 72-degree room, watching trees waving wildly and mentally adding music to the black plastic bag blowing higher against the backdrop of green glass and concrete. I can also see two college-age guys in shorts and (presumably) Abercrombie shirts walking in the opposite direction. How terribly disappointing. I don't even get a little bit of eye candy to make up for my glaring lack of twenty-something contact.

Moving away from my blanket of hormonal self-pity, I have transfered to the University of Chicago! Rather, I have been transported to the University of Chicago Hospitals. Dispelling any fears, I am still planning on returning to Boston University in about three months. Anyway. So last night, around 11 pm, two EMTs came and carted me away in their bright yellow ambulance. Carted is about the correct term. They had me hop up onto a transport-bed, which they proceeded to strap me onto. Two straps over my shoulders, one across my chest, and one across my legs, all buckled, tightened, and ready to go. The funny, and somewhat disconcerting, part of this journey was that the bed (?) was actually slanted towards the ground. I felt like I was going to just slide right off. Anyway, so we proceeded to the ambulance where they hoisted me up and stuffed me in, shifting me a little to the left so the bed (?) would lock in place. Then the guy climbed into the back, and the woman headed to take the wheel. The next 34 minutes were spent in a mad hurtle towards downtown Chicago and the nurses who know my disease. And away from a room that included a couch, good cable, better food, and nurses who didn't quite know what to do with me. I know I made the right decision. I would now like to elaborate on the EMTs. Having spent roughly an hour with them, I feel comfortable saying that they were nice, smart, but ultimately have way too much time on their hands during shifts. The guy who sat in back with me was like, "Hey, wanna play a game? You give me any actor or actress, and I can tell you in six degrees or less how he or she is connected to Kevin Bacon." I was like, "um, I don't really like movies..." I think I dampened his cheer. I instead chose to frequently give the "rock" sign to the vehicles following an ambulance too closely. (Apparently they could see me because our internal lights were on.) But the actions and various measures against boredom of the EMTs were consistent with what I've heard other EMTs do to fill their long shifts. (I've heard some ridiculous things. coughcough) So, in summation, last night was a late but exciting adventure, and now I'm all settled at the U of C to continue waiting for my white blood cell counts to rebound. Think happy white blood cell counts for me, and have a solid Thursday. Peace.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I enjoy unnecessary risks. Sometimes.

For instance: I had a Quizno's sub for dinner. Given my current state of cells, this technically is a no-no. But it was delicious, and I'm pretty sure there was no food poisoning or bacteria clinging to the little chicken pieces. And, erring on the side of caution, there has been a slight change of my plans. I am now waiting to be transfered back to the University of Chicago. There are a few reasons I'm waiting for a transfer. Mostly, it's just that I would feel more comfortable at a hospital where the nurses are used to dealing with patients with leukemia. This hospital is great, but it's a great, suburban hospital. It's completely different from U of C, which is a teaching hospital where cancers like leukemia are routinely studied and treated. I mean, the treatment plan that I am on was developed by researchers at the University. So I'm waiting for a bed at U of C. The most exciting part is that I will be transported there by hospital means. I don't think I'll get the helicopter (tear), but I'm thinking an ambulance is in the works. We'll see what happens with that; I'll be sure to include all the details of my move. That's about it for me today. I am still getting a powerful antibiotic every six hours, and my blood cultures have all been negative. Apparently sometimes the doctors never find the source of an infection, and it just passes. I'm hoping that's what happens with me. I guess I'll head to bed now, see how the sleep thing goes tonight. Have a happy hump day! Peace.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I don't even know where to begin.

I suppose the best thing to do would be to turn tradition on its head and begin at the beginning. Actually, no. You know what? I'm going to begin by saying that I am currently in the hospital, hooked up to an IV, and digesting two different sandwiches. Now I will begin at the beginning. Flashback: 10:30 am, Sunday, June 03, 2007. I decided to shower. I figured now was as good a time as any to scrub off my accumulated grime. So I taped up my chest and prepared the hot water. As I was sticking my tubes into a plastic baggie, I started to feel awful. I felt like I was about to vomit. I debated foregoing the shower and going back to bed. Instead, I stepped into the shower, freezing. I continued to freeze while I showered, even though there was steaming hot water beating into me. So I cut my shower short, and I rushed to my bedroom to put on clothes. I put on jeans, tank top, over-sized t-shirt, and large red sweatshirt. I then shimmied under my bedclothes and commenced shivering in the fetal position. By this point, I had realized something was wrong. It is worth noting, also, that I have known since Friday that I am neutropenic. The chills are not to be taken lightly, as they are the precursor to a fever, which means infection. So I was, naturally, freaking out. I started taking my temperature: 99.5. Okay, not terrible, but not good either. Ten minutes later: 100.6. Uh oh, I had just crossed the "call your doctor" threshold. One more degree up and it's hospital time for me. At this point, intelligent readers, I hope you have reached the same conclusion that I had: I had an infection. My fever kept climbing, and I had alerted my parents that I needed to get to a hospital. So my mom drove me to the Emergency Room of a hospital closer than U of C, where I have an established relationship with one of the doctors. This is my emergency, "if you get a fever," hospital. So we got to the ER, checked in, and were relatively quickly put into an isolation room. And then the blood draws began. The nurses immediately had to draw blood cultures to test for the various infections. These they drew from my arm. They also drew blood from my line for a regular blood-level test. So the nurses hooked me up to an IV drip while they were waiting for the lab results and gave me some Tylenol for my 102 fever. (I think the highest it got was 103.5, but that was by my thermometer, not theirs.) And finally the doctor came in: "Your blood counts are terrible!" "Yeah... This I know..." My white blood cell count was (is) zero. Not 0.1 or something, straight up zero. I have no white blood cells! No wonder I got an infection. And also, my platelet count was 8, with the normal being between 150 and 450. It is interesting to note that because my platelet count is so low, my blood can't really clot well. One of the nurses put a bandaid on my arm after drawing blood. It was annoying me, so I pulled it off, quickly. But it broke some blood vessels, and now the crook of my elbow is all purpley and mottled. Fun. But anyway. This is getting long. So, the doctor ordered a powerful antibiotic and platelets for me, which eventually came. The main issue was whether or not I would be transported down to University of Chicago. The doctor here finally got in contact with my doctor at U of C, and, while she wanted to send me downtown, there were absolutely no beds at U of C. So, after six hours of isolation in the ER, they admitted me here. And here I am.

I am still receiving fluids, and I think I get the antibiotic again around 8 pm -- they give it every 6 hours. We're not sure how long they will keep me here. My fever finally seems to have broken, which is good news. And I am not visibly ill. Once they figure out what infection I do have, they will be able to give me more specific drugs to fight it. Otherwise, I just don't have any white blood cells. So I have no way to fight an infection. But I know the doctors don't want to keep me here if there isn't any reason to. So we'll see what tomorrow brings. As of now, I feel okay. I'm fairly exhausted from all the shaking I did today; I got the chills a couple of times. Despite any literature to the contrary, shaking uncontrollably is not what one would call "fun." Anyway, so that was my day. My very first at-home neutropenic fever crisis! But everything seems to be under control. Hopefully I'll be let out of here soon. Thanks for reading, and Farewell from here on this most crazy of Sundays. Pax.