Yesterday morning I got up at an ungodly hour in order to get to Berkeley by 8:15am. It was still dark, and that's just wrong.
I knew I needed to eat a good breakfast before the procedure, so I went to Lee's on Market Street and bought a bagel with egg and tomato, and an orange juice. I must not have been used to eating that early and/or I was a little nervous so I couldn't eat the whole thing. I also had some coffee, but just a little. I know that coffee is a dehydrator and I needed to retain as much water as I could so that my veins would look good.
As I walked into the BART station, I was immediately accosted by a man asking if I could give him some money for the train. Because this happens to me many times a day, I react almost unconsciously to it now; I told him no, I only had enough for myself. He walked away, but then I thought I'm on my way to save one stranger's life and yet I can't be bothered to give another one a dollar.
At Alta Bates I got to meet Lynn, the other donor that has been going through this procedure at the same time as me. She was really sweet and I hope to stay in touch with her.
Lynn and I got up onto neighboring hospital beds and got comfortable -- we would be there for quite a while.
I received one more Filgrastim injection and Paulette checked my arms to see if my veins were cooperating.
"Well, I see a couple of possibilities on your right arm, but they don't look all that great. Let me see your left arm," she said as she moved to the other side of the bed. "Oh, okay, this one's good. We'll go with this."
Whew. So I didn't need a central line after all. It wouldn't have been the end of the world, but this way is much easier.
My left arm was swabbed thoroughly with antiseptic and then I received a topical anesthetic injection because the needle was a little larger than those normally used to draw blood. The anesthetic stung as it went in, but then I couldn't feel the large needle going in at all.
On my right arm, they needed to put an ingoing line in, but the veins weren't that great. So they put it into the back of my hand. That also needed an anesthetic injection, which hurt even worse than the first one, but thankfully it didn't last long. Then Paulette inserted that line. The one in my left arm was a big steel needle, but the one in my right hand was a flexible plastic tube. Which was cool because it allowed a lot of flexibility -- I was hardly restricted in the use of my right hand at all.
So the hard part was over. Now all I had to do was lie still and filter.
Every once in a while at the beginning the apheresis machine would complain that it wasn't receiving enough blood, so I had to squeeze a little rubber ball in my left hand to get the blood flowing better. But after the first hour or so, it stopped complaining.
The only thing that gave me problems (and this was pretty minor) was lack of calcium. See, the anticoagulant that they put into the blood to keep it from clotting in the machine reacts with the calcium in my body and reduces its presence. The most common sign of insufficient calcium is a tingling sensation around one's lips. This happened to me a few times and Paulette had to inject a calcium supplement into my body. But it wasn't a big deal because she could just inject it into the tubing going into my right hand. Piece of cake. Except during the last time when she encountered a blood clot in the tubing. She had to take the needle out and a bunch of blood spurted out as she removed the clot. None of this caused me any pain at all, it was just kind of messy. And I felt bad for my sister, Jennie, because she showed up right as this was happening. It looked a lot worse than it was.
Jennie visited with me for my last hour or so, which was nice. I had been reading a Calvin and Hobbes compilation, but it was kind of difficult to hold up and turn the pages.
Actually, the most difficult part of the whole experience was going to the bathroom. The nurse brought me a plastic bottle to pee in and shut the curtains around my bed. However, I did not have the use of my left arm and I had to keep it completely straight. But necessity begets resourcefulness and I was able to do it -- twice. I was surprised that Lynn never had to go, but it's got to be a whole lot more difficult for women -- I mean like ten times worse. I'm sure that she just wanted to wait until it was over rather than to have to go through that.
So it took a little over six hours total. Right now it all seems like kind of a blur. When I got home, I was really tired but I didn't feel like laying down -- I had just been laying down all day. Regardless, I took a nap in front of the TV with Battlestar Galactica on.
I still have a little, purple bruise on my left arm where the needle went in and it looks kind of gross. But you can hardly even see where the needle went into my right hand. I'm still a little achey and tired from the Filgrastim, but I can feel it lessening.
So, it's finally over. But in a way, it's not. It's not nearly over for my recipient -- now comes the hard part for her. Engraftment of my stem cells and recovery. Hopefully, they will take and her body won't reject them. The hospital will keep me informed as to her condition and I'm going to send a little get well note to her.
But I have a good feeling. A feeling that her best years are in front of her. Recipient, my thoughts are with you.