Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fix Me (Part I of IV)

Continued from “My Cancer Story": Again (Part III of III)
Read "My Cancer Story" from the beginning: The Golden Age (Part I of III)

On the plane ride I wore a high school Senior Buddy t-shirt that read “Need Help?” on the front, and “Follow Me” on the back. I wasn’t actually a Senior Buddy, but in homeroom I saw an extra shirt lying around and snagged it.

As I walked to my window seat a stranger looked at me and said, “I need help.”

“What?” I said, unsure if he was talking to me.

“Help me…it’s on your shirt.”

“Oh. Yeah. Follow me,” I said pointing to the back. He laughed.

I wasn’t used to that kind of friendly, albeit strange, conversation. But I was headed to the Midwest for my umbilical cord stem cell transplant and my mom, who grew up in Springfield, Illinois, said that’s how people are out there. She describes it as the opposite of Brooklyn, my dad's hometown. She likes to tell this story: they were in a grocery store and asked for assistance finding an item. The employee turned away from my parents, stuck his nose high in the air and named the aisle, refusing to look at them.

Our waitress at dinner asked why we were in Minneapolis. “Benjamin is getting a bone marrow transplant at the University of Minnesota,” my mom responded. The waitress sat next to me on the booth, wrapped her arm around me and wished me luck. Before I just thought she spoke with a funny accent, but afterward I thought she lost her marbles.

We ate breakfast at McDonald’s on the way to the clinic for my first day of intense testing. I wasn’t hungry and barely ate any of my hotcakes. How could I be hungry? If my ideal bone marrow transplant was accurate then in two weeks I was going to be broken beyond a masochist’s wildest dreams.

The first test performed at the clinic was a blood draw, or more fittingly a blood drain considering there was a basketful of vials. It felt like the needle punctured my bicep. It was a bad way to start the whole process. Your confidence can only remain so high when you statistically have a better chance of dying than living.

While sitting in one of the countless waiting rooms for one of my countless tests, another future transplantee sat next to my brother. An 8-year-old from Georgia with a thick southern accent, he told JD about his four-wheeler and his plans for when he got home. He talked so fast I’m not even sure he was breathing. Every once in awhile my brother would say, “Yeah,” or “Mmm-hmm,” just to show he was still listening. The boy, who we called Georgia, was annoying to the point of being amusing, at least from my bystander perspective.

Georgia was refreshing and innocent. Whereas I understood my chances of survival but didn’t think they applied to me, he didn’t even comprehend. To him, the transplant was a means of temporarily halting his playtime. It reminded me of something in one of Lance Armstrong’s memoirs about children coping with cancer better than adults because all they want to do is finish treatment so they can go out and play.

JD and I later joked that he and Georgia were best friends. Georgia shared as much of his life story with JD as he could fit in 20 minutes of continuous talking. He probably just thought JD was friendly enough to talk to. What a tragedy that Georgia had to endure such hell just so he could once again ride on his four-wheeler, or even worse, if he didn’t live to ride again.

I’ll never know if Georgia lived. He and I were both on the bubble, meaning we had a fighting chance. I bumped into others who might as well have been stuffed in a body bag because they had no shot. Their health was too poor from the start.

My clinic conveyed a sense of peace and happiness. It was as pleasant an environment as I’d seen in a hospital, notwithstanding a floor dedicated to transplants where I’m guessing half the patients die. The layout was informal with the nurse's desk in the middle and surrounded by patient rooms. The wooden doors were a lively brown and the walls were blue, pink or white.

Some of them were gorgeous, a term I don't use lightly. One nurse resembled Stacy Keibler. Stacy Keibler
My favorite looked a bit like Jessica Biel.
Jessica Biel

I can think of five others who I’d consider hot, and one in a world of her own. They probably all thought I was a nervous, quiet dork. That goes double for Biel, who I had a crush on for the next two years. (The actual Jessica Biel jumped to #1 on my Top Five List, and has since traded back and forth with Jessica Alba.) And to think that she had to measure my vomit, urine and poop daily. If I got another crack at it now I know I’d act cooler around them. Years of female scorn have trained me. A couple shots of vodka wouldn’t hurt, either.

An older nurse, Racecar, adored me because I reminded her of her son. She sometimes stole Biel’s shift, which angered me. Racecar grew on me, though. She treated me like her own child, once even holding my hand through one of the more painful experiences of my life.

Keep reading: Fix Me (Part II of IV)


Clare said...

Please stop making me cry with your stories. Or I will slap you. In the head.

And I really don't want to be known as the girl who slapped the cancer survivor, although Im not sure anyone would be truly surprised.


Again, wonderful post.

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