Collection Day…s…

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 & Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

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Monday evening I got a new roommate. A sweet, if not a little demanding, 83 year old lady. Let’s call her Beatrice. Now, I had never until then spent a night facing a stranger in poor health, separated by only a couple of sheets hanging from the ceiling. *blink blink* Our nurses were great, very attentive and easy going. But Bea, Bea did not share my opinion, and while she wasn’t aggressive about it she was vocal about their perceived shortcomings. Bea was also kinda demanding…and she liked pain meds. Anyway, it was an interesting night and I was happy to slip away with all of my belongings (I was being discharged after the aphaeresis) when mom arrived at 7:00 am.

They started the stem cell collection process around 8 am with a blood draw. Then began the saga that was the rest of the day.

Let me quickly explain the process: aphaeresis includes the steps used to remove blood, separate the plasma, and reintroduce what remains to the body. To do this, a nurse or doctor must insert the biggest needle I have ever seen a large bore needle attached to a big machine into both arms. One is used for blood draw, and the other, for blood return and Calcium. Maybe you can see were I’m going here…

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Check out this bad boy! (The aphaeresis machine)

My veins are deep, small, and they roll. I was also already bruised up from the chemo. We immediately realized that access was going to be an issue.

As they started to hook me up, we found out that my WBC count was 42 (remember, 4.5 11- 11 x 109/L is normal)!! So, at least I wouldn’t need to be attached to this machine unable to bend either of my arms or use the bathroom, for long. Most collections take between six and eight hours, I was told on the QT that mine was expected to take four. The high number of cells also meant that the lab would have more WBCs to choose from, and therefor a higher quality product in the end.

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The blood is drawn from the right arm, it is processed through the machine, and then returned to me through the left. Note the tired look on my face.

Coles Notes: They tried in six different places to start the IVs. One draw site would work, and then it wouldn’t, then one return site wouldn’t. Then they both wouldn’t. The beeps from the stops and starts were constant, and by 5:00 pm, I was worn out, trembling, and feverish (as were my fabulous nurses). They had only collected half of what they had planned, but we were all done for the day. The lovely, and energetic coordinator promised to call to say if I would need to return tomorrow  (dear God, please no) after speaking with the lab, and we all already knew what that call was going to say and we headed home.

Come it did, just as we dreaded expected.

At 7:30 am the next morning, we found ourselves in the aphaeresis unit again, with the coordinator, and my nurse from the day before.  Annette, my nurse is a fierce, capable woman in her 40s who never once lost her patience with me, and encouraged me unconditionally through the whole process. She was my champion.

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My champion! Good nurses really are angels on earth.

The coordinator took a LONG time examining my arms and poking around with her fingers trying her mightiest to find veins that would work. I had spent the night and early morning drinking warm water. I had also showered with hot water before I arrived, and had wrapped myself up in one of the hubs’ sweaters, hiding a warm magic bag wrapped around my arms. Today had to be better.

She was finally able to start a line in my left wrist to serve as the return, and after two tries, a line in my right bicep as the draw. We all held our breath as the machine started. A few minutes passed and no beeps, then a few more. None of us said anything after 20 minutes of no beeps, but we all let out a collective sigh of cautious relief.

I was in the unit with three other patients having the same thing done, and every time I heard the beep, I tensed up, sure it was me – and a few times it was. But only a few.

By 1:30pm, they had what they needed, and I was unhooked with unfettered access to my arms, and the bathroom!

I felt 100 times better, and mom and I headed out to pick up the wig I had ordered a few weeks ago. (More on that later.) We all arrived home around 3:30pm, and ordered in victory sushi, in celebration.

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Victory is mine!

I was done. I have completed two of the four steps in the transplant process! The next couple of weeks will allow me to rest, mom to head home for a while and focus on other things, the hubs and I to spend some time together. Most importantly, this time will help us to relax, and prepare for the more difficult half to come.

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3 responses to “Collection Day…s…

  • Sheila

    Yahoo, Jessie!! You and your wonderful team did it. Congratulations to all and thank you so much for keeping us posted!

  • Judy (mom)

    Annette is a Registered Nurse. The Oxford dictionary defines “nurse” as “a person trained to care for the sick or infirm, especially in a hospital”. While, for nurses who demonstrate their true caring and compassion, and who have been at it long enough to build a repetoire of nursing wisdom, knowledge, tips, and tricks, this is a calling and are skills and attributes in their own right, the nurses on the aphaeresis unit go way above and beyond caring for the sick or infirm.

    While it is never clear who is the conductor, the nurse or the apharesis machine, they dance together all day. Sometimes it was like watching a well choreographed Viennese waltz other times it was like watching a mosh pit. These nurses are “aphaeresis engineers” (I made that up). Sometimes they bend to the will of the machine and other times they make the machine bend to theirs until, at the end of the day or, in Jess’ case, two days, they have produced together this seemingly innocuous collection of cells that has the ability to change lives.

    They know those machines inside and out. They are communicating in a whole other language that they explained very well to us, they are performing calculations, collating results, and demonstrating so many other nuances they need to know in order to make it all work. All the while caring incredibly for the infirm patient in the bed and working well together as a team like a well oiled machine, knowing how to step in and help each other without even being asked.

    Thank you Annette and Ottawa General aphaeresis team.

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