Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax…

Here's a picture taken yesterday of my sister Alison and me in the foyer of the Mayo Building. Notice my ubiquitous devil bag by my feet, against the backdrop of the spectacular 13-piece Chihuly glass installation suspended from the ceiling behind us. 

[My daughter Jo took a look at this image and texted back, "Please tell Laird that he needs to pull his pants up higher so that his waistband is in his armpits. 😂😂😂" Sigh. When it comes to sartorial splendor, I've never been known as a trendsetter.]

As if the medical care wasn't amazing enough, one of the lesser known aspects of visiting the Mayo complex is that there is original art displayed on almost every floor of every building—next to elevators, in hallways, and in lobbies. I'm talking about sculptures, ceramics, paintings, lithographs, textiles… everything. When you digest that Mayo Clinic is comprised of half a dozen multistory buildings and that there are typically three banks of elevators to navigate each building, there is an incredible number of installations. As near as I can tell, most of the art has been donated over the years (by foundations and grateful patients), and all of it is available to be viewed by the public—the vast majority of which are there seeking treatment for a serious health issue, not to peruse art. Yet what could be more uplifting than seeing first class art on your way to getting first class treatment?

Alison arrived yesterday from Chicago as we negotiated a shift change among my primary care givers. After two weeks Susan went back to Duluth to crank out the monthly bulletin for St Paul's Episcopal Church (her half-time day job) and Alison is in until Friday, when Ceilee will relieve her.

Already Alison and I have had a great visit. After power napping in the late afternoon (it was good to lie down after the surgical installation of a central line catheter in the morning, and the aspiration of two fat samples from my belly in the afternoon—to assist in the hunt for evidence of amyloids) we had a leisurely dinner (corn chowder reprised from Sunday) and then sat in padded rocking chairs on the front porch for a couple hours after the sun went down. 

We talked about family, growing older (Alison is thinking about getting a hip replacement as her originally installed factory parts are wearing out), and what it's like to be living in US society today, where Donald Duck Trump could be the Republican presidential nominee. Life is full of surprises and we're taking advantage of our four days together to—in no particular order—reminisce, catch up, plot future rendezvous (think family reunions), delight in life's mysteries, and laugh a lot.

Tomorrow afternoon I get what I came for: an injection of melphalan to conduct a scorched earth campaign against my cancer by wiping out everything in my bone marrow. The chemical will be placed in my blood via the central line. The procedure is straight forward, only takes an hour, and won't hurt. It will trigger a die off of cells all over my body. In addition to my bone marrow, the fast-growing cells of my digestive tract and mouth will be hit hard, and I expect to lose my hair. It takes a number of days for that to fully play out, and I should bottom out around Monday.

Of particular interest to me is how the chemo will impact my GI system, and whether I'll be weathering nausea, diarrhea, and other fun things like that. While I've been given prescription medication to help with potential digestive side effects, if I've learned anything over the last two weeks it's how much responses vary person by person. I'm crossing my fingers (as opposed to holding my breath) that I'll get by on the light end—which has been the case so far with all other treatments I've received where a negative GI response was a known possibility (knock on wood). Obviously, if I can dodge the nausea bullet it will greatly aid my efforts to maintain (or revive) an appetite. So my mantra this week is envisioning a calm tummy.

Tomorrow's infusion of melphalan will be followed by the reintroduction of my stem cells Friday, to start the recolonization of my bone marrow with good stuff (hold the cancer cells, please). Unlike the quick in, quick out process on Wednesday, the stem cell transplant will take all day. When Ceilee arrives on site at 8:45 am that morning (via an American red eye from LAX), I'll already be tucked into a bed at Mayo getting a saline infusion that lasts for four hours, prepping my body to receive the stem cells. After the stem cells have been lovingly inserted into my bloodstream there will be another four-hour saline infusion before I head back to Transplant House. Translating this into musical metaphors, Wednesday evokes Sting, while Friday conjures up Satchmo:

Up a lazy river, how happy we could be
If you go up a lazy river with me
—sung by Louis Armstrong; lyrics by Hoagy Carmichael

As a bonus, I'm looking forward to Friday (Day Zero of the transplant countdown) as my final opportunity to indulge in Mayo's collection of in-house movies, interspersed with more rounds of free-ranging conversation with Alison and Ceilee, a satisfying admix of the thoughtful, the provocative, and the tender.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."

—excerpted from The Walrus and The Carpenter by Lewis Carroll


Thomas said...

Blessings and happy journeying through the medical labyrinth!

Dee Dishon said...

Holding you and your loved ones in the light.

Gigi said...

Keep up the strong healing and enjoying delicious foods. You really look good in the photo with Alison. Bravo Laird!

NAnderson said...

Whoa. Lots of love to you! Your positive attitude has always been something I've admired. It still is.