Friday, July 29, 2016

With Nary a Cross Word Spoken

Today is Day Zero, or Transplant Day. In a process that took about 10 hours I received back half of the stem cells that were carefully extracted from my bloodstream last week. They are the colonizers being sent back to reboot my bone marrow after wiping out the cancer lurking there with melphalan two days ago. Around 60 days from now I'll find out how much good it's done me (that is, how far the cancer has been placed into remission). 

Until then, my job is simple: recover from the chemo as quickly as possible. There are no more procedures to go through. Today was the last one (barring the unhoped for event of a setback of some kind, say an infection while my immune system is down).

While I have so far been able to proceed nausea-free (which I'm celebrating while I can—Ceilee is grilling chicken breasts for dinner tonight!), I noticed that my breathing was much more labored returning to Transplant House this afternoon. Energy loss was a predicted side effect of the chemo, and it appears that it's here. I'm concerned that loss of appetite and the onslaught of diarrhea may be next. We'll see. The nurses have assured me that there is considerable range among patients regarding side effects, and I remain hopeful that I'll be able to dodge the bullet on some of them. It's all part of the mystery.

As Joy, the Mayo dietician, has told us stem cell folks, "If you're having a good day, then you're having a good day; take it one day at a time and don't let worry about tomorrow cheat you out of enjoying the present."

I had a thoroughly good connection with my sister, Alison, this week, and today we executed anther caregiver shift change. Ceilee caught a red-eye from Los Angeles last night and arrived in Rochester around 8:30 am. While I was going through my 10-hour marathon treatment at the clinic, Alison oriented Ceilee to Transplant House routines and got him settled. Alison is now en route back to Chicago, and Ceilee is in the TLC saddle for his father. It will likely be an early bedtime for both of us tonight. given that transplants simultaneously put a lot into a person (in my case healthy stem cells) and take a lot out of a person (energetically).
• • •
The image above was take yesterday by Alison in the Transplant House dining room. It exposes one of my main coping mechanisms (and recreational pastimes): working the daily New York Times crossword puzzle. The one above was from Thursday, typically a medium level degree of difficulty. Puzzlemaster Will Shortz (of NPR weekend fame) follows a sequence whereby Monday puzzles are the easiest to solve and get harder from there, peaking out on Saturday. The larger format Sunday puzzle (a 21x21 grid instead of the 15x15 grid for all other days) is usually about the same degree of difficulty as a Thursday.

Susan and I tackle the crossword puzzle together every day (or at least every day that we're together). As we have complementary areas of arcane knowledge, there is a synergy about teasing out the answers as a team that we both enjoy and serves as so much frosting on the cake of our tasty relationship.

If we can complete the puzzle without resorting to Google searches, then we award ourselves a star (which, along with $4, can get you a really good cup of coffee). It's quite hard to get a star on Friday or Saturday, but we keep trying and we're gradually getting better.

I like crosswords for a number of reasons:

o  To be good at them you need to be able shift perspectives with ease. This skill matches up well with what you want in a professional facilitator—which happens to be my line of work.

o  While it may be of dubious cosmic value to be able to hold and access a large RAM in one's brain, you get rewarded for lateral thinking, and being able to integrate knowledge about a wide range of topics—all the while polishing one's credentials as a prototypical Renaissance person. Can we have too many people in the world who are good with general knowledge?

o  Facility with vocabulary and spelling—two underrated skills in the era of spell check and tweet speak—get rewarded.

o  Unless it's Monday or Tuesday (when we can often blast right through in one pass), it turns out that letting a roadblock incubate is a good strategy. As near I can figure out we are susceptible to mental gridlock from time to time (where we cannot get out of an unproductive rut), and pausing to let it marinate in our subconscious turns out to be a surprisingly effective strategy—when you come back an hour later or so, you can often see it differently and achieve a breakthrough. I like that I can access some portion of my intuitive brain when the rational part falters.

o  I get to work with a pencil (preferably a 2.5 HB, if you please), a tool that is otherwise falling into disuse. Thus, I'm doing my small bit to assist in its making a comeback. 

o  Doing crosswords does not promote the use of cross words—unlike reading about national politics, say. While there is no doubt that crosswords can evoke a certain amount of teeth gnashing, there is far more laughter and delight, such as when a clever clue is unmasked and interpreted appropriately.

o  You learn stuff. (If nothing else, at least how to be better at crossword puzzles, or how to think like Will Shortz.)

1 comment:

Stephen Real said...

I love the Times Crossword Puzzle!!! I do it every day using an app on my phone. The app has the advantage of knowing whether your answers are correct or not, so that when you fill in the last square, you may get the annoying message, "You are close, but one or more of your answers is wrong". The app also times you and keeps track of your average time for each day, which for those of us type A personalities is yet another thing to be competitive about.

I love that you and Susan do the puzzle together. I have done that with Nancy from time to time. It's a great couples activity.

One foot in front of the other Laird. I love Joy's advice and am going to follow it myself.

Thinking about you every day,
Stevie B.