A Nurse’s Act of Compassion Saved My Sanity
I never knew her name, but my heart is branded with her memory
There are moments in life that are seared in your memory.
Even though some of the finer details may fade with time, your heart is forever branded. This is the story of one of those encounters.
In early 2003, my husband, Matt, underwent a stem cell transplant to eradicate the mutant white blood cells coursing through his veins. AKA — leukemia.
For those who are blissfully unaware of the process, let me give provide you with a brief timeline:
- What you don’t know will hurt you: The presentation of the 150+ page “quick-reference guide” describing the ins and outs of a transplant.
- Getting to know you: Test after test after test to prepare the candidate for the procedure; including, but by no means limited to: multiple scans and x-rays, vials and vials of blood work, full-body measurements, and psychological evaluations.
- End of the world as you know it: A combination of total body irradiation and chemotherapy to exterminate the diseased bone marrow. The patient’s native immune system is systematically obliterated.
- Knowing what’s good for you: Harvesting and transplanting of the donor’s stem cells. In Matt’s case, his sister was the gracious benefactor.
- Don’t know what hit you: While waiting for the donor cells to graft into the recipient’s immune system, the patient is extremely vulnerable to life-threatening infections. He or she is moved to an isolation room for protection. My story takes place during this precarious time.
- Not knowing whether to laugh or cry: Matt was given a 60 percent chance of not making it through the ordeal. It took eight painstaking weeks to see if he would overcome the odds.
During Matt’s entire hospital stay, he was never left alone. I would arrive each morning by 6:30 to catch his doctor on his early rounds. One or both of his parents would come each evening to relieve me and spend the night.