Sunday, July 27, 2008

Feeling Thankful

Shortly after Lovey and I moved to our current locale, we found ourselves at a rather large blood drive taking place where we work. On that particular day, the Red Cross was heavily recruiting people to sign up for the National Marrow Donor Program. I'd heard of the program previously, but it was the first chance I'd had to sign up for their registry. It didn't take me long to decide that I should go ahead and sign up. On that day, it only meant filling out a bit of extra paperwork and having an additional vial of blood drawn. And while I did consider the larger commitment I was making that day, the odds of being a match for someone in need of a marrow donation were quite small.

Over the next few years, I would occasionally receive communications from the NMDP - mainly checks to make sure they had my correct contact information, and reminders of the importance of my commitment. And every time I received something in the mail, I'd wonder about the possibility of being called upon to actually donate. Within a few days, something more pressing would come up, and I'd forget about the NMDP until the next check-in. Then came April of 2007...

The phone call truly came out of the blue. Lovey and I were reveling in our parental journey with Monkey, running on far too little sleep and more joy than we'd ever known. Every day was so full of new and wonderful experiences that it had become easy to forget that there are people who have to fight every day just to live. But when I learned that I was a potential match for someone in need of a marrow donation, it was not unlike the day I signed up for the registry -- in a very brief moment I knew what the right thing to do was, and I agreed to have blood work done to better determine my compatibility with the potential recipient.

I have to credit my dad with instilling in me that unflinching sense of responsibility. For as long as I can remember, he's been a volunteer blood donor, and although I can't recall asking him why, I've always known that he does it because he's able to and it's the right thing to do. So when I turned 17, I started giving blood, as well. And despite the snickering and mostly good-natured teasing of friends, I've been grateful for my downright squeaky-clean lifestyle (although somwhat less thankful for the lack of funds to allow me to spend large chunks of time in Europe or visit Africa) because every few months it seems that another of the "youthful indiscretions" I avoided winds up in a question asked during that screening. And no, the effect of that is not to make me look down upon those who are unable to donate, rather it makes me wonder how in the hell blood banks are able to keep an ample supply of blood.

Anyway... I had the blood work done, then waited to hear back from the NMDP. I was visiting family in Kansas when the next call came. I was an excellent match, but even more tests were needed. After returning home, I made a trip to Christiana Hospital in Newark, DE, where I was poked, prodded, and asked an awful lot of personal questions -- all to make sure that my health was good enough that tissue from my body wouldn't do more harm than good for the recipient, but also to impress upon me the seriousness of the commitment I was about to make. What I'd never thought about was the process the recipient had to go through before receiving the transplant. S/he must have her/his own bone marrow completely killed off, meaning that if a donor were to back out of the commitment or be injured or otherwise incapacitated and unable to donate, s/he would die. That moment of realization was, for me, all at once humbling, horrifying, and the final galvinization of my resolve to see the process through. I very carefully drove home, discussed all that I'd learned with Lovey and made sure she was o.k. with my participation, then signed the paperwork stating that I was fully committed to making the donation.

My surgery was scheduled, and during the next few weeks I was careful to eat a very well-balanced diet, avoid anyone who was sick with anything at all, and drove as though my high school driver's ed teacher was in the passenger seat with his clipboard and pen. Three weeks before the surgery, I was innocently taking out the trash when I sprained and tore the skin off of my right ankle. I didn't think much of it, but when I showed up at the Red Cross for an autologous blood donation, there was panic. They couldn't take my blood because of the open wound, and phone calls ensued. The hospital in Delaware was contacted, as well as the NMDP. More questions were asked, and after lengthy discussion, the surgeon who would oversee the procedure decided that everything was all right. Trash duty was shifted to the far more graceful and coordinated Lovey for the duration, and I drove home feeling particularly humiliated. Damn my petite ankles!

Donation day arrived, and with it the realization that general anesthesia now causes me to experience extreme nausea. No big deal, because the donation was done and on the way to the recipient. An extra night in the hospital was nothing compared to what s/he would soon experience. Drugged up for the four-hour drive home, I left Christiana Hospital physically sore, but mentally buoyed by the hope I held for the recipient. That was July 25, 2007.

In the year that has passed since that day, I learned that the person who received my bone marrow is a 49 (now 50) year old woman with leukemia. It was, of course, in remission at the time of the transplant and remains so to this day. The NMDP strictly maintains the confidentiality of both donor and recipient information, but one year post-donation, allows both parties to release their personal data to the other. On the anniversary day, I called my donor advocate and requested the release forms. I have them now, and they will be in tomorrow's mail, signed and headed back to the NMDP. Within a few weeks, I may know the identity of the woman who received my donation and even be able to contact her. Whether she releases her information or not, I will forever be grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to participate in this process.

I'm not wealthy or famous, but this experience made me realize that I can do things that make a difference in the lives of real people. And that has helped me to remember that I am part of something much larger than the everyday world in which I live. The bravery that this woman has shown is a constant reminder to me that life is worth fighting for. Seeing and meeting so many people who work so hard to find donors for those in need gave my flagging faith in humanity a much-needed shot in the arm. And the love and support given to me by my incredible wife every step of the way during the process only reinforced for me the fact that, even when it's painful and scary, doing the right thing truly is the only choice. I am so very thankful for this experience, and I hope that one day soon I can personally thank the woman who changed my outlook on life by bravely reaching out into the unknown and asking for help.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Open Mouth, Insert Foot (Shin, Calf, Knee, Thigh, and So On)

I love Twitter because I can say all of those things that are on my mind for which I never before had an audience.

I hate Twitter because I say all of those things that pop into my head without much thought and now I have an audience.

*Sigh*

Sorry, tweetpeeps -- I should have known that your comments were made in jest. In hindsight, that's the only way it all makes any sense. The good news is: my lump of coal should be a diamond any day, now!

I'll remember today the next time a knee-jerk reaction compels me to tweet a response to someone. And then I'll slowly back away from the keyboard...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Happy Monkey Songs and Wonder

Yesterday, I really didn't want to get out of bed. It had been a rough week, and I'm still having trouble going to bed at a decent hour. So, I'd been up for a while with Monkey, we'd had breakfast, Lovey was awake, and I was grumpily making the coffee. That was when I heard it -- a sweet little voice singing, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star..." It drifted in from the living room as though it were a cloud, and suddenly all my grumpiness disappeared. The words were plain as day, and Monkey was carrying the tune amazingly well (she did just turn 2, after all). I was all at once surprised, impressed, and in awe of my daughter. I stood there and listened as Lovey joined in and they finished the song together, then Monkey followed up with the obligatory clapping and "Yea!" for her job well done.

Feeling much happier, and of course a mug full of coffee later, I was ready to face the day. But I just kept thinking about Monkey and the song. Aside from being a happy thing to think about, it made me wonder about memory. Monkey has entered that time of her life when she's fascinated by pretty much everything, and you can see that she's just a little sponge soaking up every last drop of information she can. And while I know that this is not atypical (I did, after all, study cognitive development for my degree), I am still amazed to watch her, and it makes me wonder what sets it all off. What is the source of one's desire for learning? Specifically, what made Monkey want to learn that particular song so much that she managed to memorize the words and tune with enough precision that she was actually able to reproduce them without being prompted? Prior to this, I'd heard her join in and sing along with other songs, but never had I heard her break out into song entirely on her own. What purpose (for a 2-year-old) is there in singing solo? Does there even have to be a purpose?

I suppose that in the end, I should simply be happy that Monkey is so content in her learning process. She's already trying to write, and has even watched us closely enough that she knows there is a special way in which one should hold a pen for writing. Her level of observance has, at times, been both a blessing and a curse. I'm thankful for her desire for knowledge because I've also seen children who are not so driven to learn. I think I'd rather have to keep on my toes and mind what I'm doing in front of our little parrot than worry about delayed development. And I feel truly fortunate that I'm able to speak from that position of privilege. But I also know that I may forever wonder what motivates our kiddo, and I think that wonder will lead me on an incredible journey with her.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Yowsa!

Early this evening, I was out digging in our front yard to prepare a spot for some plants Lovey and I rescued from Lowe's. For some reason, I needed to get at something from a very low angle, so I was somewhat spread out on the ground when a stabbing pain shot up from my leg. Immediately, I knew that something had stung me, even though I saw nothing fly away from the clover in which my leg was laying. I know, dumb move on my part, no need to comment about that.

The funny thing is, at the ripe old age of 35, I've only been the victim of stinging insects (not counting mosquitoes) once before, and that was last summer. I ran over the underground home of a family of small wasps with our riding lawnmower, and they weren't pleased with me. I was stung maybe three times near one of my knees, but since it was somewhat of a "drive-by" situation, the stings weren't bad, as I was shooing the little buggers off of me and they were, indeed, just tiny little wasps.

Prior to that, I'd always been overly cautious and afraid of wasps, bees, and hornets. I'm sure that it stemmed from an incident in my childhood when my mom was stung by a wasp in our yard. She's very sensitive to them, and this sting really got her good. I was the only other person home at the time, the neighbors weren't around, and she was in trouble, so she managed to gather up a few dollars from her purse, gave them to me, and then asked me to run to the grocery store that was two blocks away. I was all of 6 or 7 years old. She gave me very specific instructions as to what she needed (in-between moans of pain) and made me repeat what she'd told me. I could tell that she really didn't want to send me to the store alone, but I could also tell that she really needed the medication she was asking me to go and get. I trundled off to the grocery store, went to the pharmacy counter and told the pharmacist what I needed. About then, his phone rang and it was Mom calling to make sure I was ok. He gave me a package of something that had a picture of a very angry-looking hornet on it, money changed hands, and I scurried back home to my very thankful mother.

The net effect of that experience was a rather extreme reaction to stinging bugs. Whenever one flew near me, I would perform what I'm sure was an extremely funny run-dance-hop to try and get away from it, all the while saying something along the lines of "F**K! S**T! GETTHEHELLOUTOFMYWAYYYYYYYYY!" Soooo... When I was finally stung last year and it turned out to be little more than a slight annoyance, I felt really stupid. And I probably let my guard down a little too far, thus the laying my leg down in a patch of clover without first looking for the stinging insects that like to hang out there. Yeah...

Well, since I must have actually layed my leg on TOP of the wasp that stung me (I'm pretty sure it was a wasp - two stings right next to each other), it had plenty of time to get pissed off at me for being so rude, then could carefully sting me and make sure to inject lots of venom into my leg. Twice. Holy crap on a stick! It's been over three hours, now, and my leg still hurts. I know Lovey worried that perhaps I'd have a reaction to it, but I think more than anything, my pride was stung. There's about a six-inch long area on my lower leg that feels strangely tight and occaisionally sends a reminder shot of pain just so I don't forget about it.

Guess I'll have to dust off my dancing shoes...