When I was diagnosed with leukemia at age 11, doctors said that my odds were only 55% at best. After two failed bone marrow transplants, I had what was then an experimental treatment called a lymphocyte transfusion. This meant that in total I spent around three years of my life in and out of hospital, which of course means I spent a number of birthdays and various holidays confined to a hospital bed listening to the gentle hum of my IV pump and the occasional mention of a code blue over the hospital intercom.
This story takes place a few months after my 2nd bone marrow transplant. My family and I had just moved from Edmonton to Newmarket and I was transferred to SickKids hospital.
I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents by the tree
First off let me provide some context for those of you who might be unaware of what goes on during and after a bone marrow transplant (at least according to my experience). Before the transplant the goal is to make your blood counts a blank slate with the intent of getting rid of whatever may have triggered your cells to become cancerous in the first place. This of course means that your white blood cell count is now non-existent…which means your body now has no way of fighting even the simplest virus. With no immunity left to speak of, patients are placed in “isolation rooms”. Think the boy in a bubble…but with a room. Once the conditions are right, and with fingers crossed, the patient is then given their bone marrow transplant.
If things go well, the patients’ blood counts start to rise and eventually they are moved out of isolation and into a regular room. In my case, my mother was my bone marrow donor and one day I awoke to see she had posted a sign in my room that said “Every day, in every way, I get more and more like my mother.”
I was not impressed.
Weeks passed as they often do and I was moved out of the isolation ward and placed in a regular in-patient room. It was now getting close to Christmas and my family started to ask about the possibility of me going home for the holidays. Unfortunately, things didn’t look good. My counts were below the hospitals required minimum levels. December 25th crept ever closer and the results were still the same. December 21st, 22nd and even the 24th passed and though my counts had increased they still had not reached the desired levels.
On December 25th we asked (maybe begged would be the better word) the hospital staff if it would be possible for me to go home and the answer was still no. So my mother, father and twin brother spent the day in hospital with me, waiting and waiting. Eventually, at around 4 pm, my counts came back…just barely meeting the minimum requirements, but just enough for staff to let me go home. Nothing was prepared and it was too late to make the traditional Christmas dinner. So while my brother and I fished out the Christmas crackers, my mother quickly whipped some spaghetti. All in all, I have to say that it was the best and most memorable Christmas I’ve ever had.
(The previous year when I was “high” on morphine due to bone pain, I told an Edmonton Eskimo player dressed as Santa to get the heck out of my room…that Christmas is a close second.)
Was it a Christmas miracle? I can’t really say, but unlike Bing Crosby’s song it wasn’t only in my dreams.