Chapter 29: Home Away From Home for the Holidays
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November was a blur. I spent the majority of it without any memorable occurrence; I just sat down in my hospital bed, played the occasional video game or watched television, and let my body fight. My counts were way down again, and as I was nearing Thanksgiving, I really wanted to spend it with my family.
I pestered my doctors: Please let me go home. The notion of the family gathering around two large tables side by side, loaded with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, cranberry sauce, rolls, and oh so much more, was one that I desperately needed at a time like this.
I was, however, fortunate enough to get real home-cooked meals about once or twice a week (since I began my stay), courtesy of my Mom and Stepdad, Gary; in fact, the doctors would encourage it. The two seasoned pediatricians knew how important it was for their kids to get nourishing meals as often as possible; it meant a better chance against the scourge known as cancer.
In turn, I was getting Shepard’s pie, impossible cheeseburger pie, and lasagna among others on a regular basis. I wasn’t able to eat as much as I used to, but that probably was a good thing…
My Mom and Gary would often offer the remainder of the meal to other families we had met, especially the father-daughter duo from Presque Isle, whom we befriended and would see in passing (her treatment was further along than mine).
But I yearned for the chance to go home and enjoy the Feast of Thanks, and if I were to be stuck in the hospital let’s just say I would not be a fan. The doctors warned that my counts were still dangerously low, and if we took the trek up home and something were to happen, then it would be impossible to get back to Bangor in time.
Still, I pleaded for their acceptance, so they were forced to drive the point home and proceeded to show me the updated counts from earlier in the day.
My red blood cells should have been between 4.5-6.0; they were at 2.76. My Neutrophils (the most prevalent of the white blood cell types) should have been in the range of 1.90-7.80; they were at 0.13. And my platelets, the stuff that stops the bleeding should I get cut? The normal range is 150-400; I was at a dangerously low 17. Yes, one- seven. Naturally, upon hearing the dwindling numbers my shoulders dipped and my head hung low, as I knew I wasn’t getting out of here anytime soon, let alone for the holiday.
In the time that it took for me to get the results, I was already looking at the bright side: selecting my Holiday meal. The hospital accommodated those who were confined within their walls with a traditional meal for lunch and/or supper. Might as well get my fill while I’m here, so I ordered both meals. Screw it; let’s try to do this right. Hmm… I’ll definitely need some Marinol to power through these feasts.
That nice lady whom I shooed away before came by again to collect my menu. I had grown accustomed to the tongue of the “Mainah” and so it wasn’t as bothersome as it once was when I first heard the dialect (and I wasn’t pissy then).
It was good that I wasn’t a jerk because this patient woman wished me a Happy Thanksgiving, and I would have felt terrible about it. In fact, everyone that worked those days was extra friendly to us patients. I’m sure they knew how hard it was for us during these difficult times to be away from family, and so they did their best to cheer us up.
My Mom, Gary, and I gathered together in my room to celebrate Thanksgiving lunch. It was the only place I could eat with counts like this and my subsequently required face wear outside my door. They each ordered their own guest trays and my Mom said a prayer. “God, thank you for this meal, and for keeping Jamie happy and healthy during this difficult time. Amen.”
Well said, Mom. We dug into our food but soon were inundated with calls from our family and friends. It was more difficult than I thought possible to be away from them all, and I looked forward to seeing them all again. I must have received over a dozen calls easy; at least I lost count by then.
Once we finished, we hung around as more people called in to say hello. Sometimes my Mom got the phone and caught up with her further siblings like my Uncle Gary and Aunt Marie, and Uncle Fran and Aunt Nola, whom all lived in Connecticut. She sat on the recliner and replicated her rocking/phone combination from home.
It had been pretty quiet on the floor as I’m sure a lot of kids were local enough so that they could go home for the holiday. Even Walker, who was always next to me in 865, was home. Mom and Gary went back up North, leaving before it was dark (usually by five o’clock this time of the year), and so by suppertime, I was left alone, eating another meal by myself. I popped in a movie to kill the silence because tonight was not one of my “space-time” nights; no, tonight needed to be preoccupied so that I didn’t think of all the fun my family had had without me.
I swallowed a piece of turkey that was a tad bigger than my throat and choked a little. I coughed my way back to oxygen, but the coughing continued past the clearing of the obstruction. Maybe I was getting a cold. Who knows? I don’t think Mom or Gary had any symptoms of a cold.
All I knew was I could not afford even a common ailment such as a cold right about now. I often worried about those conditions far worse than that… I tried to clear my mind of these things; it would only cause unneeded anxiety.
I took a swig of the Mountain Dew in front of me and raised the can at the ongoing movie. Happy Thanksgiving, Jamie. And Happy Thanksgiving to all of those I care about so far away at this very moment.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.