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Senior Correspondent

Robert Schrag, a regular contributor to Senior Correspondent, documents the process of undergoing a stem cell transplant in response to multiple myeloma.

Monday, Dec. 17, 2012

We are a diverse crew up here in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. We range from babies to grandparents, we come in all shades of the human genome. And we are cared for by family, friends and health care professionals who match us demographic by demographic. Well, except I haven't seen any healthcare professionals who are babies. A tap dancer and a Santa made rounds yesterday and several of the healthcare team are about to have babies, but as of yet no toddlers in tiaras and stethoscopes.

Given that degree of variation I loathe to try to define us as a group with any widely shared traits. However, of one thing I am sure: none of us are here because we got the UNC Cancer Hospital Spa Groupon. We are here because our various medical conditions indicate that this is a very good place for us to be. We are all patients, we are all enduring procedures we would prefer not to undergo. Yet there is the ultimate paradox: wanna stop? Well, no.

So here is my perspective — always an N of 1, remember. While I appreciate the genuine sympathy of those many friends and family aware of my condition, I wish I could figure out the delicate balance between my friends' "awareness of illness" and treating me differently because the disease takes on definitional power in our relationship. I'd like a sort of pact: "I know I'm sick, and I'll be awhile getting better. You know I'm sick and I'll be awhile getting better.  Don't coddle me. I'll let you know when I can't do something — and sometimes discovering what I can't do defines a new challenge on my road back to health again. But let's assume that things — as they give every appearance of doing so — are heading in the right direction. Sometimes that means slowing down a bit. Like idling on the exit ramp, waiting for the traffic ahead to clear. No big deal. In no way should this paragraph discourage those of you who have indicated food, I have a clear recollection of a mention of porcini ravioli. While my appetite is currently stuck on that long exit ramp of indifference, I have no doubt it will soon roar back again.

I am actually learning stuff in the process. For example, one of the inevitable aspects of the transplant is that your blood counts drop. As my doc put it, after a lengthy and interesting discussion of the relationship between mitochondria, oxygen and energy production, "You just don't have as many boxcars hauling the good stuff around. You'll feel like crap for a while — but I'm hopin' we'll get you outta here by Christmas!" We shared this with my daughters and sister who started to send me virtual "boxcars." Funny and sweet.

Another take away from that conversation: There are going to be a goodly number of hours a day when my meditation exercises combined with my medication intake take me — shaman-like — to a whole ‘nother space. So I wonder, is this what hibernation is like? Do hibernation and deep meditation define — from a human perspective — related states? Obviously, consciousness — either concurrent or recalled — needs to be part of the package. That doesn't necessarily discount a chord tuning function for dreams or meditative incidents that do not rise to the level of full consciousness, it just places them, perhaps, in a different category.

So I've been doing some hazy web browsing about the whole consciousness, meditation, medication, hibernation complex, and have in the process decided that Google Books controls far too much of the world's information. Anyhow, it takes most of my energy to pull those notes together. So the compromise is that I take worse notes but get to spend — thanks to the treatments — more time in that strange space enclosed.

And that's about it from the morning of day +5

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