Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bones Visits the 20th Century

Nearly three decades ago there was a Star Trek movie whose theme was “Save the Whales.” In one scene, Chekov had taken a bad fall and ended up in 20th-century surgery to relieve pressure on the brain. Somehow, I mistakenly remember Bones, after beaming down, coming into the operating room and exclaiming that drilling a hole in a man’s head "was barbaric." Here is what he really said.

In the elevator scene, before finding Chekov, there were two young doctors discussing “radical chemotherapy.” Back when this movie was made, I had no clue what that was. Now that I am undergoing chemo treatment for leukemia (CLL), and discovering that one of the infused treatments I am receiving had an element in it that appeared it was derived from the words “mustard gas,” I got curious. I looked up Mustard Gas in Wikipedia and was shocked to discover I was right. If you read under the “History” section, there is a sub-section on how mustard gas is being used to treat my form of leukemia. Why? Because back in World War I and subsequent to it, medical science discovered that one main side effect of exposure to mustard gas (on a cellular level) is a significant drop in white blood cells. (I confirmed my suspicions with the nurses at the Infusion Center that told me the reason they dawn protective gear when starting my I.V. is because the mustard gas is extremely dangerous.)

In my case, that is the exact results the oncologist wanted because my white cells had turned into a spontaneous mob riot, replicating to more than four times the norm for an adult. They were bashing in the windows of my platelet counts, overturning the cars of my oxygen-carrying red blood cells, and killing and maiming the innocent bystanders of my immune system. Medical science's answer? Declare martial law, call in the national guard of chemotherapy and systematically kill all looters and curfew breakers. More accurately, the best answer is to commit genocide on my white blood cells—how’s that for barbarism!? LOL

To date, I've only had one chemo treatment. I must be hyper-sensitive to stimulus of any sort because my white cell count crashed to the bottom end of the normal range. To illustrate—most people live in a small range of elevation—from sea-level to the lower mountains. That corresponds with the white cell count for most humans (3.5-12.5 K/uL). In contrast, my white cell count was living on top of Mount Everest (49 K/uL). Within two weeks, it was brought to just above sea-level (5.8 K.uL). (Did anybody hear that “splat!”?)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not finding fault with medical science. It just seems so “dark ages.” Instead of having found a treatment method that would be akin to using the finesse of precision microscopic surgery tools, for all of medical science's advances, cancer treatment methods seem akin to using a harpoon. (I'm sure medical science would balk at such a comparison, but chemo is undeniably harsh on the body--more like the proverbial "bull in a china shop.")

My oncologist has been the absolute best doctor. Very thoughtful, compassionate, patient and understanding. His treatment of my leukemia has been tailored for my needs. In fact, even though the original chemo infusion was, as he stated, the weakest dosage he would ever start with, after he saw the fantastic results, he is now thinking of reducing the dosage even further.

Although the post-riot scene is quiet, it is still a disaster. The National Guard (chemo) is still patrolling the streets of Hemotropolis (my bloodstream). Although some of the good citizens (my immune-system Neutrophils and blood-clotting platelets) have started roaming the streets in greater numbers, transportation (oxygen-carrying red cells) is still greatly impaired. Although it appears that leukemia has been arrested and the riot has been squelched, my oncologist is still planning on completing the 6-month-long chemo treatment. I think the UN calls these forces "peace keepers." (LOL) 

I am still dealing with the fallout symptoms from chemo, which cause extreme vertigo and fatigue (not to mention numerous other symptoms). For the time being, I have decided to stop driving—for my own safety as well as others on the road--at least until the dizziness goes away. That decision has been the toughest. I've basically become housebound and dependent on others to transport me. I am glad to see the excellent results with just one treatment. I’m still apprehensive about my future "quality of my life." But “one foot in front of the other,” “one day at a time,” and so goes my life right now.

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Below, the left chart is pre-chemo. The right is after just one treatment of chemo.

Addendum 4/4/2014: Just came from meeting with my oncologist. As I understand him, although the riot has been squelched, there are trouble-makers lurking in the dark alleys of Hemotropolis. They are opportunists that are waiting to rebuild and reorganize. The refreshed forces of the National Guard (The remaining 5 rounds of chemo) "can" (no guarantees) completely crush the rebellion and restore real peace in the city. The downside is that this is not without impact on the good citizens. Right now, his main concern is on transportation (oxygen-carrying red cells) -- they are already low. Crippled transportation can starve a city.

Another insight (that I had already suspected) is that the results achieved in this first treatment were more drastic than the doctor had anticipated. He indicated that normally these results are not seen until after the second or third chemo treatment. This confirms that I do indeed seem to be hyper-sensitive to these drugs. Part of the balancing act of dosage is the body weight verses bone density. In my case, I am about 100 pounds over-weight, which adds to the complexity of dosage calculation. Guess I need to lose weight (Duh!)

Story continued here: Dateline Hemotropolis-The Continuing Saga

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