Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stem Cells And An Unfinished Sentence

Last night I stayed at my parent's house and woke up dreaming that my hair was black and easily came out of my head by the handful at the slightest pull. Today I visited my friend in Liverpool hospital again. Mash-up of the story so far:

Intensive care when I first heard, not holding out too much hope. Nobody could fathom it, symptoms confusing, time running out, tests and oxygen masks and steroids... Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Chemo. Home. Sight fading. Hospital, home hopsital, repeat. More meds, more treatment, more hospital, more home. Hair gone, bald and eyelashless, weight gained and puffed up. I visit whenever I am out that way to see my folks, crossing the park near my old college in which I used to dry hump my first ever boyfriend by the fountain and drink screwdrivers between classes, past my old orthodontist's office and the train station where I bought redskins on the way to school. To the oncology ward, wash hands with antibacterial gel and waltz in with my bunch of contraband blooms (even my mother's homegrown roses are too risky it seems, for these Big C patients, so they get relegated to the front desk where no patients can even see them).

Her hair used to be reddish. Now it is dark, almost as long as mine, and I do my now-customary doubletake. At every visit I have to match the bed number with the one her partner or the information booth has given me, always hesitant to say the first hello in case I have misrecognised her in someone (else even though her energy is unmistakeable). The hair is a shock, new, different, then she effortlessly pulls out a clump to show me it won't be there for long. Never get used to anything, nothing is certain, not even redhead or brunette. She needn't bother shaving anywhere, she confides, even her pubes fall out at the slightest touch. There is a big machine attached to her, or more she is attached to it, relentless pumping, beeping, bags of fluid hanging, tubes everywhere but most gruesomely from her neck (veins collapsing everywhere, best place they could find to put them). Blood comes out, stem cells harvested, remainder back into body, four or five hours a day until they have enough. Then there will be more chemo, harder, stronger, hopefully big enough to wipe out the bad stuff along with the good. Then they will transfer the stem cells back again and cross their fingers that this is enough to start replacing all good cells that were killed in the battle. We chat about my upcoming trip, her partner, my work, parties she used to hold, people we have in common. It is hard to leave, even harder than it is to stay, and I promise I will try to see her again before I go. No need to finish that sentence, I won't be back in Sydney until January, the pauses say enough...

When I meet my mother in the shopping mall afterwards we get sushi and pretzels and I tell her about my dream.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next time you visit, if you go before OS, let me know. I would like to visit her too x


5:54 pm  

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