Bone Marrow—The Party Game!

I had to undergo a medical procedure today that I’d like to share with you.  Don’t you love when someone says that? Buckle up for a fun ride!

Now this one wasn’t in the top ten of procedures I’ve had in the past. Like the Christmas morning I had my intestinal blockage manually “fixed” by my GI doctor. I won’t sicken you with the details but let’s just say it was quite a hands-on experience.

So being poked, prodded, violated, plunged, pricked and otherwise manhandled…kind of part of the territory by now. I can’t say I ever get used to it, but it becomes less and less surprising each time it happens. When I was at Mount Sinai they had to take blood every morning for the month I was in there. Apparently the phlebotomists began their daily rounds on my floor because they woke me up for the pleasure of opening up a vein at 4am each morning. Some of them, the human beings, snuck in nice and quiet and tried to be as subtle and careful as possible about the whole thing. The evil, sub-human, blood-sucking vampires, on the other hand would callously switch on the bright overhead lights and yell “PHLEBOTOMY!!” in a strident, harsh tone designed to inspire instant hatred. Needless to say after a week of this, along with all my other ills, I was rarely sleeping when they came in at 4am. Hospitals are a lousy place to try to convalesce. I truly think they’re trying to get you out the door as quickly as possible, in the running and screaming way.

I’ve had five separate abdominal surgeries. The first one was a bit of an emergency to get my colon out of me before it disintegrated. The next three were related to that first, attempting to correct, pull down, uncoil–whatever you want to call it—to make the rest of my intestines function, or to take down adhesions built up while attempting to do so. But the fifth! Now that was a barn burner. I was having issues with absorption that were leaving me depleted, tired and very anemic, so my Albany GI doctor wanted very much to do a procedure that would involve my swallowing a camera that would take pictures of my guts from the inside. Yeah, I raised my eyebrows too. I said are you SURE you want to do this with my history of intestinal blockages? He was. So I went into an outpatient office and somehow swallowed a walnut sized camera. I had to wear this TRON-like monitor under my shirt for a day and come back to have it checked—it was working well and making its way through what was left of my insides.

As fate would have it I was appearing as MacMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at a theater in Latham. At the beginning of rehearsals I was a fairly healthy guy with a job fully enjoying the role of his life. By the time we opened I could only eat once a day and was trying to get on short-term disability. The third week of the six week run I did the Thursday through Sunday shows with a camera in my gut. That Monday I was on my knees in the bathroom trying to throw up when the GI doctor called to say that according to their X-ray the camera was now lodged in my intestine and needed to be surgically removed. Yeah, no kidding. So that was surgery numero cinco. I still cringe whenever a camera flash goes off.

So multiple surgeries, check, upper and lower endoscopies, multiple checks, epidural, check, permanent IV lines in my upper arm, quadruple check, bloodwork times a million, check, swallowing a camera, check plus, having to drop out of the best role of my life, check minus, incursions into various orifi that need not involve further explanation, check please. Today was my first experience giving bone marrow! Yea for me!

I don’t want to scare anybody here. My wife was going to have a procedure done once and a well-meaning but clueless acquaintance of our said to her, “THAT! I was clutching my knees in the fetal position SCREAMING from the PAIN!” Needless to say she was filled with confidence after that brainstorm. The bone-marrow procedure wasn’t all THAT bad. Lots of lidocaine in my lower back, 19ccs I’m told, then a grab the bed-rail, white-knuckle pain for about five seconds while they sucked out some bone juice. It sounds way, way worse than it is. Not that I’d suggest it as a party game anytime soon. The most disturbing part was painless, when they told me they were wiggling around the needle to shake a tiny piece of the bone loose. I don’t have a medical background, but I’m fairly certain this is not a thing that is meant to be done to bones. My obvious question was, “Is that going to grow back or something?”

It will. The gaping chasm in my psyche may not.

    • Robin
    • April 13th, 2011

    Wow… I’m impressed that you can be light-hearted about medical stuff that obviously sucks, and I’m sure its that part of your spirit that has gotten you through these difficulties – you are an incredible person, Brian, and I enjoy reading the things that come out of your brain 🙂

  1. Wow, thanks Robin. If you don’t laugh about it…well, it’ll still suck, but then you won’t have had a laugh.

    • Karen Mills
    • April 13th, 2011

    Ouch! Did you ever think about running away to some healthy-hippie commune where they will heal you with strange raw foods and funky zen and chakra stuff?

  2. The odor turned me off. Nothing healthy can smell that bad.

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