Positive signs

So, Mike continues to make good progress. It looks like his bone marrow is stating to produce cells. The estimated discharge date is Wednesday. Thanks for all your love and prayers.

We continue to get signs from the universe.Several weeks ago Judy saw a lady in church who reminded her very much of Mike’s mother. Mike told her it was his mother at work comforting them. I agree. Then one day Judy saw 7 hawks driving home from the hospital. The following day we saw 3 hawks from Mike’s window. As I have mentioned before, the hawk is Mike’s spirit animal.Another good sign. Today Mike heard  a knock on his door. A gentleman came in who was the spitting image of Mike’s late sponsor, Don B. Another sign from the universe that Mike has spiritual energy on his side. The fellow was a volunteer chaplain from Jewish Family services.

We had a wedding on our unit today. Another sign of hope.

So, I will keep it brief today. Thanks for all the love and prayers you are generating on our behalf. We love you all.

Brother Chemo

So, Mike is now 8 days post-transplant of his stem cells. He is doing extremely well, and his doctor says he is the most boring patient on their unit. His side effects are quite minimal, and probably won’t get any worse. He has been able to eat for the past 4-5 days, and stopped losing weight. His blood counts are following the predictable pattern, so right now they are very low, which is why they want him to be under the watchful eye of Emory. He was visited by a yoga therapist today, and had a session of medication. No, meditation. He looked very relaxed. I tripped along with the session, and it was okay, but for a cat meditation is second nature.

Judy and Michelle were here for a nice visit today, and they both brought me treats. Judy’s brother, Greg, also came by for a visit. We also had a visit from the rabbi who makes hospital rounds, and that was good as well. She said a Hebrew prayer for Mike’s recovery. We were also surprised by a visit from Richard Donkle. You may recall that he is the HOA president of Happy Meadows. He brought good wishes and prayers from our neighbors. He was surprised to see me here. He didn’t think they would let cats up on the unit, but as I have said many times, I am no ordinary cat.

So, Mike says he has been thinking about the chemo process that he is undergoing. On the one hand it is high-tech, ingenious, and probably dramatically life extending, but at the same time seems barbaric. They harvest your bone marrow cells, give you a lethal dose of chemo, and then rescue you by giving you your cells back. The lethal dose of chemo is the barbaric part. Barbarism used to be the norm in medical practice. Treatments included blood-letting, leeches, grotesque surgeries, and cauterizations. Women used to die at a rate of 50% in childbirth, mostly from puerperal fever, a streptococcal infection spread by the doctors not washing their hands as they went from attending one patient to another. The wealthy always had a higher death rate in smallpox epidemics because they could afford doctors.

There is a story about St. Francis of Assisi who used to cry all the time because he thought so much about the suffering of his Saviour. His crying led to keratitis, an erosion of the corneas. This was very painful. You may recall that he used to refer to the creatures of the woods as brother fox, brother wolf, etc. He was brought to a doctor who proposed to cure his keratitis by cauterizing his eyes with a hot iron poker. The saint agreed to the procedure, and referred to the poker as brother fire. If this story is true, he died a blind man. I hope it isn’t. Anyway, I have heard Mike refer to the chemo he received as brother chemo. You might think he is crazy, but it can help to reframe a situation to make it more palatable.

We hope the new year has been good for you so far. We hope to be home by the middle of next week, but that is entirely up to Dr. K. Please keep the prayer energy going, because it is the most important element of our recovery. We love you all! Bye bye from Happy Meadows!

Paint Your Nose Day

So, today is 8 days since Mike got his heavy dose of chemo, and 6 days since his stem cells were transfused back to him. He saw Dr. K. today, back from vacation, and Dr. K. is happy. If he is happy then I am happy, even though there is not much for a little black cat to do up here. Judy came for a long and delightful visit today. Michelle was a little under the weather and stayed home. The other 3 cats, according to Judy, are weirded out by the change in the household routine. Where are Mike and Black Magic, they want to know? Mike is making friends up here, as,of course, am I. Who could resist my charm? Mike and Judy were talking about books with one of the nurses, and Mike told her about my grandfather’s book, “Autobiography of a Georgia Cat.” Judy brought 2 or 3 books up and 2 nurses are reading it now. I hope they enjoy it. One of the nurses says Mike is her favorite patient, and by extension, that means that I am her favorite cat (except for the one she has at home.) Judy also brought the boom box and some CDs (Car Talk classics, and a Bill Bryson book.) This will help fill the idle hours with laughter.

Mike was able to eat yesterday, finally, after no appetite since the chemo. So naturally, he overdid it, with a resultant digestive disturbance that shall go undescribed. But we are not going to dwell on it, nor is he going to overeat again. Mike continues to get calls and texts from good friends who love him. Cousin Barbie called last night just before the transition to 2020. It was great to hear from her and Tony. They have a couple of nice cats. Sister-in-law Amy will come for a visit later. I just love her, she is so nice and cat-friendly. I shouldn’t say this, but she is one of my favorite people. But despair not, I love y’all!

So, the 12-step meeting by remote went very well last night. Good audio, and great vibes from people who are supporting each other in living the best possible life.

And speaking of 12- step programs, Pauline Phillips ran the “Just for Today” daily commitment from Al-Anon in her advice column today. I think she starts every year with this. You might want to check it out. She also ran the Prayer of St. Francis, which we talked about very recently in another blog.

The Bulldogs play Baylor tonight in the Sugar Bowl. We will watch for a while, I suppose. I think a Midsomer Mystery is on also. These take place in this creepy county in the UK where all these people keep getting murdered. Motives are resentment, lust, money, money, jealousy, and did I say money? Some of the murders are quite gruesome. We love the show. In my opinion, what Midsomer County needs is more cats to bring a greater sense of positive energy and love.

So, today was paint your nose day (the inside, not the outside) up on  the 9th floor of the Tower. This is done by every patient on Wednesdays to prevent MERSA outbreaks. If Mike didn’t want to paint his nose  I would be happy to help. But he just did it all by himself.

We are looking for a happy and healthy 2020 for ourselves and for all of you. Stay tuned for more updates from Happy Meadows. Bye, bye!

We have been here a whole week.

So, Mike and I have been at Emory for his bone marrow transplant for 1 week. He went 5 days without being able to eat, but today his appetite returned , and he looks and feels better. According to the plan, his cell counts will bottom out in the next 2-3 days, after which the transplanted cells should begin to produce new blood cells. Once that happens he can be released from our present captivity. Maybe another week or so. Michelle and Rev. Larry came by today and we enjoyed their company immensely. Many people have texted and sent their good wishes. Mike is going to try to connect to his 12-step group tonight by phone. We love you all. Have a safe,healthy, and wonderful New Year. 2020 is the year of clear vision. It’s about time, in my view. So long from Happy Meadows!

At Emory

So, we have had trouble getting on line, so that is why no updates until now. Michelle is here and helped us. Mike is okay, I guess, but he hasn’t been able to eat because of the chemo. At least he hasn’t thrown up. You may or may not hear from us again until we get out, depending on getting access on line again.  But we want you to know that we love your, appreciate your prayers, and hope to be out of here in a couple of weeks. So long from Happy Meadows!

No Turning Back Now

So, greetings from Happy Meadows, or rather, greetings from Emory University Hospital where Mike and I checked in this afternoon. Mike’s room is really nice, and he has a great view of the parking deck. You can also see downtown Decatur from here, and Stone Mountain is barely poking up at the horizon. (By the way, Mike says horizon is one of those words that he read as a youngster and got the pronunciation wrong. Other examples are stomach, coyote, Penelope, and walrus.) Walrus, you say? What is so difficult about walrus? Somehow, although Mike is not dyslexic, it came out warlus in his mind.

The staff here is great. The room is quite large, brightly lit, and it is quiet up here. They are not running full, I suppose, because many people did not want to be in the hospital for Christmas. Judy and Michelle have gone home for the night. Mike just got an antibacterial wash from the nursing staff, and they painted his nose with iodine, it looks like. They are trying to unclog his port. I suggested dynamite. He has this device that is not clogged up that has 3 catheters hanging from his chest, so they don’t really need the port now. Mike is going to get some magnesium IV, and his chemo will start round 9PM. He is supposed to ice his mouth for the 2 hours of the infusion, which might get annoying, but it will be worth it if it cuts down on the mouth sores that people get from the chemo.

Mike is wondering about his hair. It probably will fall out in a couple of weeks or so. He says it is going to grow back curly and red. I doubt it. (He says his great-grandmother Ethel Cowl had red hair, as did at least two of her daughters and 3 of her grandchildren.) But him saying this reminds me of Mike’s story about his freshman high school teacher, Mrs. B. She had curly red hair to go along with a generous nose. Mike says she was very nice. She was explaining that in Latin there are 2 words for “man.” One word is vir and the other word is homo. Vir is used to refer to a man of considerable importance, and homo is used in reference to an ordinary Joe. She gave an example: “President Eisenhower is a vir, and my husband is a homo.” Mike says that just then the bell rang, and the class poured out into the hallway laughing hysterically.

If you want to visit Mike he is in room T921. It is located in the Hospital Tower, 1365 Clifton Ave, on the Emory campus. If you have a cold or think you may have been exposed to something please don’t come. All visitors are asked to check in at the nursing station to be given the 3rd degree about their health. If you want to come please text or call Mike first to see if he is up to having company. His number is 770-597-4599. Look for frequent updates. We are grateful for all the prayers and good wishes we are receiving continuously. Thanks for praying for Mike’s friend, Ellis. He is doing well. Please pray for Mike’s friend, Brenda. Her health is challenged, and she is in need of prayer.

And one more thing. I told you Mike was reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhard Tolle. It was a good read, and Mike found encouragement and drew strength from it. The author said something profound that I would like to share with you. He said that he has lived with several Zen masters, all of them cats. So that’s all for now. Be well, be safe, and have a wonderful holiday. So long from Happy Meadows!

T-Day Minus 2

So, after a break of about 1 week, we have been back at Emory several times. Yesterday and today Mike got an infusion of something that will help block the side effects of the chemo they will give him in 2 days (Tuesday.) He gets another infusion tomorrow. Yesterday we left the house at 7AM, and after a few minutes Mike noticed an icon lit on his dashboard. Mike can look at an icon and have no idea at all of what it is supposed to represent. He guessed it might be low oil pressure. So, he pulled over and checked his oil which was a little low. He bought 2 quarts of oil, but adding one was more than enough. The icon was still lit, so we went back home to get Judy’s car. Later, we took Mike’s car to Pep Boys who said it was a check-engine light, and suggested we take it to KIA who makes the Hamstermobile. They said it was safe to drive, but it is parked until tomorrow. Today while driving to Emory in Judy’s car the tire pressure icon lit up. On the way home we stopped at Pep Boys again, and they put some air in the tires, gratis. Mike has to go back to Emory tomorrow for another infusion. When he gets home he will take his car to the KIA place to get it serviced. When it rains it pours (which it has done all day today.) No prowling around for me in this weather.

Tuesday Mike checks in to Emory for his bone marrow transplant. So far he has tolerated everything well, and I expect he will likewise do well with the procedure. He has had a great deal of support which has helped tremendously, and for which we are most grateful. I will continue to blog and let you know how things are going. As I had mentioned earlier, I will be going to the hospital and stay with him the whole time he is there. They have rules about having pets there, but I am hardly a pet!

And speaking of pets, you may never have thought about this, but women who are abused often don’t get help for themselves because their abuser threatens to harm or kill their beloved pet if they leave. Most shelters are not equipped to have pets on the premises. In Atlanta there is an organization called Ahimsa. They are a volunteer organization designed to fill this need. They can take in pets on an emergency basis and foster them for up to 2 months. If you are interested check out their website at www.ahimsahouse.org. If you don’t live in Atlanta you might check to see if there is a similar organization in your community. This is a worthwhile cause, and deserving of support. See what you can do.

Mike finished the book by Richard Rhodes about the making of the atomic bomb. He found it fascinating, and learned a great deal that he had not known previously. He sort of followed the physics, but when the author started to describe the apparatus and devices the scientists built, his eyes glazed over. He has a very limited capacity for imagining thing spatially. This is no doubt related to his inability to interpret icons. It’s a good thing he didn’t want to be an architect, or for that matter, a surgeon. Mike has started a new book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I think it will help him get his head ready for the next phase of his cancer treatment. If you pay attention, the universe will always serve up what you need when you need it. I’ll let you know what Mike gets out of the book.

So, I hope I am able to send out more frequent reports for a while. I know so many of you are concerned. If you want to visit Mike, and have his cell number, shoot him a text while he is in the hospital, and he will let you know if he is feeling up to a visit. He certainly doesn’t expect anyone to schlep over to Emory, but do text your good wishes, and don’t stop praying. You might notice that I used a Yiddish word in the last sentence. Schlep means “drag,” and it is in such common usage that it has become part of the English vernacular. We were watching Judge Judy the other day and she used the term bubbe meiseh. Bubbe means grandmother, and a meiseh is a tale, typically untrue. Mike got the biggest kick out of hearing a term he used to hear in his childhood coming out of Judge Judy’s mouth. They are exactly the same age, and heard a lot of Yiddish as they were growing up.

Well, that’s all for now from Happy Meadows. Enjoy your holiday, whichever one or more that you celebrate. Be safe and be well. You will hear from me soon.

The Holidays Came Early this Year

So, today we celebrated Christmas and Chanukah early. We did this because Mike will be in the hospital on Christmas day. Michelle came over last night and spent the night. Judy made her usual yummy coffee cake, and we exchanged cards and presents. Later we will go out for a movie and a Chinese dinner. Some of you may not know that for many Jewish families a movie and eating Chinese is a Christmas tradition. We all got nice things, and the other cats got amusing cards for Mike, Judy, and Michelle. I didn’t get them anything, because they already have me, so what else could they want or need?

This was a pretty exhausting week, running back and forth to Emory. Mike got his cells collected Monday, went back for labs the next day, and then met with Dr. B. Thursday. Thursday was a long day because the lab appointment was early, they saw Dr. B. afterwards, had an infusion of chemo, and then they had an orientation to the bone marrow transplant procedure all afternoon. We don’t have to go back to Emory for another week when they start infusing Mike with a drug that will somewhat ameliorate the side effects of the chemo that they will be giving him. Mike seems to be a little more tired, and his appetite is off some. But, he felt well enough to go to his 12-step meeting Tuesday night. I went with him as usual. The people are very nice, and seemed to have a good talk.

Mike is on another rant about the Halls of Fame. This past week Dale Murphy, a fine former player with the Atlanta Braves, got practically no votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame. I think this was his last chance. I hope he doesn’t feel too badly about it. He was a terrific player as well as a man of good character. Ironically, this past week the Goodyear blimp was in town to be admitted as an honorary member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Give me a break!

So, Mike has headed up to bed. At halftime the Marietta Blue Devils are ahead in the state football championship against Lowndes 17-0. This reminds me of the time when he went to bed before the 7th game of the World Series was over when the Cubs were playing Cleveland. The score was tied going into extra innings. It was after midnight, and Mike said he was “crazy tired.” He didn’t find out that the Cubs won until the following morning. Now he doesn’t care if they win again or not. He says now that his lifetime dream (not to be melodramatic) has been realized, he has no need for it to happen again.

So our holidays are over, but well-celebrated today. We hope that when your holidays come around that you have wonderful family time, good things to eat, and that you can stay warm. You will hear from me again soon. Until then, so long from Happy Meadows.

A Quick Update

We got up horribly early to get to Emory for cell collection this morning. Everything went very well. They got enough cells today, so we don’t have to go back for another collection tomorrow, or ever for that matter. We are still on track for the bone marrow transplant on December 24. We want to thank everyone for their prayers and support without which we would not be doing so well, I believe. We saw a big red-tailed hawk on the way home. Mike believes that the universe sends the hawk as a sign that he has spiritual support. I am not so crazy about hawks, but I was in the car, so it wasn’t a problem. Please continue to send us your good thoughts and prayers, and while you are at it, send up some prayers for Mike’s good friend Ellis who had major surgery on Friday. We love you all.

It’s Getting Real

So, yesterday (Friday) Mike went to Emory where they placed a catheter into his vena cava. I think that’s a big blood vessel. Probably so, because the dressing is a little on the bloody side. He will get it changed Monday. There are 3 thingies hanging down from the upper chest wall that they can use to give him 3 different infusions at the same time, or draw blood out. Gross! But he still has a good attitude. Mike says he has never been much for wearing jewelry, but the dangling thingies have a certain aesthetic to them. We will take a picture once the dressing is changed, but I don’t know if Mike will let me post it. We (that is, Mike, Judy, Michelle, and I) all met with Dr. K. this week. Mike signed a bunch of consents, and we asked a lot of questions. Mike had been advised by a friend to get a second opinion about the transplant. In a way, he already has a second opinion from Dr. B., who is treating the lymphoma, and she said to go ahead with it. Mike told Dr. K. that he wants the second opinion from him. Dr. K. was thorough and honest about the alternatives, and the potential risk and benefit of both doing the transplant and not doing the transplant. We are doing the transplant.

A word or two about second opinions. While generally speaking they are a good idea when contemplating a major treatment intervention, they are far from a gold standard. Two illustrative stories are worth telling. Mike had a patient who had severe back pain, and was advised to have surgery. She wound up getting 3 opinions, all recommending surgery, but all 3 recommending a different procedure. It was confusing and stressful for her, and it was up to her to decide. Eventually, she opted for the most extensive procedure, and Mike thinks it worked out well. He was able to get her off of her pain medication afterwards, which was a big accomplishment. The other story involves his late wife, Penny, who back in 1991 had a recurrence of breast cancer in a hip bone. Her doctor told her that she was in a gray area where the studies had not yet answered the question of what to do next in her circumstance, as far as chemo was concerned. He solicited opinions from the two top cancer treatment centers in the country, and got 2 different recommendations (opinions). He discussed them with Mike and Penny at length. Penny opted for the more aggressive approach, and unfortunately, the chemo knocked out her bone marrow and immune system, and she died of pneumonia after a long battle in intensive care. So, the second opinion is nothing more than an opinion, and not necessarily the right treatment option. I do think patients need all the information they can get before making such an important decision, so I am not saying they shouldn’t get a second (or third) opinion. Many patients are distrustful of their doctors, and shop around until they find a doctor who tells them what they want to hear. This is a fear-based approach, and as Mike always says, you should never make an important decision based on fear alone. Mike’s brother was like that. He went to doctors constantly, never followed their advice unless it suited him, and his poor self-care eventually cost him his life. It wasn’t entirely fear-based decision making in his case. He also relied heavily on denial, which as Mike wrote in a recent article he had published in the Atlanta Jewish Times, is more than a river in Egypt. The article was in the November 27, 2019 issue. It deals with the denial in the Jewish community about its own problems with substance abuse and mental illness. If you are interested, you can find the article at https://atlantajewishtimes.timesofisrael.com/sharing-stories-and-creating-community/ Denial is in fact an ego defense mechanism which serves to protect people from acknowledging painful or terrifying realities in their lives. Unfortunately, being in denial too often leads to people failing to take necessary action to prevent a personal or even community-wide calamity.

There is another thing I should tell you about Penny’s treatment. It involves one of Mike’s pet peeves. He doesn’t respect doctors who tell their patients that their previous doctor gave them the wrong treatment. The exception to this would be if that piece of information directly affects their subsequent care. Otherwise, it is just gratuitous to tell a patient that they had the wrong operation or the wrong medication. It is easy to offer a retrospective opinion after a bad outcome and, in Mike’s opinion, reflects badly on the opining physician. So, Penny had been in the ICU for about 3 weeks when her oncologist, Dr. G. told them that he had a long-planned vacation that he wanted to take. Mike told him to go. By that time there were many specialists involved in Penny’s care including a kidney doctor, an infectious disease doctor, and a lung specialist. Dr. G. had a covering oncologist, Dr. P., who would also be involved in taking care of Penny in his absence. One evening Dr. P. told Mike that Penny should never have had the treatment that she had received. Of course Dr. P. was unaware of the process that had led to the decision to opt for that particular treatment plan. Mike was offended by his statement. Some time later he contacted Dr. G. and told him what Dr. P. had said. He thought Dr. G. ought to know that he had been back-stabbed.

Tomorrow Mike goes back to Emory to have lab work and see if he has mobilized enough stem cells. If not, they will give him an infusion of another medicine to mobilize the stem cells from his bone marrow. Then on Monday back to Emory to start the cell collection and separation process. I will tell you more about that after I see how it is done. Mike plans on bringing a couple of good books. His friend, Bruce, gave him a book about the making of the atomic bomb.  Mike is interested in the history of science, so the book should be interesting and terrifying at the same time.

Mike had breakfast with his friend Rev. Larry this morning. Mike asked him to visit him and pray with him when he is in the hospital. He seldom asks anyone to do anything for him. But, he did ask his friend Danny to take him to a 12-step meeting a couple of weeks ago when he was unable to drive (after the colonoscopy.) This is humbling him in a good way, I think. And Judy has just flushed his 3 dangling thingies with heparin so they won’t clot up. She is not squeamish, fortunately. Once about 6 or 7 years ago Mike had emergency surgery for an infected sebaceous cyst in his back. The doctor drained the cyst, and then sewed it up and left a drain in. A couple of weeks later he went up to Minnesota to visit his mother, and the whole damn thing broke open while he was there. He was grossed out beyond belief. He called his doctor who ordered antibiotics and wet-to-dry dressings. Judy went on line, viewed a You-tube video on wet-to-dry dressings, and changed his dressings like a champion. He healed up beautifully.

So, and most importantly, football is large this time of year. Marietta High School won their semifinal game last night, and will play for the state championship next week. Good for them. The University of Georgia plays LSU this afternoon for the SEC championship. Go Blue Devils and go Dogs! It is fun when the home teams do well, and a good distraction from real life. Oh wait, football is real life. Sorry. Well, that’s all the news from Happy Meadows this week except that you should know that the outdoor decorations have added cheer to the neighborhood, and the holidays are racing towards us madly. You will hear from me again very soon. Until then, be safe, be well, and be nice.