Tuesday 10 November 2009

Plot lines, gasmen and stem cell harvesting

My new children’s novel is starting to come alive. I've written a crisp one sentence strap line and a lively promotional paragraph about my female protagonist with attitude and the ghostly sightings that defy logical explanation. I’ve plotted each strand and divided the story into manageable quarters. Last Friday I completed the first quarter. All was going well... until life’s great hefty foot kicked away my flow of creativity once again.

Yesterday my husband, Rod, had his stem cells harvested. Over the weekend he had to inject himself with a hormone solution to stimulate stem cell growth. It stung. It made his bones ache and, to add to his discomfort, the central heating gasped a final warm breath and we were plunged in 1950s style chill, icy mugs and plates, shivering clothes in the wardrobe, even the carpets are too cold to walk on. I’m typing this while I wait for a gasman to arrive with a new control board. If only it were that simple for humans.

Rod has Amyloidosis. It’s rare, sticky platelets in the blood that build up on the organs. It’s treated in pretty much the same way as myeloma. He had two course of chemotherapy in 2008 but the platelet levels are rising again, hence the stem cell harvest. He will be starting his third course of chemotherapy shortly and the stem cells have been frozen in liquid nitrogen in case he needs a stem cell transplant in 2010.

The process of harvesting stem cells could have been lifted straight from a sci-fi novel. The machine is a bulk of metal with knobs and buttons, wheels and tubes, flashing lights and buzzing bells. Black, bakerlite style knobs spun, clicked and whirred as the machine sucked blood from a needle which had been inserted into Rod’s left arm. It travelled through a spaghetti of tubes into the machine before returning to his body via a needle into his right arm. In the machine the blood was spun and separated and over the next four hours we watched as plastic pouches filled with different coloured liquids. The most important pouch was the one containing a brown/beige sludge, his precious stem cells.

I have learnt a lot about medicine in the last year and a half. I used to think that a transplant meant putting a new part into the body because the existing one was faulty. It does in some instances but not in this one. The stem cells will be reintroduced to Rod’s body to help him recover should he need to have high dose chemotherapy treatment. We hope they’ll never be used but it’s reassuring to know that they’re there if needed, rather like my writer’s notebook where all my treasured ideas and creative thoughts are collected and stored just in case one day I need them.

Future blogs:
How I use my writer’s notebook
There’s more to a name than signing a book