Mundane Miracles

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For the past three days I’ve lay in a bed as my blood flows from my chest into a machine that separates out my stem cells and then back into my chest. The stem cells are pumped throughout the day into a collection bag. This bag is literally my life as next week I will go into a hospital and voluntarily take a lethal dose of chemicals. Chemicals that will kill off any remaining cancer (hopefully). Chemicals so potent that they will wipe out my bone marrow. Chemicals so toxic they will also rip away at my entire digestive track leaving blisters and sores in their wake. Without that bag of stem cells to regrow my bone marrow I will die. No way to heal, no way to stop bleeding, no way to feed my body the oxygen it needs to live.

I was marveling at this sci-fi like procedure when I saw that bag of stem cells (i.e., my life) was put into a Ziploc bag and transported to a lab in an Igloo cooler. That’s right, the inventory of crucial pieces of equipment to keep me alive include the same equipment used to safe guard cheese sandwiches, and transport six-packs of beer to the beach.

Now I’ve been trying to write up some inspiring sermon-esque post on this transplant process. I’ve tried to figure out soaring rhetoric on faith, medicine, science, and such. After all, this is a big deal. An organ transplant…poisons…epic drama kind of stuff. But then I keep coming back to the Igloo cooler and the Ziploc bag. When you think about it, this whole thing is pretty absurd.

I mean I had to sign a consent form that said:

  1. I can pull out of this procedure at any time, and
  2. If I pull out of this procedure I will face “certain death.”

I actually signed a document that had the phrase certain death in it. I mean, seriously?! Who sits through a lethal dose of chemo and says “you know what? I’m good.”

“But sir, if you leave now you will face CERTAIN DEATH!”

“Yeah, I’m OK with that, I got Tylenol at home.”

And seriously, an Igloo cooler? Who will be the first lab tech to mistake that for their lunch. “Ah, man? Stem cells again?”

I mean when I get a PET scan they give me a shot from a syringe encased in friken titanium. When I get a chest X-Ray, they wheel an armature with a full color display into my room – an X-Ray that can only take black and white images mind you. I’ve had my brain scanned with magnetic beams, and my gut outlined with protons and gamma rays…but the fluid that will save me from CERTAIN DEATH? Igloo and Ziploc.

How insane is this? I’m sitting all day as my blood is processed by a set piece from the original Star Trek series watching the Olympics where the Curling team uses high tech granite pucks with embedded hand sensors. Meanwhile, my stem cells will be injected into an IV line over the course of about 15 minutes…that’s the transplant. No lasers. No high-tech imaging device. Just a doctor and the same medical instrument that Sherlock Holmes used to shoot up over a century ago. How do they prepare the stem cells for transplant? They thaw them out in a warm water bath. Water! I hope they at least play some dramatic music on a Zune (yes I went there Microsoft).

It gets more absurd still. A year after I have this transplant, I have to go back to the hospital to get my childhood vaccinations. In a year I will have to stare down the Jenny McCarthys of the world on the risks of diphtheria and MMR vaccination. After this miracle of science transplant my biggest fear is polio…POLIO!! The way this is going I’ll probably end up sitting in the well kid waiting room of my kid’s pediatrician working on a puzzle out of a 1973 issue of Highlights magazine.

So, is there some lesson in this; some larger take away? I suppose it would be this: when the extraordinary becomes the mundane, it is no less important. Those who deliver the essential, but expected, are doing something important. When my doctor delivers my stem cell in a routine infusion from an Igloo cooler, she will still be saving my life. When an optometrist fits you with optical technology (glasses) that has been around for centuries, you still can see. The world around is filled with the extraordinary that we have become so used to as to make it seem mundane…but it is spectacular.

I pray you don’t have to fight cancer to see the extraordinary. Sure, we see it in toys and gadgets every day. We have become enamored with iPhones and smart watches and marvel at how fast/small/stylish they are. But try and recognize how incredible the everyday is. Next time you wash your hands, remember that indoor plumbing has saved more lives than any miracle drug.

See the spectacular every day in the love of friends and family. When you wish your son would just be quiet, remember the wonder and thrill of his first word. Make the next peck on your wife’s cheek rekindle the passion of your first kiss. And laugh – every day – laugh. The world we live in is a wondrous mundane miracle. Rejoice in it.

22 responses on “Mundane Miracles

  1. Joleen Sterk

    Dave, you’ve found your true calling…and it’s got nothing to do with libraries. You have eloquently expressed what it means to be human, to appreciate the beauty and wonder all around in the everyday-nes of life, and to be grateful for the journey. THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU.

  2. Roy Tennant

    What Jane Treadwell said. I can’t believe that in the midst of all this you still have the energy and the will to share with us these remarkable stories, and your particularly humorous take on your experiences. What a treasure for us. Get well, man, and soon.

  3. Leona Chereshnoski

    Your attitude is one of the Miracles, Virtual Dave!! I am still impressed and puzzled by calculators. You are way ahead of most of us!! Good luck, and may many blessings await you.

  4. Lisa Bankert

    Words are mundane; the way you arrange them is a miracle. Love to you, Igloo coolers, and Ziploc bags.

  5. Melanie Metzger

    Happy vibes being sent your way. As for amazement…think about the video games you played as a teen (or possibly a kid if you were one of the lucky ones who had a system) and then think about what video games look like now….blows my mind every time!

  6. Kara Greene

    I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this piece, how it made me think, and made me laugh..but I hesitated because that seemed kind of flippant considering what you’re talking about and what you’re having to deal with, but then I realized — That is exactly your point. Thank you.

  7. Barbara Stripling

    You not only are learning about the miracles of everyday life, you are teaching all of us. Just when I think it’s safe to sit back and relax, you bump me with the need to live life to the fullest, every day (my favorite line from Our Town). But an Igloo cooler and a ziplock bag? Seriously?

  8. sue kowalski

    Thanks, Dave–never cease to warm my heart AND make me think! I always have been intrigued with your “igloo/ziploc” reference (have to say only what i’ve observed, not lived it)…but yet at a casino, the cash/chips arrive in large locked vaults under velvet cloth accompanied by suit-clad pit bosses with lots of keys and security clearance…ironic statement about life’s priorities eh? Think of you all the time and sending happy vibes for “clearance”….

  9. Dave Smallen

    The contrast between the complexity of the body and the simplicity of some of battle weapons in your arsenal is remarkable. Life is all about those moments you describe and why we fight so hard to keep it going. I wish you all the best in winning the fight.

    1. Uncle Jim

      David, you are in inspiration to everyone who reads your blog. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, feelings and inspirational views.
      Love ya,

  10. Vicky W

    Beautiful, thank you. As always – and even through this battle – you continue to change lives with your unique perspective. You have so many friends – me, just one – who’ve been honored to witness your journey all along, even before this whole crazy thing started – we’re all still rooting for you. Stay strong and true to you. Sending lot of prayers out to you & your family. Also, the Jenny McCarthy comment…nearly spit out my coffee! :)

  11. Mike EIsenberg

    Sorry to be a little behind in my reading/responding. Maybe that’s part of Dave’s lesson. But, what I learned from Dave (yet again) is, “the power of humor.”

  12. Alison Hunter

    David, It’s a fabulous miracle. Ask your doctors how the stem cells know exactly where to go – I never got a sensible explanation, maybe you’ll do better. I had a stem cell transplant 10 years ago next month. AML. Got someone else’s stem cells – equally astonishing! Radiation to knock out all the bad stuff, then chemo just to make sure… then, as you say, a simple little bag of fluid for 15 minutes that started me up again.You’ll go great, cause you’re so positive. All the best for one day at a time – and the next 50+ years!

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