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:
- I can pull out of this procedure at any time, and
- 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.