Throughout Thursday night I never spiked a fever. My first temp check of the day on Friday registered at 98.6, an exactly normal temp. It stayed that way for the rest of the day. I was physically feeling a lot better, just beyond tired. I really never slept more than 4 or so hours a night for an eight day stretch and sleep was broken all the nights of the chemo infusions the week before so it was safe to say that I was sleep deprived.
The attending doctor and the team of residents and interns came in to see me in the morning and told me that my white blood cell count had completely recovered – 7.5 (from 0.1 on Saturday) – my immune system was back. They told me that as long as I could "stay cool," meaning no fever, that they could possibly discharge me that evening or the next morning at the latest.
I was kind of in shock.
"Would you like that?" he asked.
"I would love that," I said. "Even tomorrow morning would be fantastic."
Before they came in I was poking around my soggy corn flakes in a plastic box mentally preparing myself for starting the course of steroids later that morning and preparing myself for another three days of hospital food and IV pole tethering.
Well, I did "stay cool" all day in fact and because I never spiked another temp, the steroid regimen was never needed. My body embraced my stem cells without a problem. The persistent fevers were just chalked up to my severely compromised immune system - something was going on inside me that it couldn't fight but as soon as those stem cells birthed enough white blood cells at the direction of all those Neupogen shots they started taking care of business and got me back to normal temp.
Craig was there with me for the day and we worked on some projects together to pass the time. I received some potassium and phosphorus repletions to bring up my levels and continued on my oral antibiotics. They still had another fecal sample out for testing so the contact precautions were back on until anything was ruled out so I wasn't allowed to leave the room and everyone in it had to glove, gown and mask – including Craig. I really had no expectations of going home that night.
Then all of the sudden at about 3pm a resident and an intern came into my room and said that they were going to be sending you home. The fecal matter tests came back negative so the precautions signs outside my door were taken down and everyone ripped off their blue paper gowns. They explained that since my counts were back to normal, since my feveral pattern had subsided and since I had no other symptoms that it was safe to say that my body had recovered from the high-dose chemo and stem cell transplant.
I don't remember what I said back but the doctors looked at me and said: "Does that sound good? Would you prefer to leave tonight?"
I just didn't get it.
"So I can go home home, not the hotel? I can eat what I want, drink what I want, go out in public?"
Craig said that as I spoke my voice was so shaky and he could visibly see my chin trembling. He had to keep stepping in to ask questions and talk for me.
They told me that I still should avoid big crowds and stay away from anyone who is visibly sick as I continue to recover. Dr. Cooper and his nurse Erin who saw me later told me that my only restrictions were "no sushi and no digging in the dirt for a while" and that they'd see me on Tuesday.
The doctors told me that they'd write up my discharge instructions and write me a prescription for Acyclovair, the antibiotic I'll continue to take three times a day for six months. As my platelet count was borderline they also wanted to transfuse me with one more unit of platelets before I left just to be on the safe side. They also scheduled me to return to the clinic on Sunday for more bloodwork and any other transfusions as needed. Then again on Tuesday for the same, a breathing treatment to prevent PCP pneumonia and to discuss the rest of the follow-up care.
They left and Craig says to me: "You looked like you were going to cry."
I responded by starting to cry. I was just so overwhelmingly relieved and completely stunned that I made it through. It felt exactly like sky diving when I was 18 though instead of the amazing adrenalin of that free fall, this had been a free fall from hell filled with fear, sadness, confusion and hurt. I jumped out of the plane at 13,500 feet with a little Australian man attached to my back. we were free falling through the sky at 120 miles an hour for one solid minute of pure energy rush. Then together we pulled the cord, the parachute released and the abrupt change in motion was so harsh. I remember the harness around my upper thighs locking so tight against me and our bodies wrenching with the force of the parachute stopping our free fall as it felt we being yanked upward.
When I heard that this proverbial free fall was over, everything around me stopped just as suddenly. It was the abruptness that was the strange part. All of the sudden it was over. I was going from not being able to leave a room or to move my bowels without telling anyone to complete freedom to do whatever my body could handle and complete release to go and start the lifetime healing process. I can only hope that what's to come will be just as beautiful as the slow, gentle, breathtaking parachute descent I took from the sky to a field of grass 10 years ago.
I did not have much to say on the ride home. I was just so happy to have the windows down and the breeze blowing in. We stopped at our favorite pizza place for the Little City special - chicken, melted leeks and artichokes galore. As we waited for my prescription to be filled, we ate it in the car with the windows rolled down. We parked it by a nearby restaurant with a patio that had a guy outside singing and playing guitar. We savored the pizza and listened as he sang U2's "It's A Beautiful Day" agreeing with every sweet lyric.
Then it was home where I inhaled the familiar scents, took a long hot shower to get rid of that lingering hospital film and climbed into bed spreading out in the glorious soft sheets that don't scratch and pillows that are not blue and rubber.
Here I am 11 hours of sleep later with a much clearer head and holding a lot of pride. Things aren't perfect. I'm still very weak, sore, bruised and battered with a persistent cough and chest tightness but I'm on the sweet descent. I'm going to take things slowly and try to decompress and grapple with everything that just happened. I know this will take a long time, but I am so excited for so many good things to come. Most immediately I look forward to a Memorial Day weekend of sun, fresh air, parades and barbecues.
Smiling and at peace.