So What's a Bone Marrow transplant Like?

(Looking back to July, 1999)

Not what I expected!

I imagined myself lying in a solitary bed in a vast, white room.

Technicians are hovering around in white protective suits with full head masks. I hear the sound of air moving in and out through long breathing hoses; tables carefully laid out with bizarre surgical steel instruments; and mysterious, beeping electronic gizmos all around.

It wasn't that way at all!

Instead, a few nurses strolled into my regular old hospital room one morning and just shot the stuff in.


It was July 20th, 1999, eight days before my 45th birthday.

Five months earlier I was told I had multiple myeloma - a disease I had to look up on the internet. My doctors all agreed I had two years to live. With a transplant I might push that out to five years - or - there was the chance - the transplant itself would kill me. At first they said there was a 30% chance of that.

Not particularly encouraging!

I went through three rounds of chemo, and now I was lying in a hospital bed, waiting to have my bone marrow replaced with my sister’s.

I should mention, just as a point of irony, that we had been driving into Chicago for the last couple of years for appointments at the Cleft Palate Institute just across the street (our oldest son was born with a cleft palate, and the wonderful people at the Institute were seeing to its repair).

The summer morning of our first visit, we drove past a hole in the ground surrounded by heavy construction equipment, and a sign along the fenced-off sidewalk that read, “Future Home of Northwestern Memorial Hospital.”

Little did I know then that that sign could have read, "Future Home of Paul Dallgas-Frey - well, for a month or so anyway!"

And some people want to know the future!!!


Anyway, it's two years later, and I have already been a patient at the brand new Northwestern hospital for a week, getting what one of my doctors described as a ‘brutal’ dose of chemo. The idea was to kill off all of my own marrow.

I had expected that to be horrendous, but it really wasn’t bad at all. I mostly remember reading a lot of Macworld magazines, listening to James Taylor and Hootie and the Blowfish, watching a lot of baseball on TV, and staring at the building that made up the entire view out my 14th floor window.

But I had come to one of those points in life where there is no turning back. Once my own marrow was gone, either the new marrow took, or I was toast.

So, it was a little disconcerting when the nurse came in at 3:00 that morning and was trying to figure out which infusion line was which.

The first thing they did when I entered the hospital was to have what they call a triple Lohman Hickman implanted in my chest. It’s a three-valve direct hook-up to a major vein (or is it an artery? I don’t know!). It’s pretty slick, all in all. Whenever you need any kind of infusion, all they have to do is plug into one of the three plastic tubes hanging from your chest. Okay, you feel a bit like a cow with an artificial udder, but it beats someone poking around in your arm with a sharp needle, trying to find a vein.

So, the nurse comes in at 3:00 in the morning. She has to be tired. The light is dim. “Let’s see, this one starts here...” and she traces along one of the clear plastic lines with her fingers. You know how it is, when you are trying to untangle Christmas lights, how easy it is to slip from one string to another. “And I think this one goes here...”



‘Think’ is not the kind of word you want to hear when your life is in the balance!

Around 9:00 that morning, a team of nurses was fussing around my bed. One of them had a large syringe filled with what looked like amber Dippity-Do. She hooked the syringe up to the IV, and injected it in - pretty much as if I were a chicken getting a flavor injection before being stuffed into Ron Popiel’s Rotisserie oven.

And that was that.

Real life never seems nearly as dramatic as TV.

So, just to make things interesting, eight days later I almost died.

Next (click here)

*Oh... what's with the Frosted Flakes? Well, that's what I lived on for most of the four weeks I was in the hospital. I couldn't stomach anything else. I had boxes and boxes of them squirrelled away in my nightstand!

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2011 Paul Dallgas-Frey