Sunday, September 12, 2004

Off to Germany--A Very Brief Update

Dave's Great Adventure, Book 2
Postscript 4
September 12, 2004
We're off!

I wanted to send out a brief message to all my friends to let all you know that we're going to be able to go to Germany despite my white counts being low. I was afraid we would have to cancel all our reservations.

I repeated my blood counts again after my last message and found that my white cell count, and especially the neutrophil counts, had dropped yet again. I discussed this with my doc, and he said we could go on the trip, but that he wants to do another bone marrow biopsy was soon as I get back. And, he gave me a bottle of new and improved antibiotics, a kind I'd not heard of, just in case I were to get ill during the trip.Has anyone out there heard of moxifloxacin? I guess they're pretty powerful.

On this trip Kathy will be keeping me as far as possible from crowds, sick folks, door knobs and coins. She's just great at protecting me from the bad things out there. Being on an airplane is a worry, of course, but we won't be back in steerage. Since we'll be in business class, there will be a lot of room between us and the people around us.And, I have a whole pack of masks I can put on if we detect any danger nearby. Wish us luck!

And, I'm to get another blood count during our trip. One of the first places we'll be going is not too far from Heidelberg and I'm going to stop in at the American military hospital there to get a count done.One of our friends, Dr. Brian Baker, works there part time and is going to help arrange this before we go on to their home. I delivered Brian and his wife Marcia's first child a long time ago. And, do you know that to this day they blame ME for all their child's problems, since I was the first person to lay hands on him. Now is that fair? It's been a couple of decades, after all!

It's a little worrisome being so far from home with a low white cell count and therefore a compromised immune system, but if we have any problems, I can go to the military hospitals in either Heidelberg or Landstuhl, both of which my father worked in years ago when he was in the Army. It's nice to have that care available while we're so far from home.

And so, off we go. We'll be in touch when we get back, probably after we get the bone marrow results back.

Until then,


Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Depression,Curly Hair and the Massage Therapist!

Dave’s Great Adventure, Book Two
Postscript 3
September 1, 2004
No news is good news.

We’ve had a wonderfully mild spring, summer and early fall here in the Rocky Mountain west. It’s generally been cool (too cool sometimes, like when we were wearing sweatshirts in the house in July, because the heat had been turned off) and we’ve had more moisture than the last several years. The reservoirs are filling up a bit, the bureaucrats are dropping watering restrictions, and we’ve only had to use the sprinklers a few times the whole summer. And, even though it’s technically still summer, in the Rockies it is already early fall. We’re getting snow in the mountains, and it will be here soon. Our first September here it was 90 degrees one day and then we had ten inches of snow the next. Crazy!

I’ve been getting occasional inquiries about my health from friends and family, since it’s now been about five months since I distributed any of my stories. It is rather unlike me to be silent for so long. But there are two reasons for this extended period of silence.
First, there has been very little to report. I have been getting blood tests monthly, and they have been relatively normal, with no immediate evidence of return of the “bad guys.” In fact, if anything, my white count is unusually low, which worries me about the coming flu season. I wonder if it’ll be okay for me to be in a clinic where sick folks come to cough and throw up, when my white count, and therefore my immunity, may not be as good as they should be.

I’ve been doing well, overall. My hair has returned (more about that later) and I’m still working three to four days a week. But I continue to be tired most days, almost lethargic at times. I’m in the middle of a workup by my internist to see if anything else is going on. I’m going to do another cardiac stress test in a few weeks, and will have an echocardiogram of my heart as well.

The other, and probably the main reason I haven’t written sooner, is because of my medications. Now, I’ve been depressed to some extent ever since I found I had leukemia. I’ve had good days, and I’ve had some very bad days. But in general, I’ve been depressed. You kind folks know that; you’ve been exposed to my stories for a couple of years now and the depression is, at times, hard to miss. I’ve been encouraged by friends, family and colleagues to consider antidepressant medications for many months, but I resisted. I felt I should be able to battle through this with my own inner strengths.

Finally, last April, I think it was, I asked my internist if he’d give me some drugs, Prozac, in particular. I was feeling so slow, tired and sad, that I just wanted something to give me a bit of a lift. I figured Prozac might do it. So I started on it. And almost immediately, it seems, my desire to write went away. I was reminded of the story I told you about, probably last March, about the doctor who had hypergraphia, an overwhelming desire to write. She mentioned in her story that all the depressives in her support group were keeping journals. Well, it seems that I was too. Of course, you all are part of this journal. But as soon as I started the Prozac, I had no desire to write. I was thinking of things that I wanted to write down, and really have been thinking of getting out this update for months, but couldn’t find the energy or interest in sitting down at the keyboard to do it.

About six weeks ago, I decided that the medication really didn’t seem to be helping me with my energy levels or initiative. I just felt “flat” most of the time. So, I started weaning myself off the Prozac. Sure enough, my desire to write stuff down returned almost immediately, just in time for me to write some ill-advised political commentary to my family and some friends. Well, I went back on for a while, but am now weaning myself off again. We’ll see how I do.

Now, the last time I wrote to you kind folks it was in April, I believe, and I was completely bald. I even included pictures for those of you who can get them. If fact, there were three bald heads in the family, as our two sons also shaved their heads at the same time. Well, my hair has come in very thick in the last four months, and it is extremely curly. I’ve never had curly hair before, it always having been very fine and straight. But now I look like a poodle. I really can’t do anything with it. I wash it, try to comb it, but mostly I just dry it with a towel after my bath and it goes, “Sproing” and does whatever it wants to do. Kathy loves playing with my little curls! People tell me they’d pay a lot of money for curls like mine. I tell them that Kaiser paid $60,000 for those curls. They didn’t come cheap. Some folks say that my hair may straighten out to what it used to be like in a year or two, but whatever happens is okay. The hair is the least of my worries. I’ll try to remember to attach a picture when I send this out. I have a haircut scheduled for this weekend. I have no idea at all what to tell my barber about how I want my hair cut!

It’s now been two and a half years since I was diagnosed with leukemia, at which time my doc told me the average longevity was about six years from diagnosis. That, in theory anyway, would leave me with about three and half more years to go before the “terminal event.” But there’s cause for optimism. Folks with my disease have varying life spans, from a few months to a couple of decades or more. Those unfortunate folks who have very aggressive disease and die within a couple of years bring down the “average” life expectancy. So, having survived the first couple of years, relatively intact, I have to think that maybe I’m going to fall in the somewhat longer-lived group of patients. Of course, I don’t want to get too hopeful too soon, but, so far, so good.

Kathy and I have some great news to report to you. Three weeks ago we went to El Paso, Texas to attend the wedding of our son, Jon, to Natalie Campos, on August 7th. We had a wonderful time with them and many of our family members who were able to be there with us. It was great meeting Natalie’s family as well. They are just real nice folks. The nuptial couple celebrated their honeymoon in Paris and reportedly had a very interesting and culturally enlightening experience, when they weren’t succumbing to jet lag.

And just last week, Kathy and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary. Our kids treated us to a first class dinner at a local bistro. They even remembered to order us a vase of white daisies, like the ones in Kathy’s wedding bouquet so many years ago. I gave her a diamond pendant for having tolerated me for the last three and half decades. She gave me a cool high-power eyepiece for my telescope.

And while I’m mentioning such things, I should also mention that my step-dad, Lloyd Lee, celebrated his 90th birthday last June. We were able to go to Iowa to help mark the event which attracted over a hundred of his friends and relatives. Lloyd is still going strong and golfs most weeks during the summer.

I had a very interesting experience while we were in El Paso for the wedding! I had been having back spasms for a couple of weeks, that were waking me at night in pain. Nothing I could do in terms of stretching or exercising was making a difference in the way my back and upper neck felt. When we checked into the hotel in El Paso, Kathy noticed that they advertised the fact that they had a registered massage therapist “on site.” Kathy asked if I thought a massage would help. I was willing to try anything, so bothersome was the pain and interrupted sleep. So I made an appointment.

But then I began to get nervous. I’d never had a massage before. What was going to happen? Would the therapist be a guy or a gal, would I be embarrassed, would this be a legitimate massage or one of those kinds of things where they offer “special services.” “Would you go with me?” I asked Kathy. “Are you serious?” she answered, telling me how she felt about going along.

At 2:00, the phone rang. It was my therapist, waiting for me in the lobby. I went to meet her. She was Martina, a German lady about 35 years old, from Flensburg in northern Germany. “Good,” I thought, “I’ll have something to talk about.” She took me up to the massage room. I expected it to be rather clinical, with one of those massage chairs that I could sit in and bend over on, so she could work on my back. Wrong! It was about ten by eight feet, dark, with scented candles, Enya on the CD player, lacy curtains along the walls and a padded table in the middle of the room. Yikes!

Martina asked me what problems I was having and I told her that I was having the aforementioned back and neck pains. She actually took a short medical history and then asked me to get ready. I took off my shirt. I figured, she’s going to work on my back, right?

“Would you be uncomfortable taking all your clothes off,” she asked. “Uhh, yeah,” I answered. “Would you do it anyway,” she then asked, rather commandingly. “Uhh… okay,” I replied. She stepped out so I could undress and cover with a small towel. I took everything off except my underwear. I figured that, she’s going to work on my back. It should be okay to leave my underwear on, right? I covered my middle with the towel and lay down on my back, as she had told me.

Martina came back in and started to work. She started on my scalp, then went to my face, my chest, my upper arms. “When the heck is she going to get to my back,” I wondered. Then she went down to my feet, working up to my ankles, my calves and then my inner thighs, getting awfully close to Mr. Happy! Yikes again!!!

But then she asked me to roll over on my stomach. As I did, she saw that I had left my underwear on. “You naughty boy, you still have on your undies,” she said. “Uhh, yeah, uhh… I didn’t think you’d want me to take them off too, did you?” I pleaded. “Well, would you mind taking them off?” she again asked. She said she wouldn’t look.

I struggled to stay under the little white towel while trying to slip my underwear down. It was impossible to stay covered, but I managed to get them off.

(As an aside, while telling our daughter about this incident, she was beside herself with laughter about me, who sees naked women everyday in my work, being so shy about getting naked in front a woman.)

So, I got turned over and more or less covered again, and Martina went back to work. She started at my feet and worked up again, eventually (thank God!) getting to my back. I was glad she got away from my thighs. She worked me over, found all the sore spots, and stretched the sore area. She did a good job and eventually, it felt good, but unfortunately, it didn’t last. I was sore again by the next day.

Which brings me to the next part of the story. I was having so much pain, and was having tingling going down my left arm, so I decided to see a chiropractor. Now, even though I am an osteopath, and have training in manipulation (more commonly known as “bone cracking”) I have been leery of chiropractors because of things I hear from patients occasionally. Like getting “liver purges,” or high colonics, or multiple expensive x-rays, etc. But my health care organization, Kaiser Permanente, has a couple of chiropractors on staff. I figured they should be legitimate, so I gave them a try. And I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised. After two treatments my problem was 95% gone. I guess I’ll be going back when I have these kinds of problems.

Kathy and I are in the very preliminary stages of planning a move to Texas, where all the kids live. We’re thinking we might move around the end of next year, but I’m trying to plan any move around my health, and would like to get through my next relapse and recovery before we move. Of course, when that might be is completely unpredictable, but will likely happen within the next year or so. So we’re starting to check out retirement communities and health care facilities in Texas, plus the health insurance coverage that we’ll have when we get there, trying to make sure it’ll be adequate.

Knowing that we’ll be leaving Colorado in the fairly near future, we’re also taking short trips around the state to many of the wonderful places we’ve been hearing about but haven’t been to see in person. Over the last couple of years I’ve taken Kathy to Antarctica, Alaska, Mexico and lots of other places, but we haven’t spent enough time closer to home. So we’ve been up to Steamboat Springs, down to Durango, into the Mesa Verde National Park to see the Indian ruins, into the ghost town of Gothic, to the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and lots of other smaller out of the way places. This state really has a tremendous number of things to see. And we’re going to try to get to as many of them as we can in the time we have left here.

But of course, we’re not going to go just to places in Colorado. We haven’t visited our friends and relatives in Germany in quite a while now. We’ve been collecting frequent flyer miles for a couple of years, and decided to cash them in on a trip to Germany later this month, if my doc will let me go. We are supposed to leave on September 13th and will be there for a couple of weeks. We’re flying business class! Thanks to all those frequent flyer miles. I couldn’t afford to pay for business class for an overseas trip.

Speaking of my doc letting me go, while I’ve been putting this together over the last couple of days there’s been an interesting development in my condition. I had a blood count done last week, and it came back with a critically low white cell count, the lowest it’s been since I was actually undergoing chemotherapy. And I haven’t had any chemotherapy in about six months. A couple of years ago, my white count dropped to 1,000 with a neutrophil (remember the bacteria fighters?) of only 100 during my first round of drugs (normal is about 3,500 to about 10,000 or so). Well, at the moment, my white count is only 1,700 with 400 neutrophils. That’s very low indeed. I’m to repeat the count (for the third time in a week) and if it doesn’t go up significantly, my doc wants to “marrow” me, in other words, do another bone marrow biopsy. Oh boy!

So, it’s a good news/bad news story…. The good news is that at least my white count isn’t going too fast. But the bad news is, my white count isn’t going up too fast!

So, just in time for this issue of the never-ending DGA, there is, in fact, some news. I’ll keep you updated, of course.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print, at least for now. Until later….


“Life is like wrestling a gorilla; you don’t stop when you get tired, you stop when the gorilla gets tired.” --from my brother-in-law and good buddy, Ray, up in Montana.