|A perfectly good Insurrection Day spoiled
It’s been about a week since my last update and, as usual, I’m pretty much exhausted at the moment but will try to get you caught up.
As you may recall, Kathy has been hospitalized for a week now because her blood numbers (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, ANC) just weren’t coming back the way they should have after her most recent (but extended) round of chemotherapy. If you have no immune system nor any ability to stop bleeding, the hospital folks don’t really want you walking around loose. So Kathy has been stuck in the hospital (and stuck repeatedly with needles). Normally she would be injected with a “growth factor” to help speed things along, but it turns out that the growth factor also stimulates growth of nascent leukemia cells, which is really high on the list of things we don’t want. So she has to recover the slow way. Painfully slow.
But that poses its own problems, as was evidenced today. Because Kathy will have no truck with newfangled technology like smartphones, I don’t know her status until I arrive at the hospital each morning. And when I did today (Thursday), Kathy looked unusually wan and opened the conversation with “I have brain bleeds.”
She’d had a weird and bad feeling the previous day which she couldn’t really put into words. Then sometime this morning she again felt really bad and start seeing a star shape in both eyes, as well as stammering when speaking. They quickly ran her downstairs to get a scan (I forget which kind) which confirmed bleeding in the brain. Not massive, but even a little is too much. They weren’t sure if it was old blood or new blood, though I don’t think anyone REALLY thought it was old blood. We’re not talking aneurysm-type blood bombs here, thankfully, but rather a fingertip-sized spot on the surface of the brain, and about 4 other pencil-point-sized spots. At least one of these (I’m not sure which) is near her speech center.
I knelt by Kathy’s bedside as she was explaining this, and paid no attention to the custodial lady who was antiseptically mopping the floor on all sides of me. So when I stood up, I quickly slipped and crashed to the ground (who doesn’t enjoy physical comedy in a hospital room?) upsetting Kathy and causing multiple medical folks to rush to the room, only to shrug off the situation when it turned out to be a civilian who had landed on his ass. In fairness, I told them I was fine, which wasn’t entirely true but succeeded in making them all go away.
Kathy received multiple bedside tests to check for a stroke or neurological damage and nothing significant was found. She was still having the visual problem from time to time, but the doctor said “if it goes away then we won’t worry about it for now.” Okay.
So let’s talk about brain bleeds. To my understanding, which is damn little, they could be caused by three things: the first is that her platelet count was so low, her brain just decided that bleeding would be easy to do. The second is that leukemia cells have migrated through Kathy’s cerebrospinal fluid and taken up residence in her brain, where they encourage bleeding. The third is general bleeding and inflammation caused by a brain fungus, because why not at this point? No, it would be caused by Kathy having no immune system to speak of.
To help figure out the cause, Kathy will be given another series of scans first thing Friday morning to see if the bleeding has stopped (she’s been pumped full of platelets) or is continuing. She will then be given a spinal tap to see if there are leukemic cells in her cerebrospinal fluid (and presumably bathing her brain). Her blood is already being cultured to test for a fungal infection, and among the five (count ‘em) bags of stuff they were pumping into her today, one bright yellow bag was a powerful anti-fungal because it would be a bad idea (really) to wait for a diagnosis before starting treatment.
Unfortunately, the anti-fungal medicine is “a tough one to tolerate,” as we discovered when Kathy got stabbing pain shooting across her back. The drug was disconnected and after Kathy was filled with steroids and benadryl, re-administered with much less pain.
If the bleeding was simply caused by low platelets, then maybe the additional platelets she got today will handle the problem. This is the result we should all be hoping and praying for. If it was caused by a brain fungus, then maybe the drug will knock it out. This too is a highly desirable result. If, on the other hand, there’s leukemia in Kathy’s brain, they will be surgically inserting a port directly into her skull so they can pump chemo in there. And none of us likes the sound of that, am I right?
Backing up a beat or two, the brain bleeds have had a neurological impact - but hopefully nothing too severe or permanent. Kathy passes all of the “I didn’t have a stroke” tests with flying colors, but has some minimal aphasia (difficulty coming up with some words), stammering (particularly when agitated, and why the HELL wouldn’t she be agitated most of the time lately?), the occasional spots in the eyes, and a couple of spells of extended and wandering conversations with people which are cogent but don’t really have relevance to the moment. And Kathy has NEVER been a motor mouth, so I made a point of telling the medical folks “that’s not how she normally is.”
Happily, brains can bounce back from stuff like this - IF the root problem(s) can be taken care of. While, oh yeah, fighting blood cancer. On that front, she had a bone marrow sample taken on Wednesday, and we should learn more about what’s going on in there by about Sunday.
And that was our busy day. Daughter J continues to mend from her surgery and will bravely confront the Texas DMV on Friday to get a new driver’s license. I will be heading to the hospital ASAP Friday morning to offer handholding and, if necessary, another cheap laugh from a spectacular pratfall.
Good wishes, thoughts, and prayers PLEASE.