13. Frozen

At the hospital, C. told me that the recipient was about to start the transplant preparation regimen that same day—chemo and radiation to destroy her immune system in preparation for the healthy stem cells that would rebuild it. No turning back after that for either of us. So this was the last thing I expected to hear on the other end of the phone:

“I’m so sorry. They want to postpone the donation.”

Seems the recipient was on a drug regimen to improve her condition, and a few more weeks would help even more. Was I available next month? Of course, whenever needed. But I was all psyched to get it done already. And my friends were psyched for me; now I’d have to tell them it was another false alarm. Boy, did I feel petty. Someone else’s life was at stake, and the only thing I could think about was my own schedule and Facebook status.

But that really was all I could think about.

Before I could continue to dislike myself and add to the long list of items requiring breast-beating in a few days, the blood center lady continued: “There’s another option. You could donate now, and they’ll freeze your stem cells and transplant them in a month.”

Yes, yes, I want to do it this way, I said, even before she finished the sentence. Sleep on it, she suggested. So I pondered, and waffled: October, without the added complication of the Jewish holidays, was more convenient, and it also would be a little more dramatic in Grey’s Anatomy style: donation done, they’d whisk away the bag of cells and new life would start flowing through her veins within hours. Cut to commercial. Yeah, right.

One of the things I hate most, aside from anchovies and cigarette smoke, is indecision—but I was completely stumped, even more so that the situation warranted. Either option was fine with respect to the recipient’s heath, or they wouldn’t have left the choice up to me. But at that moment, maybe because Yom Kippur was right around the corner, I was desperate to make the decision for the right reason and not just the most expedient. I spoke to a number of very wise people, and interrogated the blood center: are you sure frozen cells are OK? Yes, and she was deemed an excellent candidate for that process, not always the case.

Then a friend posed a question: will the recipient be told about your advance donation or find out only when she was ready for the transplant? I thought about how this woman might feel, twice turned away at the edge of a possible new future. If she knew my cells were ready the second she was, no need to wait or wonder if I’d lose patience and decide not to donate, maybe this would give her even more hope and strength.

I confirmed that she would know in advance, and it became a much easier decision. On Friday I’ll get the first Neupogen injection, and everything is set for next week as originally planned.

On the same day this last bit of drama unfolded, I was also asked to read part of the Yom Kippur morning haftarah. This was one of the verses:

The Lord will guide you always.
He will slake your thirst in parched places
And give strength to your bones.
You shall be like a watered garden,
Like a spring whose waters do not fail.
—Isaiah 58:11

So maybe now, and not next month, is the right time for that added strength in my bones, so they can become a spring.

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