Cancer’s “Coma Day” – guest post

Sometimes we are called heroes, but find the word uncomfortable.  If you ask us, most will say “I just did what I had to do.”  I have felt the same way myself.  I think that it has something to do the observer looking on from the outside.  When I read Ronnie Gordon’s reflections of the time she was in a coma after transplant, the word “hero” just seemed to fit.  Ronnie has been through four bone marrow transplants after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2003.  She writes at Running for My Life: Fighting cancer one step at a time

While many people observed Valentine’s Day yesterday with hearts and flowers, I kept thinking of it as “Coma Day.”
Two years ago Feb. 14, I slipped into a coma while hospitalized at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. It was two weeks after my bone marrow transplant, and while in the days right after the transplant I seemed to be doing well, things quickly took a turn for the worse.
Diane said I began having trouble holding onto things, dropping a milkshake I was trying to drink. I started acting less aware. She told one doctor she thought I might be having a stroke. Then I began to lose consciousness.
Naturally, I can’t recreate it or imagine it. Here’s what Diane wrote in a group e-mail dated Feb. 15, 2009:
“Many of you have called or sent messages for information about Ronni so I am sending this as an update.

As I said before, she has had many complications, the most pressing of which is kidney failure that has led to a number of other problems including fluid build up in her lungs and as well, she is now in a form of a coma. Last night they moved her to the ICU where she is being closely monitored, awaiting a special bag of platelets (which were supposed to arrive yesterday at 4:30 but are being held up at the Red Cross and won’t get there until 4pm today.) At that time, they will begin dialysis with the hope that it will take off sufficient fluid to help regain consciousness.

On the positive note, her white count doubled since yesterday, which shows some signs of hope that the transplant is proceeding well. Her vital signs are stable. She is a real fighter. Her children saw her on Friday when she still had some level of consciousness, and she knew they were there for which I am very grateful.”

A week later I had woken up, but I continued to have problems with fever, GI bleeding, blood pressure, kidney failure and infections. At a family meeting Feb. 22, Dr. Alyea outlined the situation, saying that although I could recover, I had many serious problems. It seemed I might not make it through the night.
Well, here I am. I don’t like reliving it, but it is hard to avoid. Hopefully as time passes I will feel less compelled to delve back in.
I observed the day by spending 45 minutes on hold while trying to resolve an insurance question, walking Maddie with my friend Ellen and then going to the Y, where I ran a little more than two miles on the dreadmill and then water jogged. I haven’t done that in a while. It was pretty tiring, but I felt good when I was done. And my knees and feet felt OK. It was a good way to keep my mind off “coma day.”
“You couldn’t be in a further place from that now,” Margaret said when I talked to her last night on the phone, a little weirded out from reliving it. “Just keep thinking about how utterly different things are now.”
As my father would have said, “Good clear thinking.”

About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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