He's a Fighter

My dad is sick.  Really sick.  Like put-your-affairs-in-order sick.  I haven't written much about it because it didn't seem like it was my story to tell.  Now?  My head is so full of it that I think I need to write about it just to relieve the pressure.

Thirteen years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.  If you have to have Leukemia, this is the kind to have.  It has few symptoms and you usually die of something else before it gets you.  And for a long time, this was true for my dad.

Then his white blood cell count started getting crazy high, so they did chemo.  The chemo did just what it was supposed to do and all was well.  For a little while.

A year or so later, he had to have chemo again.  And since then, the intervals between treatments have gotten shorter and shorter.  Until, at last, the treatment triggered a cascade of scary medical side effects that have kept him in and out of the hospital since June.

First, there was hemolytic anemia.  His already abundant white blood cells started attacking his red blood cells and eating them like Pac-Man.  He had a LOT of blood transfusions and took steroids to boost his red blood cell production.  The chemo continued.

He kept getting weaker and weaker.  Finally he took himself to the hospital on the brink of a diabetic coma.  The massive doses of steroids had caused his pancreas to shut down.  They had a hard time getting his sugar in order, but finally that was under control and Daddy started his new life as an insulin dependant diabetic.  The chemo and blood transfusions continued.

And still he kept getting weaker.  He took himself to the hospital (again) with desperate shortness of breath.  It turned out that he had multiple blood clots in his lungs.  No wonder it was hard to breathe!  He had to have a filter put into his femoral artery to screen out future clots. 

He couldn't take the regular medicines for the treatment of blood clots because his blood chemistry was so wonky, so he just had to wait for the clots to dissolve by themselves.  This left him easily tired and often out of breath.  For a 30-year military man, this was unacceptable.  The chemo was finally discontinued, but the transfusions continued.

Finally, it was decided that he needed to have his spleen removed.  The spleen is where your body destroys red blood cells, so if they removed his, his red blood cells should be able to remain ahead of the killer white blood cells.  They yanked it and he looked like he was getting better.  His blood counts were right on target and looking more and more normal.

But the further out from the surgery he got, the more tired he became.  Finally, he started having trouble working up enough energy to speak.  Though Sister K kept reporting his decline to the nurses, they kept saying, 'He's just tired from the surgery.' and 'His blood counts are normal!'  Finally, he became disoriented and stopped making any sense.  Then the medical staff started taking her seriously.

By the time they figured out that he had and infection - and no immune system to fight it - he was septic.  That means that the infection was in his blood and therefore throughout his body.  The sepsis caused his kidneys to shut down, his lungs to fill up, his pulse to speed up and his blood pressure to drop like a stone.  He has been in ICU for over a week.

In the last few days, he has made some infinitesimal improvements, but with a million different IV fluids going in and no kidney function to get it out, he has blown up like a balloon.  They put him on dialysis to lower the fluids in his body.  But dialysis lowers blood pressure and his is so scary low (even with BP increasing meds!) that they aren't able to remove as much fluid as they need to for there to be room for the medicines that could save him to go in.

We are in the world's slowest race: dialysis output v. IV fluids in.  At some point, all we are doing is prolonging his discomfort with no satisfactory ending.  We aren't there yet, but we are getting close.  At this point, Daddy is still completely lucid and able to direct his care.  So far, his iron will has been working in his favor.  I am very afraid what will happen when his will turns away from living.

I hate this.


  1. I am so sorry you and your family are going through this. My mother has breast cancer, so I know how hard that can be.

  2. I'm so sorry. I remember when my mom was in the ICU... although her story was very different and certainly not as long and drawn out as your dads. Letting go, if it comes to that, is not easy - you are in my prayers! FIGHT DAD, FIGHT!!!


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