Bone Marrow Donors - a Personal Experience Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Bone Marrow Donors - a Personal Experience

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Updated 19 July 2010

I am a doctor working in the Midlands in the UK. This diary is of my experiences as a bone marrow donor and hopefully it will help others who have been asked to become bone marrow donors.

I was first contacted in late November 1998 and was told that I was a positive match for the initial stage of a bone marrow screen. They asked if I could send some more blood for testing. This I did and just after Christmas I was told that I had progressed along the matching process and now had a one in four chance of being a compatible match with the receiver. Then some weeks later I was bleeped while on call one night: a message came through to tell me that I actually was a compatible match for an adult woman with leukaemia. From then on, many phone calls and letters led to my admission to the Royal Free Hospital in London where the donation was to take place.

Wednesday 17 February 1999 - Admission Day

After some lengthy preparation, I finally arrived at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead in London for admission. I found the 12th floor, and the reception told me which room I'd be in - not bad, a good view of Hampstead Heath from my bedroom, a TV and en-suite bathroom.

Having been seen by nurses, the anaesthetist and a doctor I am finally free to spend the evening how I wish. I decided that I was going to be spending enough time inside the room and so met with a friend and we went out for a pizza. The only limit was I had to get back in time for final instructions before getting a good night's sleep - my operation is scheduled to be first on tomorrow morning's list at 8.30am.

Thursday 18 February, - Operation Day

The big day. I'm awake at about 6:30 and to be honest my nerves have not improved much. Due to a condition I have, I need some pre-op medication and, after that, I try to get back to sleep - no luck. I read a bit and then I gave up and listened to Zoë Ball on Radio One. She reads out a message of good luck to someone going into hospital for a much more major operation and I feel silly for getting so worked up that I can't sleep, but still, it's different when it's you.

By 7.30am my gown has arrived and I wash and dress ready for the operation. There is still about an hour to go. I'm now fully labelled with a name strap on both my left leg and arm. More waiting, but The Guardian newspaper arrives to break the wait and I browse through the headlines.

Then suddenly we are off. A porter arrives from theatre all dressed in the blues that make staff there look as though they have just got out of bed themselves. He is very friendly, though, and we chat about the books I'm reading as we descend from the 12th to the 3rd floor in the lift: quite a strange sensation while lying on your back. It brings back memories of going down for an eye operation I had when I was about five, something I hadn't remembered for years, but suddenly my memories transport me back there with a teddy under my arm - only there are no soft toys for me this time.

After a short wait in the recovery area - they use this at the start of the morning as an extra access area to the 14 operating theatres - then we go through to the main corridor. Several more checks complete and I'm into the anaesthetic room. This is the one area where if you can't watch television programmes like Casualty and ER you should keep you eyes fixed firmly on the ceiling as there are a lot of shelves of needles, tubes and drugs. I feel a small scratch on my left elbow and the anaesthetist I met last night is slowly injecting a white drug - the anaesthetic. After that, everything rapidly becomes a blur...

...Until I wake up about a hour later back in the recovery area again. I find that the small of my back is aching a bit and I'm a bit woozy. Soon after, I feel a bit nauseous but there is an attentive and friendly theatre nurse to tell, and she soon settles my sickness with an injection. I doze off again and vaguely remember the ascent to the 12th floor again.

For most of the morning, I sleep on and off. Then I start drinking which soothes my throat which is aching a bit from the anaesthetic. By lunchtime I can eat and I have the salad I requested the night before. The food is basic, but not bad compared to most hospitals I have seen.

The afternoon is much the same as the morning. I'm a bit more alert, but sleep on and off. Every half hour a nursing student called Adrian, I think, comes in and measures my blood pressure and my pulse. During the short time it takes for the machine to take its measurement we chat, he is going on holiday tomorrow. He also gets me to roll over to check my wounds, which are unfortunately oozing a bit but quite rapidly healing. I feel bruised and it is difficult to get comfortable, but the pain settles with the tablets I am prescribed.

Friday 19th February, 1999

Even though I slept most of yesterday I manage to sleep through the night as well. When I wake up, though, the painkillers have worn off and my back is stiff. It takes another couple of tablets to get up and shower. It's nice to be clean again. The drip I had going into my left wrist for most of yesterday prevented me from washing, and anyway I didn't have the energy.

Today consists mainly of a final blood test and then I can go home. This happens at 8.30am so that the result will be back around mid-morning.

The doctors and nurses breeze in and out around mid-morning and again everyone wants to look at the puncture wounds, but the most interesting part of the morning was a chat with the donor welfare officer, Marjorie, who gives lots of useful information, encouragement and some details about the recipient, in my case a woman with leukemia who received my cells shortly after my donation at another London hospital.

Then I was discharged at about midday and travelled across London to Euston and thankfully the Birmingham train was on time. Rushing across London, though, was not a good idea and I had to sit down while waiting for the train to arrive. I'm glad I had a dose of painkillers just before leaving the ward. Some words of advice - bring a cushion! Putting it in the small of your back substantially relieves the pain which moulded seats on trains cause - otherwise the bulge presses against the operation site rather uncomfortably. This cushion will become your friend over the next few days.

Once I got home, sleep was the only thing I could think of. You feel quite drained and a bit sore, but at least you feel your small efforts have given someone else a chance.

The Weekend

I had to take Saturday easily as I was quite tired and I felt quite groggy for most of the time. It was a bit like recovering from the flu and I felt I had no energy at all but I was still able to spend some time with my brother and his fiancée who were visiting for the weekend.

The rest of the next week was much the same. You don't feel ill as such, it's just that you can't do as much as you would do normally.

By Thursday I was back at work - not a move I would particularly recommend - take off a week to 10 days after the op if you can. I survived, though, and even managed two 12 hour shifts at the weekend!

It's good to feel that I've been able to give someone a chance at treatment success. I am grateful to the Antony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust for their work in making that chance possible.

If you would like to volunteer to be a Bone Marrow Donor in the UK, contact the Anthony Nolan Trust via their website.

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