My Experience as a Bone Marrow Donor.


I am a doctor working in the Midlands (UK). This diary is of my experiences as a patient – a bone marrow donor and hopefully it will help others who have been asked to become bone marrow donors.
If you want to ask me more then email me at [email protected]

I was first contacted in late November 1998 and was told that I 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 down the matching process and now had a one in four chance of being a compatible match. I then it was some weeks later that I was bleeped while on call one night 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 the admission to the Royal Free Hospital in London where the donation was to take place.

Wednesday 17th Feb. 1999 – Admission Day

After some lengthy preparation I finally arrived at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead for admission. I found the 12th floor and reception told me which room I’d be in – not bad, a good view of the heath and Hampstead 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 in the side 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 my nights sleep – my operation is scheduled to be first on tomorrow mornings list – 8:30 in theatre.

Thursday 18th Feb. 1999 – Operation Day

The big day. I’m awake at about 6:30 and to be honest my nerves have not improved much. Due to an 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 ZoĆ« 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 7:30 my gown has arrived and I wash and dress ready for the op. 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 arrives to break the wait and I browse through the headlines.

Then suddenly we are off. A porter arrives from theatres all dressed in the blues that make staff there look as though they have just go 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 when I was about five, something I hadn’t remembered for years, but suddenly I’m back there with teddy under my arm, only no soft toys 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 theatres of the floor) with numerous empty trolley we went 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 Casualty you should keep you eyes fixed firmly on the ceiling as there are shelves of needles, tubes and drugs. A small scratch in my left elbow and the anaesthetist I met last night is slowly injecting a white drug – the anaesthetic. After that it rapidly becomes a blur …

… until I wake up about a hour later back in the recovery area again. OK so check for vital signs. I find that the small of my back is aching a bit and I’m a bit woozy. Soon after I fell 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 take 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 heal. They feel bruised and it is difficult to get comfortable, but the pain settles with the tablets I am prescribed.

Friday 19th Feb. 1999

Even though I slept most of yesterday I manage to sleep through the night as well. When I wake up though the pain killers 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 which I had for most of yesterday going into my left wrist prevented me from washing and anyway I didn’t have the energy.

Today consists mainly of a final blood test and then I can be let home. This comes at half past eight in order that the result will be back around mid-morning.

The ward round breezes in and out 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. You also get a badge which should be displayed opposite if this thing has worked.

Then I was discharged at about midday and travelled across London to Euston and back on the thankfully on time Birmingham train. The most useful thing was to have a dose of painkillers just before leaving the ward and BRING A CUSHION. Putting it in the small of your back does substantially relieve the pain which moulded seats cause as they press against the operation site. It will become your friend over the next few days. Rushing across London though was not a good idea and I had to sit down while waiting for the train to arrive.

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.

Saturday I had to take 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 fiancee who were visiting for the weekend.

The rest of the next week was mush the same. You don’t feel ill as such, it’s just that you can’t do as much as you would 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 Antony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust for their work in making that chance possible.

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