Order amid Chaos

Michael Anderson
The Trials of Treatment

Within just a few days, Michael's intense pains of the last several months, melted away. Along with the chemos, Mike took a steroid, which has been found to improve the body's ability to rid itself of dead cancer cells. It was the overabundance of leukemic cells in his bone marrow that was causing the pain. They were literally bursting at the seams in such tight quarters as his small bones. The pain disappeared along with the cancer cells and many healthy new cells as well. Often, before his marrow could recover, he needed blood transfusions. He stayed in the hospital six weeks. He had a Broviac inserted in his chest in lieu of an IV in the arm. The medicines are too strong for young children and burn the veins. This procedure was quick and painless and it made drawing blood and receiving blood and medicines as easy as turning on a faucet. The catheter did require specialized care. Mike and I together attended the training sessions. We were given a small cloth doll with it's own Broviac on which I could practice flushing it with an anticlotting solution and changing the dressing. Mike learned the procedure, not so he could do it on himself but to correct me if I made a mistake. After all I had no nurse's training. He caught me a few times, almost making a mistake but after a while, I became an old hand at donning the latex gloves and flushing his Broviac. Once he left the hospital, I would be on my own to prepare his daily pills and make sure his catheter was flushed and the site cleaned and dressed between visits. His dad learned too, in case, I was somewhere else.

After the initial six weeks, Mike was allowed to come home with once a month visits to the Clinic for a check-up and IV chemo treatments for the next three years. We continued on the roller coaster ride, never knowing when the suppressed immune system would catch a virus or fungus or bacteria and make him sick. We washed our hands a lot and tried to keep sick people away from him. He was tutored for several months at home and then returned to school in the spring of 1992.

Right from the beginning of Mike's therapy, my husband, Bruce and I decided that I would be the one to stay with him in the hospital and be in charge of his care. I was already a stay-at-home mom. All the boys were of school age. John was the youngest at 7. His schoolwork suffered in my absence, as I'm sure he did too. Mike was his best friend as well as his brother. But I think he missed his mom too. The older boys, Tom, 13, and Bill, 16 were fairly independent. They were pretty crushed by the circumstances. Tom buried himself in schoolwork and Bill started to become more defiant to cover his fear. His dad needed him to be home to watch his little brother or just to be home. Bruce was under tremendous stress to retain his job, which carried the health insurance, maintain the home and come up to see us at the hospital, over 90 minutes from Toms River. Both the boys' grandmothers pitched in to help but it still proved to be a huge task.

I always kept mine and Michael's overnight bags packed and ready. We never knew when he might develop a fever and need to be hospitalized. Having a Broviac put him at higher risk of contracting a blood infection that could prove fatal if treatment wasn't administered quickly. We were instructed that when his temperature reached 101.5 degrees, he needed to go immediately to the hospital. We took many trips to Philadelphia, usually at night for those emergency admissions. I never knew if he would survive to return home. I tried not to dwell on that but on just helping him get well. He always did. He suffered with fungus infections, sinusitis, a Broviac infection, pneumonia and bronchitis and numerous mysterious fevers. Sometimes, I wondered if those mystery fevers weren't brought on because he missed his friends and favorite nurses in the hospital. He had a kinship with them that he couldn't share with friends at home, who didn't understand what it was like to have this disease.

After the three years of therapy ended he needed to get his Broviac removed. His doctor mentioned that it should come out when we got to the thirty-month point, but in my ignorance, I argued that the end of treatment is only six months away, lets wait. Meanwhile, Mike's oncologist left for a job in GA. Mike was assigned a new doctor. In December, 1994, we went to the hospital to get his Broviac removed. He had finally finished treatment. What was supposed to be only a simple procedure turned into a major event when the doctor removing the Broviac couldn't loosen it. They feared the end had broken off and flowed into the heart. We were warned that he needed to be taken out of the procedure room in the Clinic to a surgical unit in the hospital. Worse case scenario, open-heart surgery might be performed to remove the piece. We followed them with the sleeping Michael over the indoor bridge to the hospital. We anxiously awaited word for several hours. The surgeon finally appeared. The artery had grown around the tube. Nothing broke off. It was cut out and he was sewn back up. Everything was okay and he was in Recovery. His parents, however, had aged at least ten years in those few hours.

He returns to the hospital for yearly check- ups and his prognosis is excellent.