Friday, May 25, 2018

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2650


Bronze Age Redux

     It was Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at about 9:00 AM, when I received a call at my workstation. I was working on a project for the Keweenaw National Historical Park under one of those federal programs that train seniors for jobs that don’t really exist. A few hours earlier, I’d stopped by Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital for a serious blood test, to determine if I had type II diabetes. The symptoms were all there...had been since January...and the fatigue was overwhelming.
     I was worried. When blood began to appear in my eyes and distorted my vision, it seemed prudent to get a diagnosis and deal with it. So, it was with trepidation I accepted the call.
     The nurse practitioner told me to get my butt over to the hospital immediately. They had an ambulance waiting for me...I had leukemia. Thus began my now eight-year journey.
     Tomorrow is the Bronze Anniversary of my diagnosis and marks eight years surviving Philadelphia chromosome positive, chronic myeloid leukemia. I have entered my Bronze Age.

Betwixt and Between

     As I enter my bronze age, I leave my stoned age behind. I am taking no regular pain killers now, and fewer drugs that leave me dizzy or wobbly. I begin the long wait for my iron age, when once again I will have the strength to lift and wield a cast iron frying pan. However, despite the Sumerians, Gilgamesh, and the Amorite Code of Hammurabi, I find it most ironic to have my bronze age in the Copper Country.
    All really bad jokes aside, I am pleased to note in passing that tomorrow I will be an eight-year cancer survivor. I shall celebrate with a cup of Earl Grey and a toasted English muffin with homemade blueberry jam.
    The above commentary came about as I was pondering the Code of Hammurabi, known for its harsh punishments, wherein literally an-eye-for-an-eye edicts appear, that are literally carved in stone -- a four-ton stele of diorite. However, the code incorporates, for one of the very first times, the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. It’s a precept often abandoned by our own court of social media.

One Final Thought

    Although the age will be bronze, alas, I will remain pale as fresh milk. Like the vampires of old, I cannot long tolerate the touch of old Sol and must remain in the shadows, or bring my own shadows with me.
    I am thankful for all who sent thoughts and prayers. Your thoughts reassured me and your prayers convinced God to let me go on complaining and kvetching. Thank you.

Mick

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2640

Tangle Trap

   I had a dream last night. Marian and I had gone to Marquette for my appointment at the hospital with a pulmonologist. He would be reading my pulmonary function studies as the tests are done to track the progression of my bronchiolitis obliterans, i.e., GvHD of the lungs.
    As we were leaving the waiting room, we had a chat with a young couple from Houghton. She was pregnant and having some difficulty breathing, but it wasn't serious. What was serious, was the condition of their car, apparently the victim of a runaway end-loader that nearly totaled their Cooper Mini. They badly needed a ride to Houghton, so we offered a lift home. Marian would wait with them, and I would toddle off to get our car and bring it around.
    My steps were not particularly buoyant, because my visit with Dr. Saari had not gone as planned. There were indications that my left lung was failing and recommendations were sent to my primary doctor that I should have a full panel of X-rays and maybe a CT Scan. I was focused on this news as I rode the elevator to the ground floor of the hospital. I stepped off the elevator, directly into a construction area -- what appeared to be a warehouse or steel-framed space, filled with end-loaders, welders, workmen in hard hats and overalls, and girders being lifted by what appeared to be a steam crane. My ears must have popped, because the sound was muffled and distant, as though I had cotton stuffed in my ears.
    I saw men in double-breasted suits and fedoras talking by a wooden stairway to a suspended office space, and headed in that direction. I turned around to place the elevator door in my memory, but it was gone, replaced by a large hole, partially filled with a huge form being filled with concrete...a footing?
    When I looked back, the men in fedoras were gone, but I could see shadows of people moving in the office. So, I toddled over and slowly climbed the stairs. I knocked on the door with a frosted glass window. When no one answered, I opened the door and walked in. Men in fedoras were standing around a desk, occupied by a young man in a plain wool suit, typing on an old Olivetti upright typewriter.
    I closed the door and turned around again...and was standing in a 19th century bedroom or hotel room, complete with pitcher and basin on a stand, floral wallpaper (which looked different every time I noticed it) and a four-poster bed with nightstand and oil lamp. Fog or mist blanked windows framed in heavy brocade curtains. Flickering light was provided by wall sconces -- gaslights by the look of them.
    Already occupying the room were two women and a baby. The women wore period traveling clothes and seemed in a rush to pack and leave. One portmanteau was open and a few items were on the bed. The baby was in a dresser drawer filled with towels and never moved that I could see. One woman was older -- perhaps 50 years old or so, with mostly gray hair. The other woman was ancient -- shriveled and stooped, white hair billowing about her wizened face. They ran back and forth to the baby and to the bed, talking a stream of nonsense in what I surmised was some form of German. At least it sound like German. I could not be certain, because the sound of their voices seemed to be coming from a great distance. Point in fact, they seemed a tad transparent and took no notice of me.
    I spoke to them and received not even a flicker of recognition. I tried to touch the younger woman, but my fingers slid off as though a shield interfered. I could not interact with them, so I decided to leave.
    When I turned around and reached for the door, I was surprised to be staring at a large dresser, a highboy with many drawers. A quick search showed a door in the opposite corner of the room, so I quickly walked over, grabbed the knob and pulled.
    On the other side of the door was another door which opened the other way. I opened that door and found a third door. The tenth door was locked. It seemed to be made of black oak and had a huge brass door lock. No amount of pounding, kicking, and shouldering had any effect whatsoever. It was immovable.
    I needed to reassess my situation, so I closed the ninth door and reached for the eighth. In doing so, I nearly stepped off the stairway to the office, almost falling to the floor ten feet below. I was out of the room!
    Looking about me, I discovered the construction site gone and I stood in a garage, facing the doors to the elevator. In the polished reflection of the elevator doors, I could just make out my reflection. Indistinct and wavy, I haunted the surface. But, my eyes were clearly reflected and my irises were black as midnight and gave me the shivers. I started screaming.
    Police were called, and I was transported home, refusing to go back into the hospital. Six months had passed since I toddled off to get the car. A whole lot of searching had been done and no trace was found until I appeared in front of the elevator doors. My story was met with blank stares and smothered sniggers. I felt wretched and misunderstood.
Anger burned me from the inside and I shrieked...
    I woke up from my dream, shaken and cold. Upon standing next to my bed, I looked into the bedroom mirror and my eyes looked weird. My soft brown eyes were hard black. I quickly looked away and back again. My old eyes stared back at me.
    Sometimes, dreams can feel too real.

Mick

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2600

Memories...For Sale?

    I remember this sign that used to stand by the Houghton city limits as we drove into the area for the first time. It was the early 1960’s and we would not have believed that by 1967, we would move to this Copper Country.
    1967-68 was not a happy school year for me. I was a senior in high school, transplanted from a Westland, MI super school to Dollar Bay, the smallest accredited school in the State of Michigan. Culture shock was the word of the day. Still, I wonder if my memories of that time are accurate.
    I had a dream last night. It was the same dream I’ve dreamed several times in the last week or so. In my dream, I’m a new medical doctor, a GP starting my practice in a small town very much like any in the Keweenaw. Working in a small town hospital, I was treating a wide variety of injuries, illnesses, and problems. I was also becoming involved in a great number of lives in my community, and with my coworkers.
    In the story, a coworker is involved in a bar fight. He starts the fight because he is drunk and because he is a malcontent with stacks of chips on both shoulders. He gets injured when he is pushed out the front door of the bar by a young man whose wife he is propositioning. Both men arrive at the hospital because my coworker slipped on ice and tangled with a guard rail and the pavement in the parking lot. The young man was tripped accidentally by a drunken fellow in the tavern and hit his head on the foot rail around the bar. This is how the evening ends.
    The next day, all is changed. All the patrons at the tavern say the young man's wife came on to my coworker and her husband blindsided him as he tried to leave. The young man hit his head when my coworker took him down with a single punch...what a man!
    The story goes and and I discover that SMS (Subjective Memory Services) is a private memory conversion company for the hyper-rich, and can alter perceptions and memories of events to the advantage of their clients...like my coworker.
    In the dream, I am one of the folks whose medical conditions short circuit their devices and I begin to see and recognize situations where facts on one day become different on another day, and people don't notice and don't care. We fight on, trying to find a way to fight the hyper-rich's control of the media, and their technology to affect memory.

For Real?

    I wish I could say I have dreamed up solutions to these fantastic threats. My fears are most probably driven by recent attempts to subvert media outlets by those with the money to buy them outright and to financially coerce journalists. Fears often show up as monsters in dreams. Are the monsters real? I will never be part of the 0.1% who control most of the wealth of the world, so I will never be party to their power plays and will likely never look into the eyes of the monster.
    Oh, by the way, today is the 2,600th day since my transplant -- and I'm still alive and kicking. I have also discontinued the last of my pain medications, the acetaminophen, and I'm dealing with the pain in other ways -- or just living with it. Sometimes the pain and electric tingling serves to remind me that I am alive.
    Thanks to all who think about us and pray for us. It keeps me going to know you are there. And thanks for reading about my dreams.

God bless,

Mick

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2557

Seventh Milestone

Seven years ago today, right about the time I'm typing these words, lifesaving stem cells from my brother Kevin were introduced to my weary and worried person. Months of chemotherapy leading to several days of conditioning, left my bone marrow barren and my immune system in shambles. Two small bags of stem cells were hooked up to my port and I waited while they slowly dripped into my heart for distribution throughout my system.

No fanfare. No photos. It didn't take very long. I went back to our room at the transplant house and waited.

Did I mention that I smelled like creamed corn for two days? That was interesting.

I've treasured the fact that my miracle was such a low-key event. After all the hazmat gear of the chemotherapy sessions, the machinery of the testing and scanning, and the endless hours of solutions dripping into (and out of) me, the simplicity of the transplant was almost pleasant. It was, of course, an irrevocable step taken in desperation. My blood would no longer be MY blood -- it would be my brother's blood -- and that blood would take on a life all its own.

In various ways, the blood in my body would reject me and attack me in confused fury. It attacked my skin, my liver, my kidneys, my eyes, my mouth and GI tract, my teeth, and my lungs. At the same time, my new blood was generally unwilling to respond to foreign invaders, requring multiple hospitalizations and re-vaccination for childhood diseases. I required cataract surgery, removal of my gall bladder, and treatment for skin cancer. I still take 12 medications.

However, seven years later, I am still here -- alive and writing this depressing narrative! My new normal is unlike anything I could have predicted. That CML would change the course of my life never occurred to me as I was busy making retirement plans. I've learned that, although I need to plan for a future, I need to be flexible enough to absorb a sucker punch and resilient enough to come right back and make necessary course corrections. I also learned to live each day as though it might be my last. I try not to waste time on worry.

Guess what? I am happier now than I can remember, because I know I can take a punch. Like my old Timex watch, I can "take a licking and keep on ticking."

Thanks to everyone who helped us and sent so many (recently maligned) thoughts and prayers. It all helped.

Mick

Friday, February 2, 2018

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2538

Call Me Sunny ⛅, Sonny!

       Let me tell you about this morning's dream. Today was the latest I have risen since my days in hospital, where I was in bed most of every day. My dream was difficult to flee this time. I truly wanted to stay asleep and enjoy the sensations of peace and warmth.
       You see, I was a star 🌟, like our Sun, but in human form. Although it felt as though I had a nuclear fire 🔥 at my core, it didn't burn me to cause pain, but infused every cell of my being with warmth and light. Overwhelmed with joy, I would explode into a massive ball of brilliant fire, but not destroy anything, just become a momentary burst of sunlight. Gold and silver streams of joy would burst forth, and whenever someone was touched by them, they paused and smiled...just a little.
       As I walked about in the snow, I felt the snow melt away and luxurious green grass and feathery moss appeared to cushion my feet. My feet were perfect, unscarred, and felt everything because I wore no shoes. Having known only pressure and pain for all but 18 months of my life, the experience was overwhelming.


Exploration and Investigation

       Although it was snowing like gangbusters, the flakes evaporated as they touched me. I could feel their feathery, chilly caress, a gentle summer breeze on a warm afternoon. The sounds were exhilarating. The hushed whisper of the snow, the rattling of the pine boughs in the wind, and the enveloping fairy cries of life all about tickled my ears. The rushing, hissing, whining, and roaring of tinnitus was gone, as was the patient thrum of my beating heart, and the distinct grinding of bones as I moved about. I almost heard silence for the first time.
       Hunger and thirst were behind me, and yet I still breathed. I sensed that I no longer needed to take a breath, but found some comfort in being able to do so without the pain and distress, so much a part of my daily life. I felt no pain at all, though I could touch things. I soon learned not to touch people, as they apparently could not see me, and it caused them distress. For a time, I simply watched them go about their self-important tasks and selfless expressions of love, as they worked, worried, wished, worshipped, and wondered.
       Few of the folk I haunted were happy. Although most had everything necessary for comfort, sustenance, companionship, and safety, few were satisfied and even fewer were happy. There were moments when individuals and couples would suddenly shine brightly and these ephemeral sunrises were common enough, but they seldom lasted more than a moment as the burning lights within were once again hooded and shut away -- even from each other.


Shadows

       There were shadows moving among other living folk.
       These individuals and groups of individuals seemed to drain light away from others around them. There were no shadow couples, as even within groups, they shared little and what light touched them was deflected or absorbed. They carried their own personal winter with them.
       Still others seemed broken, their light flashing and surging, and then suddenly dimming -- even plunging into shadow. I came to think of them as distress beacons flashing in the night. Often, shining folk would congregate about such a beacon and seek to share and stabilize. Sometimes, no one helped and the beacon spun off flashing desperately in the distance. 


Fireflies Everywhere.

       Small flashing points of light drifted about, usually in the orbit of an individual or group of folk. It didn't take long to sense these were pets and other animals. They seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with folk, their tiny sparks adding to the glow of their compatriots.
       Larger glowing orbs appeared and disappeared constantly with and among the folk around me. It took a moment to realize they were just like me. Gazing and watching, flaring and shining, occasionally touching living folk. Often, they concentrated on the shadows, but just as often had little or no effect on the path of the shadows or the darkness around them. Sometimes, occasionally in the immediate vicinity of a shadow, sudden flashes and explosions of light would erupt. Instantly, I knew it was others discovering their light.


Coming Home

       As I began to flit and flicker about, visiting and watching and learning, a warm light enveloped me, revealing two paths. One lead to light, warmth, and a pain-free existence. The other drew me with an irresistible force, back to daily trials and a chance to share what I saw. Here I am, so you can guess my choice.
       For a few minutes after waking, the joy and the warmth stayed with me, as I slowly cooled back into plain Ol’ Mick. However, for awhile I was energized, happy, and at peace. Was I once again dancing near death? I wonder why I might have chosen to come back to this cold and cruel world. I also understand why some folks simply die while sleeping.
       Dreams are strange, wonderful, and dangerous things.

Mick

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2505

Looking Back

         One also looks back at the year gone by. 2017 was not one of my favorite years, despite being the most recent and one of the loudest by far. I was put in mind of a saying which may be the most miss-attributed I've ever used. I must have said hundreds of times that "May you live in interesting times!" is an ancient Chinese curse. However, there appear to be no records of anyone in China or anyone ancient uttering that phrase as a curse or a blessing. Some believe it was taken from something Joseph Chamberlain said in the late 19th century, but even that is uncertain. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_you_live_in_interesting_times ) One of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels is entitled: Interesting Times.

Recent History (and Politics, Sorry...)

         Well, I would label 2017 as Interesting Times, encompassing mass shootings, severe hurricanes, earthquakes, massive wildfires, a lunatic threatening use of nuclear weapons, and Kim Jung-Un. Our president has used tactics rarely touched since the 1930's when another self-proclaimed leader rose to power through intimidation, hatred, fear, and bigotry. There are differences of course, Trump is much more orange. Mine is not a partisan view: I remain independent. However, as a history buff, I get antsy when I see it repeating. #FakePresident
          2017 also was the year when bright entertainment stars were tarnished and dimmed, and dimly-lit political figures became dark shadows. It was a year when conspiracy theorists flourished and science was muzzled by politics. Enough of that...for more, see the Internet.

Personally Interesting

         My own situation had its share of issues. Mostly, I had to deal with blood pressure problems, not because my blood pressure climbed severely, but because acceptable BP was redefined much lower than before. Also, a funny looking keratosis on my neck turned sinister when we discovered it was cancer. An up close and personal contact with some liquid nitrogen burned that bridge and the resulting scar is the only evidence of my second bout with skin cancer. Apparently, the sun is not my friend.
         Overall, my health was fair this year. I was able to reduce my oxygen equipment from a full home base station (concentrator, bottles, pony bottles, etc.) to just two bottles, one with a regulator and one back up. I haven't used supplemental oxygen in over a year. This is a good thing.
         I am happy to see 2017 in the rear-view mirror and I'm ready to find out what 2018 has in store. Happy New Year!

Mick.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2444

All Hallows Snow

    Once again, it's a White Halloween! Most folks dream and sing about a White Christmas -- but not in the Keweenaw -- we envision little creatures traipsing through the snow and slush and sleet to earn a sweet treat. Home is one of the few places where the weather is scarier than the costumes.
    Marian and Amanda were assembling the distribution packets for doorway dispersal this evening as I came downstairs this morning. They were laughing at the size of the candies, and mulling over having to place four pieces per packet, because the pieces were so tiny. Apparently, they’ve shrunk as well as gone up in price. Nice to know profits are up, as consumers get nothing for something.
    Perhaps we need to rethink the holiday. We could give out little packets of broccoli and kale...yum! I remember getting free toothbrushes at the dentist's house and some folks handed out pennies. Note: Pennies had value in those days -- especially at the candy counter in the corner store. 🍬
    There were a few Halloweens I remember particularly well. I was the oldest of five, and eventually I graduated from part of the pack to responsibility for the other four. At a young age, I learned the true meaning of “herding cats.” Perhaps the clearest Halloween was 1955. I was five years old and had my tonsils removed the day before. I could not trick or treat and had to stay home and rest. However, I got to have all the ice cream I wanted. THAT I remember!
    My happiest Halloweens were the years I went trick-or-treating with my own kids. Some years, we walked, some years we drove (raining), some years I pulled a little red wagon, and a couple that I pulled an old runner sled. Our daughter, Heather, took the younger kids a couple of times -- it was like watching a drill instructor at work. Safety first!
    I hope some of the traditions survive. I want my kids and grandkids to have fond memories of the holiday. Happy Halloween!

Mick