Plasmapheresis – Recent Experience

December 21, 2011 at 3:17 pm

[B]Plasmapheresis – My recent experience[/B]

It’s been a surreal week for me – spent it in the hospital getting all my blood cells separated from the blood plasma. First, a Dr. Lion (no, really), placed a six inch fang shaped catheter in my jugular vein. As an added favor, he slipped a 20″ needle – well, maybe 6″, into my spine and removed 15cc of spinal fluid which he said was ‘clear as vodka.” Those doctors – what fun we have! Next it was off to the plasmaphorisis machine in my room at Sharps – room 513 on the fifth floor. The machine, which I named Dracula, manned (or womaned) by the Blood Countess because of her Balkan accent, removes whole blood from the jugular vein, sends it into a centrifuge which makes the red cells so dizzy they stagger away from the plasma and throw up. The plasma, which looks rather like fermented apple juice that recently experienced a very bad night on the town, wanders off on its own, following a ragged, snakelike path through complicated plastic hoses designed by Tim Burton for the mad scientist in Corpse Bride. Once through the labyrinthine hoses, the extracted plasma sulks in a two gallon bag, and waits to be recycled into the next patient. New plasma, looking exactly like the old plasma, dribbles back into the shunt marked IN. The OUT shunt is a festive red, but the IN shunt is a more delicate muted hue – much like mixing blood with apple juice. To think, I once liked apple juice. The red blood cells, sick and thoroughly chastened, stagger back into a tube where a mechanical version of Captain Hook prods them back into the raging sea of blood that sloshes around in my body.

The centrifuge in the machine sounds rather like a jet engine warming up and I requested clearance from the tower before I was asked to not move and be quiet once again. The irritable beeping caused when the machine’s directions are not precisely followed upsets the Blood Countess who is forced to frantically twiddle this and that, adjust hoses and say strange incantations in what I believe to be Transylvanian.

So I silently reflected on the direction of spin taken by my red blood cells in relation to the rest of the universe and speculated that my plasma acted remarkably like dark matter. Relativity jumps on board as well. The red blood cells, having spun so much faster than they would have moved in my body, are now younger than they would have been and begin to party. I cannot fathom the directions they moved while in the centrifuge – The earth spins, the moon makes everything wobble, the earth circles the sun which circles the Milky way which is going hell bent for leather in some unspecified direction and it’s all moving very, very fast.

Four hours later, we came in for a landing, the last red cell staggered back into my waiting jugular and someone offered me strong medicine. I took it. Dreams happened. A woman named Meali – in charge of food delivery – (really – Meali) placed me on a delightful, salt free, heart healthy diet where everything tastes exactly like oatmeal mush. Saltless oatmeal mush. Their motto seems to be “soft food, solid stools.” Not that it helped. My intestinal tract followed Egypt’s lead, began a revolution and backed up like the Nile before Moses led his people to a place where they would be surrounded by other people who really didn’t like them very much.

The next four daze followed the same pattern – blood out, blood in, blood out, blood in – until I realized that it was a Zen koan and I finally asked the right question. The answer, of course, was 42.

Patti (my wife) appeared intermittently with a strange device intended to weave rope from ribbons encased in plastic. She kept losing count of the pattern. The pattern ruled and eventually won. She charged what needed to be charged – kindle, ipod, cell phone – and brought in contraband. Salt tucked in the back of a drawer, Citrucel in with the underwear, yogurt in the nurse fridge, cereal hidden in plain sight on the counter, clean undies and the odd back rub/ointment ritual. And, of course, she kept the nurses honest and on task.

And on the fifth day I was released, went home, blood purified, ready to spin a few tales and turn a few bowls. Katz all happy to say hi. Little One dragged my shoes down the stairs, Rosie emitted piteous howls, a sign of her urban angst, and Fetch enjoyed a good brushing.

I put on my dyslexic T-shirt with the picture of a cat lying across a book. The caption reads “Life is Doog.”

The treatment is almost immediately effective – or was, for me. I felt a difference is strewng5h returning by the third day and was in my shop turning bowls a day after I returned home. If I do it again, I want to do it as outpatient. I am currently taking 20mg daily of prednisone – which is not working all that well . . . but the Dr says to give it a few more weeks. We’ll see.