Health It's Just A Cheek Swab

Part 4: The Ultimate Physical

Read Part 3 here:

Mid-December 2014:

After a quick call back from Ana with a few questions regarding my allergies, I was deemed good to go by the powers that be (a faceless medical team that apparently really did review my answers). This was when I learned what I found to be the most fascinating fact of all. Any allergies I have, environmental or medication, or whatever, upon donation will become my recipient’s allergies. My tree and pollen sneezing and itchy eyes will become *his* tree and pollen sneezing and itchy eyes. My inability to take sulfa drugs will be *his* inability to take sulfa drugs. Whoa. If that is not a connection, I don’t know what is. After double checking with the medical team, I was cleared for the next round which would be the full physical. I *told* you I always do well on tests. Ana said she’d send me my travel information and asked what time on Sunday I’d prefer to leave and from what airport. What? Sunday? Oh, right. The physical would be Monday, December 22. It was requested that I go down the evening before so that I begin early in the morning. I said, “Sure, that’s fine.” I’ll bet somewhere on my file Ana has written “Sure, that’s fine.”

Well, now it really looked like I was doing this, pending of course the outcome of my very lengthy and thorough physical. I still hadn’t told anyone, besides the husband. It seemed like the sort of thing that I should mention, but I wasn’t sure how. Facebook post? Nah (although those who know me know that I do loooove my Facebook and many a commentary on my life and times is made that way). Just didn’t feel right. Text? No. Phone calls? Egad, no. I decided to just not mention it unless it happened to come up. Since you know, donating stem cells comes up very often in casual conversation at family events or when teaching a yoga class or whatever. Maybe not. I would not classify myself as shy, but I am introverted in the sense that I don’t engage in much small talk and social gatherings and large groups of people make me feel itchy. I figured those who needed to know would know, and those who didn’t know would be just fine.

The next few days went by and on Sunday, the day I was to fly to Virginia, my family was having our annual Chanukah party at my uncle’s house. Due to the timing of my flight, and the fact that I hadn’t thought to request the airport that would be on the way back from his house (ok listen, I don’t do this every day, cut me a break), I spend 2 hours at the party only if we arrived exactly on time. I packed the night before and harassed my family into the car so we would get there on time (if not early). Once there, I was having such an enjoyable time that suddenly, like Cinder-havetogotoVirginia it was almost time to go or I would miss my flight. I started to say my goodbyes, and my family naturally was all like “HUH? You just GOT here!!” A valid point, since I usually close the party down. I mumbled words like “stem cell,” “unexpected,” “bone marrow,” “Gift of Life,” “physical,” and “plane,” while I went from person to person hugging and kissing. The husband trailed along behind me offering slightly more detail by way of explanation but most of my beloved family still had the usual look of befuddlement and confusion they have when dealing with me. Ok, so I could have done that a bit better. Noted.

As we drove, it occurred to me and my very intelligent and not very young children that they knew something was up and I hadn’t explained much to them. I used the drive to give a basic explanation of what I would be doing (I was pretty much assuming I was doing it, if that wasn’t clear). My son’s first and only thoughts were “It is anonymous? What if you are giving your stem cells to a terrorist and saving his life? What if it is a terrorist who has killed Jews?” That became a discussion about genetics and the unlikelihood of having a close tissue type to someone not of the same cultural background as me. We barely made it to the airport, and the husband graciously slowed down, allowing me time to jump from the car with my overnight bag and make it to my flight. Gift of Life (the fabulous Ana, probably) had arranged for me to be on the travel pre-check line so I sped through security feeling like a rockstar. Flight was great, blah blah, blah. At the airport in Washington, DC I was met by a dear and wonderful friend whom I had never met in real life (What? The devil you say! No, it’s true!). Denise and I have known each other since we were both pregnant with our now 9 year old darlings, via the magic of internet mommy boards. I knew her instantly and may have attacked her with hugs. She tolerated my wild affection with kindness. It was awesome. But that is a topic for a whole other blog. Denise took me out for a snack and then back to my hotel. It was such a great night and really calmed whatever nerves I had about the physical the next day.

My oldest child (and only son) likes to say that if I don’t have people insisting I speak to them, I could go forever without hearing the sound of my own voice, and he is right. From the time I got to the hotel and checked in, to the time my other dear friend (also known from the same internet mommy group of the same time period) picked me up for breakfast, I didn’t hear my own voice. I know that would bother my darling boy greatly, but I loved it. Oh the quiet…if I could bottle it and pull it out whenever I need it…ahhhh bliss. Early in the morning, Beverly picked me up and we went for breakfast. So far, this Virginia thing really felt like a vacation. I was loving it. After lots of coffee and great conversation, she dropped me off at the Apheresis Center of North Virginia (ANOVA) for my physical. I walked in and was met by the lovely nurses and the nurse practitioner. For the next several hours, I was poked, answered questions (the same in many forms, and many times, by several people), had blood drawn, peed in a cup, had a chest X-ray, and an EKG. It could have been unpleasant. It could have been invasive. It could have felt weird or judgmental. It never did. It felt appreciated. It felt important. It felt like I was taking a journey towards doing something to help someone. Every single person I spoke to thanked me for what I was doing and treated me as though I was really doing something special. I appreciated all of the kindness, but truly I didn’t feel like I had done much of anything yet.

I caught a cab, and zipped back to the airport, saving my receipts of course, because Gift of Life did not want me to have to pay for anything out of pocket. Once home, I told Ana that all went well. I reminded her that I’d be going to Florida with my daughter the following Sunday (12/28) and she said that due to the holiday week we wouldn’t likely hear anything about my medical clearance until around then anyway.

With that done, I turned my attention back to my regular life and upcoming trip with my daughter and Chanukah.

To Be Continued…

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About the author

Alyssa Gilbert

Alyssa Gilbert

Alyssa lives in the Five Towns with her husband, four kids, 2 dogs and a cat. She loves all things zen and yoga and has just finished school to become a PT.

Alyssa encourages everyone to get their cheeks swabbed and potentially save another's life. For more info, please visit

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