Health It's Just A Cheek Swab

Part 7: No Pressure or Anything, But Don’t Screw This Up Now

Read Part 6 here

Mid January 2015:

The Neupogen arrived as scheduled, and was refrigerated in my office.  With the exception of my scheduled pregnancy tests, I wasn’t going really anywhere besides work (either the office or teaching yoga) and home.  When I went to the supermarket, I dodged people who sniffed or coughed as if they might have the plague.  I briefly considered wearing a mask any time I had to leave the house.

The Sunday before my first injection, I had to pay a shiva call to my uncle (through marriage).  His mother (a super lovely woman) had passed away and I missed the funeral so I was determined to go.  Rosie came with me.  In retrospect, perhaps spending several hours in a room full of people who could have each been carrying the plague wasn’t the greatest idea I’d ever had, but I didn’t catch anything, and I did get to see my family.  My grandmother lives in the same assisted living facility (although I like to say she is just visiting, because she isn’t such a fan) where the shiva was.  Grandma is 92.  She loves this whole donation of my stem cells story.  Grandma loves when anyone writes anything down that happened to them.  She is our family’s record keeper and if our roles were reversed she would definitely have been wearing a mask, because she doesn’t give two beans what anyone thinks.  And, old people bore her.  My most recent favorite Grandma story: The day we moved her into the residence, there was to be a concert in the common room.  The common room is a gorgeous room that looks like Florida.  Grandma sometimes pretends she is an old lady when she doesn’t want to move, but when it was time for the concert, she ran over several old people and at least two workers to get the coveted club chair.  Then the concert started, leading off with a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells.” If you had seen the look of horror on my grandmother’s face, you would definitely have fallen out of your seat laughing.  It wasn’t even just horror.  It was offense.  Someone promised her a concert, dammit.  Grandma sat stoically, waiting for the Beethoven, or perhaps Bach which never came.

When we got home, Rosie came down with a fever.  Rut roh.  I got close enough to take her temperature and then backed away slowly, as if the fever would not attack if I did not show fear.  I tried not to panic.  I absolutely could not get sick now.  I was starting the Neupogen the next morning and I didn’t know were Cousin Bob was in the process but surely he was deep into it.  I stayed far away from Rosie and began the ritual that would last until the donation, a cup of Emergen-C in the morning and a cup at night, and washing my hands in a nearly OCD manner every half hour or so.  I was not screwing this up now.

Monday morning, January 12, I arrived at the local Urgent Care center for my first injection.  I had an appointment (thanks, Ana) and my 2 vials in my pocket wrapped in bubble wrap.  I wasn’t taking any chances.  Some initial bloodwork was drawn (another pregnancy test, perhaps?) and then the injection.  In. My. Belly.  Yes.  I got a shot in my belly.  My poor belly.  I am not going to lie.  That hurt.  I probably felt that the whole day.  And it is possible I complained about it for about a week.  Hello?  It was in my belly!!!!  I spoke to Ana to let her know we were done and on track and at the same time I gave her the heads up that I thought Rosie had the flu.  I heard definite panic in Ana’s voice.  I just could not be a donor screw up.

After the injection I ran back home, picked up the sick girl, and ran her to the pediatrician.  I am not proud of this, but I did drive with the windows open, and my body leaning away from her as far as possible.  Stop whining, I said.  It is nearly 25 degrees outside!  At the pediatrician I learned that she did in fact have the flu.  Gah.  My bad.  No one got the flu vaccine this year.  Not on purpose…it just slipped through the cracks of my 4 kids, a zillion activities, trying to get it all done life.   I called Ana again, while scheduling an appointment to bring back the other 3 for flu mist that evening, to break the news of the definite flu.  I promised I’d be careful and true to my word, as soon as we got home, my poor sick Rosie was banished to her room.  Every so often I’d toss in water bottles and food.  But mostly, she languished.  With FOOD!  And WiFi!

The next morning, injection 2.  This time, a super lovely nurse named Yvette came to my office.  She was so sweet. Yvette gave me the injection in the back of my arm, like a normal person.  And, in case you were thinking I am a big wussy baby (I am, but not because of this), it didn’t hurt at all.  It’s just, the belly…I mean, come on!  Yvette left after telling me to take Tylenol around the clock (I had been, as instructed by Ana…Ana Ana Ana!) and drink plenty of water.  My injection was at about 10:30.  By 2:30, I couldn’t hold my head up.  I was exhausted, and my head hurt.  My body was starting to feel achy and I was convinced I had the flu.  I panicked.  Ana called me and I told her how I was feeling.  She reassured me that it was the Neupogen.  I was nervous, but took an extra Emergen-C and went home to nap.

Injections 3 and 4 went pretty much the same way, except that day by day the aches started earlier and lasted longer.  I was able to work at the office, but not teach yoga.  The discomfort was limited to my torso, hips, sacrum, upper ribcage and sternum.  Occasionally I felt pain in the back of my neck, and I had an on and off headache.  One night I had a fever.  I definitely had to move more slowly.  There were a few occasions where I would hop up and suddenly double over in joint discomfort.  I can’t really describe exactly how it felt, except that it doesn’t feel like anything I’ve ever felt before.  It wasn’t exactly in my joints…it was perhaps in my bones.  It wasn’t a sharp pain, it was more of a dull ache.  It did not disrupt my sleep, unless I woke up for some reason on my own, and it made it harder to fall back asleep.  Some people can take ibuprofen for the discomfort and find relief.  Because of my migraines, I can’t take ibuprofen.  It causes severe rebound migraines for me.  I was only able to take Tylenol which is less effective overall.

After my 4th injection, Yvette wished me well.  Rosie’s fever had broken (thanks Tamiflu) and she was going to travel with me to the donation in Virginia that afternoon.  I was willing and felt fine about traveling alone, but my children were vehemently against it.  The husband was out of town and not an option.  Originally my oldest was going to go with me, but then he was invited skiing with his uncle and I knew he really wanted to go.  When Rosie got sick, I had pretty much decided I’d go alone (oh no…how awful…3 nights in a hotel…All. By. Myself.).  The kids had different opinions (“You go with mom.”  “No YOU go.”  “I don’t want to take her, YOU take her.”  “Ugh, she threw food at me for 4 days, YOU take her…”  Ok, that didn’t *exactly* happen, but in the not too distant future….).  None of them seemed to think that I was capable of taking a train all the way to Virginia alone.  I’m not sure exactly when I became a moron, but there you go.  As my son put it,  “I know you, if you go alone, you will leave here and not speak a single word to anyone until you have to when you check into the hotel.  And maybe not then.  You will be in a hotel for days and will not speak. You will forget the sound of your own voice.”  That would be bad because….?

I ended up agreeing to take Rosie, because she no longer had a fever, and she was a willing companion.  We’ve traveled together before and as far as traveling partners go, she’s pretty easy.

Now, injected, packed, and ready to go, Rosie and I caught a train to Penn Station, to connect with our Amtrack train to Virginia, to give away what I could spare with love and hopefully healing.

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About the author

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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