Today, my doctors inform me that my neutrophils are still 0.0, the infection indicators have reached a ‘normal’ level (but are still apparent), my haemoglobin is 100 (normal is 130-180) and my platelets are 32 (normal is 150-450). White blood cells are at 0.3 (normal is 4-11) and lymphocytes are the only white blood cells to show themselves, at 0.3 (normal is 1-4).
It is astonishing how they know this and are able to make potentially life-or-death decisions on such information. They know when I will need to have a blood transfusion and they’ll be ready to order platelets when that reaches a dangerously low level. In both cases, they know what type blood they need, where to find it and the fact they need to be irradiated. They can spot an infection from several different approaches and throw an effective antibiotic in the right direction. They know at what point my neutrophils are able to fight the fight themselves, and they know at what level of remission I need to be before transplant to give me the best chance.
Medicine is complicated to begin with, and haematology is a particularly complex area. I find it difficult to get my head around just how much we know about my leukaemia and its treatment, and am in awe of the people who over the years and centuries have worked these things out. My doctors may not be able to tell me exactly when my neutrophils are going to come up, but they’ll know what to do once they do. It’s astounding to think that we can even contemplate the possibility of a diagnosis such as leukaemia – even the very diagnosis is amazing.
And then – ALL is just one type of leukaemia; leukaemia is just one type of blood cancer; blood cancers are just one type of cancer; cancer is one of so many diseases to which the body is prone. The sheer weight of medical knowledge is leaving me flabbergasted today, making me feel humble and grateful that I even have a chance of getting through this.
As I continue to wait, there may be some positive signs that my neutrophils will come up soon. My platelets haven’t plummeted since my last transfusion, which is what they would usually do, and my haemoglobin seems to be staying up relatively well. Meanwhile, the occasional painful niggle I’ve had seems to be healing rapidly, so there must be something in my body willing to fight infection – the markers for which have almost vanished.
Until those neutrophils come up, though, it’s a case of sitting back and wondering at the marvels of medicine.