That Time I Unwillingly Donated My Body to Science

A bone marrow transplant story that even chemobrain won't let me forget.

It was about 1998. I was lying in my hospital bed at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. I had just received my brand new, shiny, breathtaking bone marrow; that’s pretty much where it all went fuzzy — like a TV with no cable and aluminum-enhanced antenna type of fuzzy.

I definitely remember placing an order for stem cells back in ’98, but never did I ask for a side of the pain that came with it. Who would?

Imagine being badly sunburned. Now imagine those sunburned parts of your body being sanded with sand paper. Now add gasoline, matches and fire. OK, now smash a glass bottle into tiny pieces, mix it with hot wax and throw in a few angry hornets—and you have me getting carried away with this story. Really though, the side effects of the transplant were unbelievably painful. The skin on certain parts of my body were on fire, and in all of those places that should just be left alone. (Yes, those places.)

Because of the inconveniently located places of raw skin that were causing horrendous pain, I was put on a pain pump. This was pretty much the reason why I went from seeing Barney Rubble on TV to seeing Barney Rubble flushing my IV.

It was kind of surreal. I mean I heard mom talking to me, kinda. I could hear Billy Mays trying to sell me OxiClean on TV and my dad asking me how I felt. My sister was asking if she could change the channel — but I don’t have a sister — I don’t think. All I could do was lie there spaced out. Lie there still and not move one bit. Because if I did move, I might stir up the angry hornets.

This bizarre experience would come to its climax early one September morning. No amount of medication, pain or lack of sleep would make me forget the events of this particular morning.

Usually a doctor or two would come to my room around 6:00 a.m. They would talk to me as I slept, check my lymph nodes, ask me questions that I could not answer because I was asleep and then they would leave. That didn’t happen this time.

This time a doctor and several residents, young residents, came to my room. These residents were not much older than me. They were just making rounds with the doctor to learn about cancer, bone marrow transplants and how it all affected me I guess.

At first, everything was going as expected. I was half-asleep, the doctor was telling me things that were important but I would never remember—all very normal. And just when I thought Barney Rubble was about to come in and flush my IV, the doctor said, “Do you mind if I show everyone?” Before he even finished his sentence and before the request could be fully processed in my overly-medicated brain, I had lost my dignity. Just like that! The doctor had pulled back my bedsheets. My body had unwillingly been donated to science, but I was still alive. This, my friends, is a memory that even chemobrain will never let me forget.