My dog-walking outfit consists of a black glove on my right hand (the poop bag hand) and a black surgical face mask with the bio-hazard symbol etched in gray on the muzzle. When I saw it online I thought it had a certain outpatient chic. However, I’m concerned of the scare-factor for the general public: guy walking towards you, Bull Terrier, black glove, face mask—biohazard symbol—got your attention?

But I happen to live in Los Angeles just a few blocks from the Hollywood/Highland intersection with its hordes of sunburned tourists being shadowed by almost as many cartoon rubber heads, mascara-lidded Captain Jack Sparrows and Marilyns perspiring in their blonde wigs. Point being, in my hood, the mask/glove combo will likely be taken as a half-assed pass at doing a Michael J. If I wore sunglasses and the hat I could probably pick up a few bucks while getting the dog detail done.

Then I hear it. A leaf blower rounds the corner of a building preceded by a cloud of dust and debris made up of (at least in my imagination): the fecal droppings of a half-dozen species in various stages of  decomposition, used cotton swabs, wadded tissues, discarded band-aids and desiccated condoms. In short, a billowing cloud of infectious disease that will envelope me, travel my nasal passages into my lungs where it will take hold and infection will bloom. I’ll be hospitalized, treated with massive doses of antibiotics.  Then another, more resistant hospital-born super-bug will appear. After some astonishingly pricey I.Vs of experimental Hail Mary concoctions cooked-up by Pfizer, I will die. Death by leaf blower. I cross the street.

Such is the stuff of daily life after a routine blood panel revealed a disturbingly low white blood cell count. You know there’s a problem when your doctor calls you at home regarding your recent blood test.

“You should come back in and let’s re-do it,” he says in an alarmingly neutral tone. “Must be a mistake at the lab. Let’s run it again.”

“When?” You ask.

“Now,” he says.

You become dutiful—he’s the new sheriff. While you sit in front of him he goes over the results of your second test (from a different lab just to be sure). The results are identical. He picks up the phone, dials a hematologist (a personal friend of his) and elbows you an appointment in three hours. “You’ll be fine,” he says. “Sometimes people’s bone marrow just gives out. You have insurance.”

Bone marrow? I figured it would be heart or maybe liver or lung; something with the esophagus—a stroke perhaps? All conditions related to my addictive nature—those middle years of cocaine and vodka, the tumbler of rum & coke endlessly freshened, shots of tequila backed with a Marlboro Red.  Bone Marrow? Not even in dreams, but it does have a deep, bluesy resonance—after all, it’s down in your bones.

Dr. Sally is my kinda gal: horse pictures line her office; medium-length silver hair parted in the middle and she’s ready for work. She runs yet another blood test (in-house, she’s got her own robot-like machine which I will come to know very well over the following months).

“How do you feel?” she asks.

“Fine, except I’m sitting here in your office.”

“I would put you in the hospital, but I’m afraid you would get an infection.”

“Hospital? Really?”

“On a scale of 1-10, 10 being normal, your immune system is at a 2. You are at high-risk for infection. You need to go home, monitor your temperature every four hours. If you have any kind of fever you are to go immediately to the ER and give them this piece of paper (my paltry blood count). You are not to travel to any third-world countries, don’t eat sushi or deli; cancel your gym membership if you have one, no gardening and don’t pick up dog poop.”

Well, there goes India.  My wife, being a former Kathak dancer, sees India as her spiritual home. And then there’s our delayed honeymoon to Istanbul fading away. I manage a wry smile as I envision telling her, “But honey, the doctor says I can’t pick up his poop.”

It’s the Sushi directive that sends my spirits tumbling. In my heaven you’ll find me tucked at the quiet end of a sushi bar presided over by my own sushi chef for an endless round of Omakase so fresh and inventive it fairly wiggles as I pop each morsel of raw, bacteria laden fish into my mouth, followed by a sip of the most subtle of sakes and then the next tiny plate arrives … according to Dr. Sally, I may as well point a gun to my head and spin the cylinder before tugging the trigger. Hai!

It’s a long walk back to the car from Dr. Sally’s; I seem to be moving through a medium heavier than air. I’ve been here before emotionally, but fear always arrives looking fresh. When I was 14 my adoptive father informed me that my biological father was dying of Huntington’s disease, a genetic disease that would, in the case of juvenile onset, likely kill me before my thirtieth year. Obviously, I ducked that bullet. Anyone who has read my book Marker knows the story intimately. However, here I am at 61 and I get to experience it all over again—a variation anyway on my being at risk for an early death, but this time it’s no mistake.

Diagnosis: MDS (myleodysplastic syndrome) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myelodysplastic_syndrome

I’m in good company: Carl “billions and billions” Sagan, Roald Dahl, Susan Sontag and Nora Ephron all died from complications related to MDS.  If I got very busy or even desperately notorious, I would be unlikely to claim a comparable fame, but at least we’ll share a common line in our obits.

The Problem Is I’m Healthy.

MDS is asymptomatic—I have no sickness or any symptoms of illness. I was diagnosed after a routine blood panel—I was concerned about my cholesterol which is down. So I got that going for me.

From all outward and visible signs, you’d think I was healthy. In good shape even. Until I get sick and then I’m in for a bumpy ride. That is the illusion I’m living:  there is no pain, no visible wound, no seeping buboes. It makes it difficult to remember how truly vulnerable I am. There are bruises that appear occasionally from minor collisions with everyday objects and they are slow to go away. But other than that, there are simply no daily reminders staring back at me from the mirror … just the voice in my head when I see the pink-haired girl at the curry counter, who is not wearing sanitary plastic gloves, reach down and adjust her ankle sock around the fresh tat before she ladles up my order from the steam table—“Is she the one that will kill me?”

UP NEXT:

“My Bone Marrow Biopsy or Hey, Where Did Everyone Go?”

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Comments
  1. Mel,
    You turn a smile and more than a few laughs out of Ms. No Nonsense and me as I read this blog entry aloud this morning. Thanks for sharing your story, which will be all the more fabulous as time goes by because it will be a story of healing.
    It will be fun to see how you spin the humor into your healing journey. Keep the focus of your intention on healing into playfulness and fun, which is part of the fabric of Creation, or so I’ve been told by those elevated souls who always seem to be laughing at something.
    I Love you, Johnny D

  2. Sharon Johns says:

    Hi Mel,
    It’s hard not to respond with the same sense of humor that you infuse life with through your writing. But I’m not going to let that get in the way to telling you that I read your blog and looked up your new disease, and that you are in my heart. There is a tendency to say to oneself that they dodged a bullet, like getting a promotion over someone else or the winning the lottery. But we will all make it to the other side, it’s just a matter of time and manner. Need I remind you that come the Winter Solstice, we may all get there together. With that said, I will sit with you in whatever heaven or hell you are in as you heal yourself.
    Love,
    Cousin Sharon

    • Mel Green says:

      Hi Sharon,
      Good to hear from you. Thank you for your thoughts. Well said and so very true. Speaking of the “other side,” Aunt Elizabeth died last night or at least I received the news of her passing. She was a really good person.

      See you in heaven if not sooner …

      Love,
      Mel

  3. lkthayer says:

    Wow Mel, Alexis sent this to me, whew! Hey baby, I beat Colon Cancer so far & I had no symptoms either! I love & adore you and your writing first off! And you secondly…now, pick up that dog poop! Just kidding (that was Sparky barking….) Be well my friend, and keep writing your ass off! – Lisa

    • Mel Green says:

      Lisa, I hope you are maintaining your vigilance with your colon cancer. We had two friends (brother and sister) who had it recently. Did your FaceBook not get this story? I think I’m having a problem posting, like it’s not getting to all my friends or something …. maybe they’re just ignoring it … bastard people! Arf!!!

      Mel Green blogging at: http://www.melgreen.net

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