Day +100: Now we're here
Holy Day +100 since Ramón’s transplant! Exactly 100 days ago, on April 10, Ramón received his stem cell transplant. From 11:25 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. ET, we quietly watched YuSun’s stem cells slowly assume residence in Ramón’s body, ready to evict his leukemia once and for all.
I’d heard about the coveted Day +100, and now we’re here. We have taken some major detours, but we made it! When a transplant recipient hits Day +100, the window of greatest risk closes, and the donor stem cells should be forming new blood cells. Leading up to transplant, I recall a moment when Ramón looked me straight in the eyes and said, with absolute conviction, “I just know this transplant is going to work.” I could tell he believed it with every ounce of his body, and I did, too. So far, he’s been right about the transplant.
Tests around Day +30 and Day +60 indicated that the transplant was successful. Did you know that Ramón’s blood DNA was replaced by his sister’s? So, if he were to get a blood test, his DNA profile would be identical to YuSun’s – female and everything. This also means that, if either Ramón or YuSun leave a trace of blood at a crime scene, there will be two clear suspects and a lot of family drama. Trust me when I say Ramón has thought long and hard about this. He’d want me to tell you that stem cell/bone marrow transplants are on the rise and could contribute to a miscarriage of justice. But he’d also tell you to join the registry at www.bethematch.org. You might save a life (and have an alibi).
Following his transplant, Ramón and I thought 100 days sounded like an eternity. Now, in retrospect, I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed. Instead, the transplant has been simmering in the back of my mind while the brain injury has viciously and relentlessly boiled over – turning the 100 days into the equivalent of 100 years. But, dang, those 100 days after transplant passed quickly.
When we first learned that Ramón’s brain was affected, the original neurologist said we would have a good idea of recovery within the first year. The next neurologist, who was a little more “My personality led me to specialize in a field where my patients can’t speak,” said we’d see what happened in the first three to six months. Then a third neurologist, who was pleasant but practical, mentioned up to 18 months. I was so perplexed.
I desperately relied on these medical professionals to guide me, and instead I was only growing more and more confused. Another neurologist said, “We can take a set of 100 people and tell you that a certain number will make a meaningful recovery, but we’re awful at pinpointing which of the 100 people that will be.” The brain is undoubtedly the body’s most complex organ, and, as much as I crave certainty, I’ve had to accept that I’m living in this murky, gray, undefined place until further notice. Some days I’m at peace with that, and other days my anxiety gets so bad that I don’t think I’ll survive physically. But I’ve prevailed thus far.
And that brings me to today: July 19, 2020. Not only is it Day +100, but it also marks three months since Ramón’s injury. I’ve recently realized that witnessing the event has impacted me more than I initially comprehended. So, rather than reliving the catastrophic moments that unfolded right before me, I’ll shed light on the three-month anniversary of my fight with valet parking – a fight Ramón would have loved to see.
The morning of April 19, after being evicted from the ICU following Ramón’s “incident,” I approached the valet desk in my finest pajamas and slippers. I presented my ticket and informed the attendant that I surpassed the 15-days-in-the-hospital mark where you win free parking because your life is in shambles. Since my departure was unplanned, I hadn’t gone to the parking office to pick up the pity parking pass, but I was certain Ramón’s name was on the list for free parking.
As I stood at the desk, a loud boom of thunder rumbled through the entire building as the valet attendant scanned my card. He looked at me and said, “Your total is $128.” I firmly replied, “Nope.” Then he tried to negotiate it down to $40, and I shook my head no and asked him to go get my car. He timidly agreed, and my car appeared, ready to venture home in the pouring rain as the reality of the morning washed over me.
Day +100 is victorious because, at times, I was uncertain we would make it this far. Ramón has fought relentless infections with no immune system to come to his defense. But he’s prevailed thus far. When I first heard “three months” come out of the neurologist’s mouth, I firmly grabbed hold of those words and didn’t let go. The number gave me something tangible to ease my unyielding need for certainty. As a result, the three-month mark weighs heavy on my heart because I’d placed importance on it in attempt to bring logic to a situation beyond calculation.
So today is, for lack of a better word, EMOTIONS. Day +100 and three months, all at once. At times I feel imprisoned in the unknown, and other times I feel liberated knowing that uncertainty leads to opportunity. I have no idea what’s going to happen and, when you think about it, none of us do. Give the hug, call your loved ones, go on the walk, play the game, eat the ice cream, watch the sunset, and wear the freaking mask.
Finally, in this photo, you’ll notice Ramón has one eye partly open. Back when life was cancer-less, transplant-less, and neurologically intact, I would often catch him like this while watching TV. I’d call him out: “Ramón, are you sleeping?” He’d always respond, “I’m resting one eye.” While he rests one – maybe two – eyes, I’ve assured Ramón we’ll keep looking toward the future with hope for healing. And, when moments of doubt inevitably creep in, I'll respond with the same resolute "Nope" I gave the valet attendant three months ago.