September, 2005 I went to Chicago and met with Dr. Endocrinology, TCNE and briefly met Dr. Transplant. I watched riveting power point presentations about the horrors of what could, might, but probably wasn't going to happen if I had the islet transplant and took immuno suppression drugs. I listened to both sides of the bargain. Things like "you come visit us X number of times for the next 18 months, take these meds, follow up with these tests, let us jab with iv's and draw blood until you realize "holey crap! all of those tubeys are for me??!", and we'll give you islets if you qualify, and provide the best durned health care you can imagine (my words, not theirs).
I signed and dated on the dotted line.
Then the fun started. I came back in October for blood work (see above "holey crap! comment"). and again for things like ultrasounds, ct scan of various innards and some glucose tolerance testing. Mmmmmm. not. They did a Glucagon stimulation test to measure c-peptides and see just how pathetic my pancreas really was and the nurses all sat there and stared at me waiting for me to puke. Man, I hate glucagon, every single time I use it I sell the buick and puking back then brought me to tears, so that by far for me, was the worst of the pre-transplant testing.
Not long after the initial batch of tests I got a request for a 2nd abdominal ultra sound so they could take a better gander at my backwardiness and peek again at my liver. My liver it tured out had some tumory bits that needed reexamining so I trucked back to Chicago (its a 5hr drive btw) and laid on the table while Dr. Radiology and his crew of student doctor gonnabes goo'd me up, looked at my liver and searched for my elusive spleens (a fun game for radiology tech and patient alike. It usually ends with me saying something along the lines of "are you looking for my spleens? would you like to to point at where they are?" and me pointing to a totally different spot then Radiology Tech was looking.) anyway, My tumery bits didn't behave well under ultrasound so they said I needed a needle biopsy to rule out cancer.
By this time it was January or February, 2006, I got to spend the night on the liver floor and get jabbed with a giant needle. It was all good. hemangioma type tumor. Benign. And a week or so later they said the translant was a go.
Now let me tell you, up until this point I was certain *something* was going to prevent me from qualifying for the transplant. There were so many times that they called and said "oh hey, come back, more tests!", and I had a number of "well, I've got this going on too's" that I kept waiting for them to say "go away, you're too goofy for us". But they didn't.
And then came the wait. Three months later I was working a rare (rare because I usually work at 4am) evening shift and my phone rang. It was TCNE trying to tell me to get my booty to Chicago within the next 6 hours and I hung up on her! After I called back, I told work I was leaving, called my partner and we left. We got to the hospital in 4hrs.
What I remember most about the drive was the splendor and stench of Gary, Indiana at 1am. If you've ever driven through Gary in the day time you get the "stench" part (in the following months I'd learn to close the car vents and stick my face in a pillow long before we approached the town), but its worse at night. At night, Gary's industry is lit. Every factory it seemed was spewing flames and smoke from pipes jutting into the sky. Pyres of pollution across a cityscape. That is what I remember most vividly from that night almost two years ago.
When we arrived at UIC's medical center, we went in through the emergency department to registration, registered and I was sent up to the transplant floor for the usual pre-surgery prep. I had ivs put in, blood drawn to cross match tissue types with the donor cells, they must have asked 100 medical history type questions and then I waited to be wheeled away.
I'd say I was nervous but that's not really true. I was flat out scared...