214 is my new favorite number. 214 was Benjamin’s absolute neutrophil count (ANC) this morning. 214 means we are HOME, after a week in the hospital (to the hour).
Things I am currently loving: Sam Cooke singing to me in my kitchen as I make a Benji-requested meal (tomato soup from scratch and grilled cheddar on sourdough). Stirring nourishment in my favorite Dutch oven with my favorite wooden spoon. Bright yellow daffodils smiling at me from the countertop. The sound of my children laughing as they play outside with Michael and our neighbors. Watching my dogs wrestle through the back door window. Clean sheets and a big comfy bed to collapse into, right after an indulgently long hot shower.
I was cautiously optimistic when the nurses woke me up during their shift change. “Can we get you anything?” “Yes…his ANC?” The number was music to my ears. I sprang out of bed and made coffee, packed our bags, and gave Michael the go ahead to head north and spring us from our antiseptic blue quarantine. Benjamin slept unusually late, and woke up energetic and excited. I was removing the surgical tape that held his get well cards to the wall. I said, “Do you know what this means?” He hid his giant smile under the covers, as if they could contain the feeling.
We met with Dr. Moore, Benjamin’s primary oncologist, who authorized our discharge papers. We talked about our home health plan during periods of neutropenia. We also discussed Benji’s upcoming week in outpatient clinic, which will include three chemotherapy medicines and some tricky timing to maximize their efficacy. I realized today that Benjamin has had chemotherapy every way a person can receive it: by mouth, by veins, by muscle, and by spinal fluid. The hospital has a program called “Beads of Courage,” where they give beads to patients according to their procedures, tests, surgeries and rounds of chemo. While we waited for discharge, I consolidated Benji’s bags of beads and counted his moments of bravery. So far, he’s at 93.
Benji was so happy to have his port de-accessed that he tried to negotiate with the nurses to do it himself. Once we got home, I realized he still had his hospital bracelets on: one for identification, one for blood type and screen, and one for his new allergy to PEG-asparaginase. I walked outside with the scissors as he was putting his bike helmet on. He gave me another huge smile. Freedom.
Monday morning we’ll head back to the world of numbing cream and blood pressure cuffs and chemotherapy and sleepy medicine. For now, I am going to soak up every blessing that comes with being home. I am simply overwhelmed with gratitude for my husband, for our family, for this house, and for the two strong boys playing football in the street, who were just called in for dinner.