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After the transplant: aftercare and a psychotic episode


Jane Kenyon's bone marrow transplant
Donald Hall Poet
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There was a day in November when the marrow arrived. I found out later who had donated it, but of course, it had been the focus of our thoughts since the previous March - this day - the magic arrived.  And that day the marrow arrived around dinner time, but they had to take it to the lab and do T-cell depletion. The T-cells are effective in rejecting mechanisms, so they depleted a number of T-cells so that her body would not reject the marrow, or the marrow reject her body immediately. My science is probably a little shaky here by this point, but it's approximate.  So I stayed that night in her room... we reeled in a bed, and I wanted to be there when the marrow was administered, and it wasn't until the morning, maybe 5.30 am or something like that, that the little bag of pinkish liquid - somebody's marrow - came back from the lab, and it was fed into her veins.  By this time her own marrow had been totally destroyed... there's a particularly aggressive chemotherapy and total body irradiation that she had gone through in... oh late October, early November, I'm not precisely sure of the dates - that left her... that stripped her body of its marrow entirely, and now there were just these few little drops - half a cup, maybe - of somebody else's marrow, that was put into her veins, through the heart catheter that she wore and that would, we hoped, possibly, take root, metaphorically, in her marrow, and grow. After the marrow was received, they of course checked her blood every day, and there's no evidence of the new marrow taking hold for a long time, and then one day, there was... they found one cell, and we knew that the... the marrow was there, and that it would presumably continue to grow. There are some would-be marrow transplants that just don't work - they... they don't take, they don't grow - you could try to find another one, but most likely, you just die. During all this time when there's no marrow and virtually no marrow, the owner's tremendously prone to infection, and there are constant antivirals and antibacterials, but any sign of infection is very likely to be irreversible. She was in a... originally in a room where she was protected from me and everybody else by a wall of plastic, so she was isolated to keep bacteria or virus from reaching her at any point - everything was sterilised. It was very isolating, and very difficult. Finally, after living through this for several weeks, they removed it, and she did not get an infection, and in fact, the marrow took hold, and she had a new marrow - a new immune system - a very compromised, and fledgling immune system, but there was the possibility of hope of enduring life.

The 14th US Poet Laureate Donald Hall (1928-2018) was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a BLitt, from Oxford in 1953. He published many essays and anthologies of both poetry and prose including String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm, White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Without: Poems, and Ox-Cart Man, a children's book which won the Caldecott Medal. Hall was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal. At the end of his first Oxford year, he also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his poem Exile.

Listeners: Kendel Currier

Kendel Currier started working for Donald Hall in August of 1994 as his correspondence typist. Later she took on his manuscript typing as well, and in October of 1998 moved 100 meters down the road from Donald and became his personal assistant, adding many various new tasks to her work. As well as working for Donald for the last 10 and-a-half years, Donald Hall and Kendel Currier share a set of great (or for Kendel great-great) grandparents, making them distant cousins and part of a similar New Hampshire heritage.

Tags: Jane Kenyon

Duration: 3 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008