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Going home and the return of the leukemia


After the transplant: aftercare and a psychotic episode
Donald Hall Poet
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It was a few weeks after the transplant, with Jane's blood counts getting better, that we left the hospital and went back to the apartment right next to the hospital.  And I took care of her - I am technophobic, I don't have a computer, and I had to learn how to program pumps to infuse Jane with antivirals, but also hydration, and TPN, which is intravenous feeding - all sorts of things. I had two different pumps I had to learn and I was petrified to go to pump class which the caregiver does, to learn how to do it, and it was just touching buttons, of course. A couple of weeks later I could have taught pump class - it was all right, you do what you have to do. There were also as many as 57 pills in a day, and when she was nauseated it was difficult.  And I had to try to get as many calories into her as possible. One of the results of the chemo and radiation is to destroy the cells of the mouth, actually the alimentary canal, but the mouth has more nerve endings in it, so that sore mouth is one of the big pains - extremely sore mouth, and very difficult to swallow things, to take things down.  But she... she began to take a little, mostly liquid... fortified Ensure Plus, and so on, but I would keep a record. I had to keep records of exactly what she ate: one slice of bread, a teaspoon of mayonnaise... a tablespoon of mayonnaise, and so on, and we would have to go back to the clinic regularly. I'd of course rented a car, and I had a... a sticker on it, so that I could park anywhere, and I could park right down to the elevator and take her up. There were also... hospitalisation again for her. I guess twice after the transplant - once for about two weeks, and once more briefly. The briefer time was the last time, and it was terrible but Jane didn't remember it, so it wasn't so terrible - it was bad for me - that was a psychotic episode.  Back at the apartment, she began to have very irrational notions - obsessive notions. I was troubled with vertigo at that time, and, at one point I was having vertigo as I'd had it many times in front of her, but she decided it was a heart attack and I was dying.  And the nurse from the clinic called, and she answered it and she said, 'Don is dying', and so... young man from Emergency came, and I said, 'Give me an EKG - my... my wife's had a bone marrow transplant - she thinks I'm dying'.  And he did, and it reassured her. But a day or so later, she'd lost the ability to speak and to walk and to... oh, control her bowels, and she had to go into the hospital, and she was crazy - she was psychotic - it was the result entirely of some combination of drugs.  They couldn't be sure quite what, but she decided that she didn't have leukemia, that she was faking, that she was malingering, and that Blue Cross at the hospital would sue us and take away our house, and she said, she lay awake all night, thinking this, and she said, 'I am a wicked person'.  She was utterly miserable, but she had no memory of it afterwards. A couple of anti-psychotic drugs, maybe two or three hours and she was all right. They took her off all drugs and then put her back gradually on, and there were no more psychotic episodes or delirium or delusion, which she had had earlier.

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: Blue Cross, Jane Kenyon

Duration: 4 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008