Cheryl Mattera

Patient

I am a 61-year-old female, married for 37 years, and was living a fairly normal life up until June of 2014.

It was the beginning of summer, and as usual I was out in the yard tending to my gardens, pulling weeds and cleaning flowerbeds. Unfortunately, I didn't see the poison ivy and a few days later I was covered in a nasty rash.  The poison ivy was on my face and pretty severe on my legs, so I went to my doctor who prescribed a dose of steroids.

By the end of the week, the rash was not improving and I started to notice small bruises on my legs and arms. I also became extremely fatigued to the point that I could not get off the couch. My husband recognized that this was totally out of character for me, and on a Sunday morning called my doctor. The doctor instructed us to go to the local urgent care, which we did. The doctor at urgent care gave me an additional shot of steroids and did some blood work. We went home and after a dinner of steak and veggies, I actually felt a little better.

Just as I was cleaning up from dinner, the phone rang; it was the doctor from urgent care. He advised me that my blood work had come back showing an extremely low platelet level and I needed to go to the emergency room immediately. He indicated that my platelets should be a minimum of 150,000, but were about 7,000 and my red blood was at 6.0, about half what it should be.  At that point, my mind went blank and I turned the phone over to my husband.

We proceeded to the emergency room of the local hospital where my records had been sent. The emergency room doctors were baffled, but luckily they immediately called in a hematologist who started doing tests. She advised me that there was a good chance I would have to be moved to a larger hospital. Sure enough the test results came back, and I was told I would be transferred to Morristown Memorial Hospital. Just as transport arrived, I started having some stroke-like symptoms. It was so scary, I could not speak properly and my left side was cramping and going numb. The nurses rushed in and had me do all the exercises that one does when having a stroke, smile, push my hands with both fists, etc.  They ran me down for a CT scan. Luckily, the symptoms passed as quickly as they began and once I was stabilized, the hour trip to Morristown was underway.

I was brought into MICU, a catheter was inserted in my groin and pheresis treatments began that evening. I was pretty much in a fog and everything was blurry for the next couple of days. As the daily treatments continued, I began to feel better and my platelet numbers went up steadily. After 6 treatments, I was released. The plan was that I would see my hematologist every other day so my blood levels could be checked.

First visit, all good.

Second visit, my platelets dropped down to 50,000. 

It was a Friday afternoon, and I had to be re-admitted to the hospital. By the time we got there and I was prepped for the insertion of the catheter in my neck, my platelets had dropped to 30,000. Pheresis began again that evening and continued for about eight days. At that point it was decided that I would undergo outpatient treatments three times a week and the plan would be to wean me down to twice a week, then weekly.

I am currently in my third week of Rituximab treatments, with one more to go. So far, my numbers have been stable and I pray that continues. My fatigue has improved and I feel more like my old self each day. Of course, I am hoping that once weaned off the pheresis treatments, my blood levels will remain where they should, but we will have to wait and see.

This experience has taught me to enjoy every day and appreciate all the little things in life that come our way.  I don't know what the future holds for me, but my new motto is: one day at a time.

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