Monday, September 6, 2010


I'm in the hospital. I spent the night here. Today - September 6 - marks the one-month point of Yvonne's hospital stay.

In June, my family and I went away for 3 weeks on summer holiday. When I returned to work, my studio's General Manager and close sister-friend of the last 11 years began complaining of fatigue. The next week, she didn't have the strength to teach her high-impact Kickbox classes, and I started to substitute teach them for her. The following week, she didn't show up for a scheduled class and I knew something was wrong. Yvonne D. Carroll does not miss a class, appointment, meeting or any scheduled responsibility... so this was serious.

On August 5, my other sister-friend, Lisa, and I went to Yvonne's house to find out what in the world was going on. She was laying limp in her bed - she hadn't eaten in days, hadn't bathed or moved. We tried to get her to go to the hospital that minute, but she refused... wouldn't budge.

In my anger and frustration over her refusal to get the care she obviously needed, I started to clean. I banged pots and pans and silverware around in soapy water. I slammed cabinet doors. All in a vain attempt to suffuse my mounting emotions. I cut up chunks of watermelon she had in the refrigerator and almost force-fed the pieces to her. Lisa lay in the bed next to her stroking her hair and arms. God knew to have two people there - one to stroke and one to fuss. We were both needed to give Yvonne what she required at that moment.

Kitchen clean, watermelon gone, and half a bottle of water drunk. I was satisfied enough to leave Yvonne napping in the bed. But our journey had just begun.

The next morning, as I'm leading a business networking presentation, I see an incoming call on my cell phone from Yvonne's number. I watch the clock on the wall, slowly ticking off the minutes to 9:00 when I can officially end this meeting and go to a private place to check my messages. Just as I knew it would, the message indicated Yvonne had been taken to the hospital by one of our instructors, but they sent her home to see her physician. What?!

I quickly went home, changed into my hospital transportation outfit of jean shorts, t-shirt and flip flops, and headed straight for her house. I met her in the driveway, as she limped from the truck of our studio instructor. We didn't pass Go, we didn't collect $200 dollars, we went straight to her physician specialist 40 minutes north in Johns Creek.

Yvonne sat listlessly in the waiting room, struggling to stay coherent enough not to fall out of the chair. I called my mother and fussed. I called my husband and fussed. I stood outside the waiting room sucking up rays of sun and fumed. Why would my girlfriend wait so long to get care? Why did I have to fight her to go to the hospital and doctor just for her to turn around and go the next day.

My phone rang constantly... Did you send the email? Are we still on for our 10:45 training meeting at the studio? Why haven't you returned my call about the program? Who is teaching Yvonne's class tonight, we're getting calls at the studio? Where is the deposit bag? Are you participating in the Chamber of Commerce event this evening? One thing after another. I patiently and cheerfully answered as many calls and inquiries and messages as I could. I didn't want to have to explain what was really going on in the private life of my friend and studio manager. I smiled as I spoke into the phone, trying to mask the fear, anger, and frustration that might creep into my voice as I patiently responded to requests for my time, energy, knowledge and person.

Finally, about 40 minutes later, Yvonne was called into the sterile, small box of an exam room. I'll spare you the details of the examination, but the end result was the doctor looking extremely concerned and calling Emory Johns Creek Hospital to have a room, bed and medications prepped and ready when we arrived 15 minutes later. That was August 6. Yvonne hasn't been home since. In fact, she hasn't been outside of the hospital except the day they transported her from one hospital to another to get more specialized care.

AML - Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. That was the final diagnosis. Blood transfusions, bone marrow tests, chemotherapy, antibiotics in an IV drip. That's been Yvonne's daily reality for the last month. Doctors, nurses and specialists poking and prodding and invading her private areas. Tears and fears on her face and in her spirit. But she was strong. Stronger than the hospital staff thought she would be.

"Honestly... we didn't think she'd make it when we saw the condition she was in upon arrival." Those were the words of the amazed cancer doctor 2 weeks after Yvonne's arrival at Johns Creek. We were sitting in her hospital room laughing and talking as if we were shooting the breeze in her living room at home when he came in to update us. I appreciated his honesty and saw the pleasure in his countenance at Yvonne's miraculous recovery and strength.

But we weren't out of the woods yet. The bone marrow and blood tests indicated she needed more intense chemotherapy to fully eradicate all of the leukemia cancer cells. And she would probably need a bone marrow transplant to help her start generating infection-fighting white blood cells. The Bone Marrow Center at Northside Hospital would be her new home. So, the next day, my husband, Maurice, went to Johns Creek and helped pack up the hospital room that had become Yvonne's new home and my hang out. He stayed with her until they packed her into an ambulance and pulled out of the circular drive of Emory Johns Creek.

Northside's Cancer Center is a maze of buildings and floors and sections and rooms. My first visit was with another sister-friend, Lindia, who had flown in from Virginia to see our girlfriend. We got lost, turned around and finally made our way to the entrance to the Bone Marrow unit. We dressed each other in scrubs, shoe covers, and gloves... all required to even get on the floor where the patient rooms were located.

As usual, Yvonne was smiling and playing hostess when we came in - "What do you want to watch on television? Move that pillow and have a seat right there. Is it too dark in here? Althea turn that light on for her. Move that stuff on the couch and get comfortable, Ya'll." No one would know she was even sick. The only give-away was the multiple lines and tubes hanging from the metal "tree" into her arm. She starts exclaiming about how good the food is here at Northside and shows off a plate of grilled chicken, a perfectly baked potato and bright green veggies. My stomach starts growling immediately, but I have to stay focused on the purpose of our visit - to cheer Yvonne, share information and cards from the outside, and find out the status of the day's reviews and reports from the doctors.

So here I am. September 6 - Labor Day. My husband and the boys went to Mississippi to visit family. I was supposed to go, too. But I couldn't leave my sister-friend in a hospital room alone while everyone was barbecuing and partying. It wouldn't feel right. So I packed an overnight bag, some books and my journal and, after church, a nap and a pedicure, I made my way to the Bone Marrow unit at Northside Hospital.

My mom, brother and his wife came and hung out with us for a while during the evening. We laughed and talked like we were at one of our houses. Eventually, they left and Yvonne and I went to sleep - well, as much sleep as you can get while nurses come and go testing, squeezing, poking and proding. I, of course, slept through it all - it's a gift.

She's eating breakfast, I'm blogging and we're watching Good Day Atlanta. The exact same thing we'd be doing at one of our houses on a lazy Labor Day morning.

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