What I learned about COVID-19 from Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Day 0 — This is the end

I’ve never written about this story before

I am not superstitious, except for when it comes to the story of my wife and family and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). I am active on social media and write technical blogs regularly, but have never written anything personal about my wife’s six plus year war against the boogeyman — Acute Myeloid Leukemia. I am going to tell some of the story today, because an AML Warrior on Twitter has been sharing his story the past three months and has given me the courage to write out loud.

This is not about me, and COVID-19 is not about you

I am not an AML Warrior. My wife is. My wife has been an AML warrior since July 2013. I lost track of the hospital visits, blood draws, rounds of chemo, blood transfusions, platelet transfusions and sleepless nights watching my wife in audible and visible pain hitting the emergency dispense button on the morphine drip.

July 2013 — I don’t need your sympathy

This is a battle in a continuous war. If you step in my wife’s hospital room then you have entered the front-lines and we do not need friendly fire. You need to listen and respect my wishes as someone who’s primary focus is doing whatever is necessary to increase the chances my wife will survive. I am her shield. You shall not pass unless I say so and you will follow my rules. You say you’re the new doctor here to take her vitals? I don’t care.

  • I need you to stay away if you have a cough, or are exhibiting anything that may only be an “allergy”. Not feeling like you’re ready to run a marathon and clean enough to perform heart surgery? Please just stay away.
  • Ready for a marathon, freshly showered, and wearing your cleanest clothes? Please wash your hands.
  • I need you to ignore any instincts you have. Ask me whether you should do something, before you instinctively do it. Going to shake hands? No. Hug? No. Kiss? WTF? No. Use my wife’s dedicated bathroom? No. Bring my wife flowers? No. Any other instincts you have? No.
  • Please wash your hands.
  • You need to perform any standard procedure on my wife? Wash your hands. Put on a mask. Put on gloves. Oops, accidentally touched your face instinctively with the gloves on? Take the gloves off, wash your hands and put on new gloves.

I am Unbreakable

When I was a teenager, I was in two near-death car accidents.

AML humbled me

I spent a lot of time partying and going to bars in my early twenties. After my two near-death car accidents in my teens, I wanted to enjoy life as much as I could.

I am not an expert or a hero, I am just a shield

Listen to the doctors and scientists and experts on disease control. You may not have an immediate risk of dying from COVID-19. The percentages might sound ridiculously low to you.

The Real Heroes

Remember, this story is not about me, and it is not about you. This story is about the real heroes of COVID-19 and AML and every other medical challenge we face as humans.

  • The kind and generous folks that donate their blood, platelets and stem cells to help others that they will most likely never meet.
  • The nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and hospital staff, and all of the medical support staff who give their day in and day out to provide our loved ones with the care they need to survive.
  • Your family, friends, and colleagues who help you and your family daily in numerous ways while you are on auto-pilot trying to shield your loved one, and provide for your family and make sure you have health insurance, a place to sleep, and food to eat.

This part is about you and me and choices we make

Are you going to a bar or event tonight to celebrate life? Do you know if you will pick up an invisible boogeyman to give to one of the heroes above?

My beautiful wife and AML Warrior who is the love and inspiration of my life — July 2013
Me and the love of my life in June 2019 — Thank you to all the heroes who made this picture possible!

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Donald Raab

Donald Raab

Java Champion. Creator of the Eclipse Collections OSS Java library (http://www.eclipse.org/collections/). Inspired by Smalltalk. Opinions are my own.