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Steve Collins Talks of IV Poles, Bathroom Tissue and Skimpy Gowns

Accounting Professor Reflects on His Stem Cell Transplant

Steve Collins

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“I brought my sense of humor and some patience, but left my dignity at the door. I didn’t need that. The sights, sounds, smells, and schedule of a hospital, not to mention the skimpy gown you have to wear, are not compatible with dignity.”

This is one of Steven Collins’ many observations, recollections and reflections regarding his two-and-a-half-year ordeal with myelodysplasia, a condition that affects the ability of bone marrow to produce sufficient mature blood cells to perform their normal expected functions.

Collins, an associate professor of accounting, describes this experience in a paper, “Reflections of a Stem Cell Recipient,” that appeared in the 2006 issue of “The Offering,” the University’s literary magazine.

He also was the subject of a television interview last year on Channel 5 in Boston.

“The piece aired for over two minutes, pretty long by TV standards,” he says. “We were all happy about how it turned out. I hope it helped spread the word about stem cell transplants and the need for donors.”

Collins’ medical odyssey began with a routine physical exam in January of 2003. The doctor detected a little anemia in the blood work and referred him to a hematologist/oncologist. The myelodysplasia was diagnosed a short time later.

Collins was treated primarily at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He was hospitalized at Brigham & Women’s, where DFCI sends its inpatients, four different times for a total of 85 days. (“But who’s counting?” he says.) When that transplant didn’t “take hold,” he was hospitalized twice more for a total of 45 days.

Of his observations and reflections on these experiences, Collins says, “Some are sobering, some humorous, but all are part of the range of experiences and emotions that we all must go through when we (or one of our loved ones) find ourselves in this position.”

Some excerpts:

Checking in. “ . . . you must bring your own, how shall I say it, ‘bathroom tissue.’ It’s bound to be softer than anything you’ll find on the inside. You can thank me later.”

Passing the Time. “Sometimes I’d go for days without reading a thing; at other times, I couldn’t put a book down. At times, one or more types of music were my salvation; at other times, I wasn’t interested.”

No Visitors. “I really didn’t want any visitors except my wife and daughter. They were the only ones with enough love and patience to put up with me.”

Worth Their Weight in Gold. Nurses. They are the patient’s main point of entry into the bureaucracy of a hospital. They also try to rally you with some kindness and good cheer when you aren’t at your best. . . Bless them all.”

(Sort of) Free at Last. (Regarding a rare visit to the lobby to see “people leading normal lives.”) “ . . . decked out in my robe, slippers and mask, and wheeling along my ever-present IV pole, I got on the elevator with my wife and pushed the ‘down’ button. Riding behind us were two doctors dressed in scrubs. When we reached the lobby, trying to provide a little levity, I said ‘Taxi. Taxi’ rather quietly as I left the elevator. My wife chuckled. The scrubs got off behind us. In a droll tone, one of them said, ‘You wouldn’t be the first,’ and walked away.”