Saturday, August 01, 2009

The runaway shopping cart CLL fitness test

On Tuesday night we were at Bashas', our favorite local supermarket, which is built on a sloped lot. After we loaded the car with groceries, our shopping cart, to make a long story short, escaped. It was heading downhill, and at first looked like it would come to rest against a metal railing. But the gimpy wheel that had annoyed us during our trek through the store came into play, setting the cart on a subtle curve right toward someone's car, and it was picking up speed as it went.

It would not be right, I thought, to allow it to bang up someone's vehicle, so I took off after it, running as fast as I could. I caught up with it about three feet from the car it was heading for, which I saved from a scratch or a dent. I was not so lucky. As I grabbed hold of it, both it and I fell, me on my left side.

I bruised my shoulder, got some long scratches on my leg, and the bumpy asphalt was particularly unkind to the area just below and to the left of my knee. This was not helped by the fact that I was wearing shorts, leaving bare skin to come in contact with the ground.
I came away with a bloody sore about 2" by 2", part of it black.

Nurse Marilyn drove us home, I took a shower, and she administered Neosporin and a bandage to the wound. The next day we saw our primary care doctor, just to make sure everything was OK. This is where the CLL comes in, because if I did not have lowered immunity -- made worse by my neutrophils being at their nadir due to recent chemotherapy -- it's unlikely that we would have felt the need to be so cautious.

The doctor complimented Marilyn on her bandaging ability, and the black spot was determined to be asphalt, which had embedded itself in the skin, and which we were told would gradually work its way out as the wound healed. He was pleased to hear that I was on prophylactic Bactrim, which is one of the precautions I am taking while doing RCD (Rituxan, Cyclophosphamide, and Dexamethasone) therapy for CLL and AIHA (autoimmune hemolytic anemia). Apparently, Bactrim is used to fight staph infections, among other things. I was sent away with a clean bill of health, or as clean as a CLL patient with a bloody sore can get.

One of my first reactions to the incident, besides "ouch," was to put it in the context of CLL. It was as if I had been subjected to an impromptu physical fitness test: Did I have enough hemoglobin to run at full speed and tackle a shopping cart? Were my platelets numerous enough to insure proper clotting of the wound? Was my immunity good enough to avoid infection? Have my bones survived steroid therapy well enough to avoid breaking or fracturing when my 200-pound body hits the ground?

I was pleased to have passed on all counts, and to know that I can still endanger myself by stopping speeding metal objects.
After awhile, one learns to take nothing for granted about life with CLL, especially after having lived with periods when the disease, in the form of its AIHA complication, has impacted my ability to do things like I used to.

There is a fitness scale for cancer patients, called the ECOG performance status, named after the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group. The scale runs from 0 to 5, with 0 being the best,
"Fully active, able to carry on all pre-disease performance without restriction." For most of my CLL life, I have been at that level. But the AIHA, with its red-blood-cell-destroying hemolysis, has put me at ECOG 1 or 2 at times. Two, for example, is ""Ambulatory and capable of all selfcare but unable to carry out any work activities. Up and about more than 50% of waking hours."

I suppose I am lucky that I am generally a 0, as the shopping cart chase demonstrated. I hope to avoid ECOG performance status level 5, which is described succinctly in the chart as "Dead." Those at level 5 don't put in much of a performance, evidently.


Randy Shannon said...


Glad you were not injured more seriously... It is amazing isn't is how CLL has permeated our every moment....our immediate concerns go there...

God Bless,

clay said...

It is really relevant that people should do some physical activities in order to be healthy all the time. People must always make it a point to spend some time for it.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the period shortly after I was first diagnosed with stage IV CLL, and merely walking slowly elevated my heart rate because of the anemia. I was walking our newly acquired puppy when she suddenly bolted and the leash broke free from my hand. She trotted off, and if not corralled I had no idea if we'd ever see her again.

So I started pursuing as fast as I could, which was normal walking speed. And I actually had to laugh at myself and the situation, because it hadn't been too many years before when I had been a good amateur runner and triathlete, and here I was not even being able to jog after a puppy.

Luckily, she stopped to smell some plants (or, more likely, some dog pee on some plants) and I was able to catch up.

Now, as it turns out, she's a world-wide celebrity:


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