Monday, November 17, 2014

"I Don't Think I've Seen You Here Before"

You would think that was a kind of pick up line, but if you thought that-you'd be wrong.

Well, wrong for the story I am about to tell you.

Without getting into the very navel-gazey kind of prose that is so rife on the internet today, I will just say that I often wonder if I'm the kind of person that invites perfect strangers to tell their tale-just by looking at me, or if perhaps everyone is a potential recipient of stories, but not everyone is up to the task, or even interested in interacting with strangers.

Yesterday, I was at a bingo afternoon for kids with serious medical problems and special needs.

When I first walked in, the room seemed terrifically multicultural, which was odd because it was meant to be a Jewish event. It turned out that the organizers got in touch with a couple of organizations that support kids, so there was the Jewish crowd and a whole bunch of kids affiliated with another organization. It was genuinely 'multicultural', not artificial or put on and it was quite energizing in a sense.

Now, I don't gamble ever, and I particularly cannot handle the stress of bingo, which some people obviously find thrilling. I find it excruciating! In fact, at the end of the day I was arguing with my eldest about whether or not bingo is gambling (which it certainly is, she said not). I do feel that all gambling is a math tax on stupid people. I hate gambling.

Anyway, I was sitting with one of my kids and a dad who was there with two of his kids looked at me and out of the blue said 'I don't think I've seen you here before'.

I said, perhaps not but we've been involved for a long time. He asked what my son's diagnosis was and I told him, and added that it's very rare, 1:350,000 and shared my standard line, that it's always rare unless it happens to you, or to someone you love.

He looked at me and smiled and said, that's quite right-because when it happens to you, it's 100%.

That's what happened to us, he said.

He introduced me to his kids, and said the youngest was at home with his mom, having a nap.

He had just gotten out of the hospital, after eight months of isolation. 

As soon as I heard 'hospital' and 'isolation' I knew this was going to be something very serious indeed.

He told me that about a year ago, his third child started to feel unwell, but as they were now three time parents, they weren't too worried-after all kids get sick. They eventually took the little one to the doctor, who sent them straight to the emergency room at a local hospital, and within 24 hours of the first doctor visit, the child was already getting his first treatment of chemotherapy for a very rare, extremely aggressive form of childhood cancer.

For them, it was 100%.

I could barely speak.

He continued.

Their only hope was to get the child into remission and find a bone marrow donor.

I know a little bit about this because a cousin of mine got cancer and then when a bone marrow donor was found the doctors could not get him back into remission and he died. Since that time, I have been on the registry and one time was called in for further testing on a potential match, but alas, was not a 6 point match.

They and their children were tested and miraculously, their oldest was a perfect match ("100% plus", he said) for bone marrow. It was particularly amazing, in the traditional sense of the word, because his wife was a convert to Judaism, meaning they had an entirely different genetic pool and background. (I understand that the genetics of matching is very complicated, and sometimes perfect matches come from very different genetic corners of the world, and often, sadly blood relatives are not matches.)

I noticed his accent and asked if he had family here. He said no, an aunt and a couple of cousins. I said and parents? He said no, his father died in 1999.

Again, I couldn't find many words to say, but it seemed to me that he wanted or perhaps needed more to talk.

He told me his oldest boy was named in honour of his father, and that his father passed away June 6, 1999.

Then he said, that the bone marrow transplant was held this year on June 6. He said the doctors told him they had never seen more robust marrow, ever.

I told him there are no coincidences and that they had surely received a miracle.

The middle child, he said, also wanted to donate to her brother, but was not a match. So instead, she made an IV bag full of decorations and stars and hearts, and they "dripped" it down to her brother, so that all her love would drip down to him. And he hugged her as he told me this part. For her part, she seemed puzzled at the attention, but I was mesmerized by the entire tale as I think only a fellow parent could be.

I was speechless as he told the story, and it's hitting me more today for some reason, probably because I have another little guy and his mom to visit in the hospital tomorrow on my break.

I'm sure I will see them again and I wish the whole family only good things and good health.

So, when someone says "I don't think I've seen you here before", it can mean a lot of things, depending on the context.

For me, on an otherwise loud, crazy, pizza-filled, prize-laden bingo afternoon, it was a soft-spoken prelude to being witness, or kind of a member of the club of sharing in a real, actual miracle.

You never know who you'll meet on any given day, the stories people may tell and their significance to you unless you listen.

I mean, really listen and learn.