December 17, 2003 – Wednesday
Early in the morning, I rented a car and drove out to West Paterson, New Jersey, to do a testimonial for a well-known grooming product. The interviewer asked me to explain why I liked the product and why others should buy it. It was unscripted, so I was able to talk about the product using my own words.
Around noon, after arriving home from the shoot, there were two messages on my answering machine from Dr. Dizon urging me to call her cell phone number as soon as possible. The urgency in her voice made me uneasy. Two days before, I’d visited her office for a follow-up appointment for some urology tests, which were fine. I then addressed my concern about the bruises that had been appearing on my legs in increasing numbers since Thanksgiving. My legs looked as if someone had constantly beaten me up—the bruises were everywhere.
After examining my legs, she immediately sent me down to the lab for some blood tests; and knowing that I was going to be leaving on the twentieth for my hometown, Tell City, Indiana, for the Christmas holiday, she gave me her cell phone number in case I needed to reach her. She also scheduled a follow-up appointment for the twenty-ninth. I went to the lab, had blood drawn, and walked home. I was concerned. The night before my doctor’s appointment, I’d gone online to research “excessive bruising”; and to my dismay, the first word I saw was “leukemia,” which understandably sent a wave of terror crashing through my body. Going into the doctor’s appointment, I was well aware of how serious this could be although I was still convinced it was innocuous—most likely a vitamin deficiency of some sort that could easily be remedied. Truth be told, I hadn’t been eating very well.
After listening to Dr. Dizon’s messages, I called her. She told me that the results of my CBC (complete blood count) were very bad. The counts for red blood cells, white blood cells, and hemoglobin were all low; and my platelet count had dropped to fifteen thousand. (A normal platelet count is 150,000-450,000 platelets per microliter of blood.) Dr. Dizon instructed me to go to the emergency room immediately. Stunned, I hung up the phone—the emergency room? Suddenly, my entire body was shaking with fear. I was supposed to meet my brother-in-law Dan for lunch, so I called him and asked that he meet me at Jersey City Medical Center.
At the hospital emergency room, the aides took my vitals then I waited to be registered. Because the doctor had made my situation sound so dire, I was getting nervous sitting there waiting to be processed, so I called Dr. Dizon again. She was angry that I was sitting in the waiting area because she’d called ahead to let them know to expect me. It seemed so surreal that not two hours before, I’d been shooting an on-camera television spot, and now I was sitting in an emergency room with an unknown diagnosis looming in front of me.
After hanging up, Dr. Dizon, via phone, facilitated my getting through registration and into the emergency room immediately. I changed into a hospital gown, and the tests began. Meanwhile, Dan had picked up my sister Barbara, and they both arrived at the ER about an hour and half later. Relief washed over me when Barbara walked into the room. Barbara is fourteen months younger than I and possesses the same small bone structure; she stands about five feet three while I measure about five feet two, and despite the fact that she has blonde hair and mine is light auburn, our physical similarity is undeniable.
She waited with me while the results were being processed. Not only did they draw blood, but they also ordered a chest x-ray and an electrocardiogram (EKG). Numerous other tests were conducted as well. Dr. Dizon arrived around 5:30 p.m. when the emergency room lab results came back. The Jersey City Medical Center’s CBC matched Dr. Dizon’s CBC results, except that there didn’t appear to be any blast cells. Dr. Dizon had seen blast cells on her results, and thus, she suspected leukemia. (Blast cells, per the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s informational booklet about acute lymphocytic leukemia, refer to the earliest marrow cells identified by the light microscope. Blasts represent about 1 percent of normally developing marrow cells. In acute leukemia, blast cells, similar in appearance to normal blast cells, accumulate in large numbers, perhaps up to 80 percent of all marrow cells.)
Dr. Dizon was not comfortable with my being tested for leukemia at Jersey City Medical so following my insurance company's instructions, she referred me to Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC), located in Hackensack, New Jersey. I was discharged at 6:30 p.m. and Dan drove Barbara and me to HUMC.
On the way there, I received a call on my cell phone from my friend Lynn, who is a nurse and lives in Rockport, Indiana. A few days earlier, I’d sent her an e-mail message in which I mentioned the bruising. Lynn was calling to check on me. I explained the situation to her, told her we didn’t know anything conclusive yet, and asked her not to say anything to anyone because my parents had no idea what was transpiring at the moment. After I hung up, Dan was compelled to inject a bit of levity into the situation by remarking, “Boy, some people will do anything to get attention!” We all laughed. As an actor, many times in the past, I would kid around with people about how I loved getting attention and how “it was all about me.” Unfortunately, this time, it was all about me; and I didn’t like it one bit.
Once at HUMC’s emergency room, I underwent the same barrage of tests that I had just completed that afternoon. I have never felt so poked, prodded, pricked, and x-rayed before in my life. It was a very long, frustrating, and scary day.
Dr. Dizon wanted the on-call physician at HUMC to admit me that night because she was afraid I could start spontaneously bleeding due to my low platelet count, which to me is an absolutely terrifying thought. The last thing I wanted to happen was to be sent home, start hemorrhaging, and bleed to death; I was determined to be admitted.
Barbara and Dan left around 1:00 a.m., and two hours later, I was finally transferred to a private room on the ninth floor of the Pavilion where I eventually fell asleep.