All Aboard!

“It’s my experience that most folk who ride trains could care less where they’re going. For them it’s the journey itself and the people they meet along the way. You see, at every stop this train makes, a little bit of America, a little bit of your country, gets on and says hello.” ― David Baldacci, The Christmas Train

Since we first traveled by Amtrak on our honeymoon, we’ve been enamored with train travel. Over the years, we’ve taken a number of family trips, culminating in our month-long travels via Amtrak in one giant loop from New York to Arizona to LA to San Francisco to Seattle to Chicago to New York. We visited a number of our beloved National Parks and revisited cities we’ve enjoyed before as well as going to new places and seeing new amazing sights. From deserts to rainforests, coast to coast, north to south. And each leg of the trip was by train.

Over the years, as we’ve dined on the train we’ve seen wild mustangs run beside us. Lying in our sleeper cabin, we’ve peeked out at midnight as we cross the Rockies with the moon lighting the snow covered trees. The Rio Grande, Sangre de Christo Mountains, Glacier NP, waterfalls of the Cascades, farmland of the plains… so many memories.

There’s a magic, too, to the names of the routes… Sunset Limited, Coast Starlight, Lake Shore Limited, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief. They lure you with the promise of magical adventures that don’t disappoint.

We had no idea that, other than our photos that we bring with us in our bag of tricks, these experiences would bring us comfort and familiarity.

We prepped for Rich’s admittance on Monday morning. We were a little apprehensive as we weren’t sure exactly if we were good to go. Somewhere along the line, we forgot, for the first time, one of our appointments. We did a very good job, apparently, of ignoring cancer as we enjoyed our weekend with family. We had no idea if this would affect today’s admission to NSH for the month of little rooms in the little hall since it was the weekend and there was no recourse at that point anyway. Ultimately we learn that missing one of the three injections is not a huge problem.

So, with Rich’s cousins once more taking us to the hospital…giving him a send-off complete with a lei to match his Hawaiian shirts… we drive off with Nick ringing the farewell bell that is our family tradition when someone is going off on a trip or returning to THEIR home far from our home. It was only this morning we rang the bell sending Richard on his way as he drove off, having spent the weekend with us.

And then the day of waiting begins….

We’re in a temporary room. We’re waiting for a patient on the transplant unit to be discharged and the room sanitized.

All day, every few minutes, a cart goes by our door.

Earlier today, we hoped it was lunch.

Invariably it was someone coming to take vitals, to introduce themselves, to give us their card, to drop off yet another bottle of lotion/mouthwash/drinking cups.

Finally lunch at two followed shortly by dinner …at four.

Three o’clock scheduled for triple-lumen catheterization… so they took Rich to surgery at 5pm. Shortly after, the nurses come by and are disappointed that their patient is not in the room. I fear they will take MY vitals. VITALS MUST BE TAKEN!

An hour and a half later and our Borg now has one more installation complete. The assimilation continues. A nurse follows in immediately to take the vitals. Always the vitals.

They now begin the pre-chemo. This means gowns and gloves in our temporary room for all but the patient. As I type with gloves, I realize that it’s harder than I thought… especially since I’ve chosen a size too small. Note to self.


They take bloods to once more cross match and type in case of any transfusion needs. You can’t receive blood products without having that done within 48 hours. Monday/Wednesday/Friday are the bloodwork days. They begin the pre-chemo infusions of saline, Zofran, Ativan, Decadron… that’s the one that brings back our barking seal. Thorazine STAT!

They prepare him to move to our prescribed little room in the little hall. But the preparation takes longer than we thought as the cleaning is very thorough… it’s not until 9pm that we begin our move. Gowns and gloves come off, all our stuff is moved to our little room in the little hall. Gowns and gloves back on. A baseline EKG is done so that any heart effects of the beneficial poisons can be established. Vitals, again vitals, are taken and recorded.

Our room is remarkably like a cabin on Amtrak… very self-contained with low ceilings and a curtain for a door. The walls are perforated with the air exchange coming through the perforations. It creates a constant white noise not dissimilar to the air systems on the train. We begin to feel like this journey is a familiar one. That feeling is even stronger when our bag of tricks that is always with us is unpacked and our travel pictures decorate our room like windows to the American landscape …the train travel illusion even more complete.

The room is modest in size. There is no closet, but instead a bank of shelving on either side of the large bed. Under one shelf is a bar fridge. On one side of the bed is the recliner where overnight guests sleep or the patient relaxes during the day. On the other an armchair and another small guest chair. The IV stand is a double with two full poles of hooks. The rolling bed table, the every-present vital machine and a small night table for clothing take up much of the floor space. There is a small corner of the room with a vanity and sink and a curved curtain hanging from the ceiling. Hidden within the vanity cabinetry is the toilet. This economy and efficiency of space continues to remind us of our Amtrak travels. We pray these memories will support and entertain us as our stem cell ride continues.


Another round of vitals taken. The chemo bags are hung, along with Rich’s lei, on the IV poles. The nurses leave. It’s now close to midnight. Rich has fallen asleep. The only thing missing is the rocking of the train.

Our journey has once more begun on a new track. But a new track that feels like home.

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