Neutropenic Fever (and no, that’s not some slang phrase for something you want)

So, in case you don’ t know the vocabulary yet, this low count of white blood cells is called “neutropenia” or being “neutropenic”. When your WBC is this low, what you are hoping to avoid is “neutropenic fever”, which is where you get a fever because of this. This is because you have developed infections due to the lack of white blood cells.

In terms of treatment, this meant that I got about 5 blood draws a day from that stupid place. No exaggerating! Every time I turned around they were after more blood. And they’d take vials and vials of it for testing. At one point I actually asked how much blood they could safely take in a day, cause I had a feeling they were getting close. And of course, neither of my arms were options for taking blood. My mastectomy arm is a no-no for blood draws, and the blood from my other arm would be diluted from the IV. This means I was a carnival of foot and hand draws. (Umm…can you say “OUCH?!” Well, add a few expletives to that and you’ll get close to what it makes you say.)

In another testament to the hospital, the kind blood-taking guy and I got to know each other relatively well. He seemed thrilled with the fact that I questioned whether or not he’d washed his hands the firt time he took blood from me. I’m glad he wasn’t offended, but from then on he liked to have little “informational chats” with me that went like this: “Do you know why I need to take you blood?”


He’d look at me skeptically. “Well, why is that then?”

“Uh, because you need to test and see if my WBC is up yet. And perhaps to test for infection.”

His eyes would light up. “Brilliant. Oh my you are so smart. My patients never know that stuff. Nobody cares. But you! You care.”

Well, DUH! Of course I care. You’re taking so much blood I’m worried abut imploding. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended the he thought that was a difficult question, or to be sad for him that he was around such unstimulating people all the time that knowing the answer made me seem extraordinarily smart. Other questions were things like, “Do you know why I’m using such a small needle?”….(repeat conversation above)


Me in the Joint hospital.

Personally, the neutropenia made me very tired, easily light-headed and – worst of all – scared. The thing is, with neutropenic fever, there’s not really anything you can do to prevent it. Sure you can avoid raw fruits and vegetables, for example, but then how does your body get the nutrients it needs to fight off infection? This sort of balancing act always weighed on my mind. And besides, steering clear of the raw goods is nowhere near a guarantee. With neutropenia, your WBC are often so low that the real danger is from the bacteria that naturally live in your body. This concept freaked me out a bit and made me feel helpless. I would privately wonder morbid things like, “has anyone died from chemo/neutropenia?”, already knowing the answer to be yes. Course, I didn’t think I was going to die from it! But when you feel that crappy, you can’t help but have a few of those passing thoughts, even if you don’t take them seriously.

Over the week in Hospital Hell, my friends saved the day as usual. No one even knew I was there, but somehow a few of them figured it out. I would not have made it without them. Not only did Del come to visit everyday, but my friend Tanya came. And you know what she did? She brought me food! Glorious food! My own food! To put in the little refrigerator in my room! (Something tells me this hospital is used to people bringing in outside sustenance.) And, as Tanya was a vegetarian, her meals were always well thought out, with maximum nutrition recipes. She also brought me goodies like peanut butter to snack on. My heart just warms at the memory of her – my food salvation!

She was also good company, of course. As was my Swedish friend Johanna. If nothing else, I can thank the hospital for giving us the opportunity to spend a lengthy visit alone. She must’ve stayed for 5 hours, talking about everything under the sun and laughing it up, like we rarely get the chance to. She got me over those last boring days with my book finished, no TV and my ability to sleep the day away now vanished with the artificially raised blood counts. In particular, I remember us joking about what size new boobies I should order when the time came! Now, there’s a topic that always cheered me up!

Coming tomorrow: the hair drama begins!



Filed under breast cancer, hair, humor, in praise of true friends, life, medical testing, this time LAST year

5 responses to “Neutropenic Fever (and no, that’s not some slang phrase for something you want)

  1. Sorry to hear that you had so many problems with your WBC. My wife had the opposite problem. Her blood count go so high she’s had problems with her blood clotting.

    I’m praying for you.

    BTW, cute glasses!


  2. Kurt

    it was amazing to find your website or blog. last october i was on mtx for something as stupid as arthritis.. and after a few months of my doctors not watching my bloodwork, losing 60 pounds in 3 months I developed soars on my arms in my mouth and was finally hospitalized hanging onto my life. so, i was in full failure in multiple systems. kidney, marrow red and white cells.. i was going downhill and fast. but i thought it was good to read from someone that had something similar in an experience. my hair, after nearly a year is growing back.

  3. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  4. Stephanie

    Did you ever get over your neutropenia? I was diagnosed with it a few weeks ago and have endured countless blood tests, a hospital stay, a near-constant fever…I just need to hear that you are all better so I can have some hope! Sorry you had to go through it too. It is so very difficult and frustrating, especially not being able to take care of my babies…

  5. lupe

    i have neutropenia but idont know really about it in my country that sidness is wear and i dont know what cant i eat or what can i do about it

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