Reaching the entrance of the Amazon's lair I wondered why I was, once again, mounting this assault. Had I learned nothing from yesterday? Were my wounds not sufficient, my uncoagulated blood, what little was left, not of enough value to keep me away? Apparently, I was not.

You could not enter from the front, they were too smart for that. A concrete wall with small nonopening panes of long narrow glass shaded liquid mint green and no door at all was all you could see when approaching from the front.

Glass doors, thick, deeply solid, granted entrance. Large heavy, strapped in metal, doors you didn't push to open. A button the size of your palm on a post three feet high, six inches square, ten feet from the door had to be depressed, allowing the gaurdians, after a long pause followed at last by the echoing click of secret mechanism at work, to slowly swing outward allowing escape, anxious for freedom, the palpable smell of antiseptic and sterility. Seared nostrils shriveling in their wake.

So confident were these Amazon warriors that no watch was mounted, no care was taken to insure strangers did not approach to close. No, they wanted you to come close, to be near, to allow them to spear you and drain you of your blood. They knew you would come. They knew I would come.

I could hear them sharpening their spears, chanting about the coming bloodletting and feasting, the rasp of metal on stone as the eight inch spear heads were honed so sharp the air itself bled as they sped towards their targets. Hurled by arms made solid as oak hurling lances of death, shafts big around as a june ripened plum and long, longer than the 7 foot tall Woman Warriors were, no one survived for long.

And yet, here I was, lucky to have survived yesterday's encounter, returning to allow them to spear me and drain me again. A testament to....what? That's what I wanted to know too.

To pump my blood into a machine the likes of which could faithfully companion that giver of life and wild electric displays of static conflagrations so lovingly wrought in the classic black and white movie, Frankenstein.

Wheels spinning, tubes of blood and plasma, anticoagulant and calcium looped and wound, intertwined with my veins and arteries, one replacing another until one continuous loop of liquid me coursing through twenty feet of tubing, whirled in a centerfuge, strained, drained, checked, rechecked, finally being restored to me somewhat lighter, 26F cooler, but not dizzy at all despite having been whirled over one thousand times a second for the last 4 hours, but lacking almost entire, stem cells.

Strapped to a plank, rough hewn and splintry, tied by each arm to a stake driven into the floor of the torture chamber, no doubt by the slaves whose moans and screams could be silently heard by any who chose to listen, held in place by branches lined with thorns the size of my thumbs armed by points that oozed and itched wherever they touched. There, I lay stretched, strapped, perforated, by any other name a sacrifice, an offering. To what I do not know, but such devotion as shown by these women of blood must be admired even if avoided if at all possible.

And so it goes, day by day until enough stem cells are harvested to replace twice over what will be killed in the final chemo treatments next month.

The nurses were actually really nice and excellent at their jobs. I was fortunate enough to become a story though, surprise surprise.

It seems that sticking one person six times in one sitting, getting a good vein and blood flow only to have that vein collapse, six times, is not the norm. In fact, in all the years one of them had been doing this type of work, she had never seen anyone have to be stuck so many times.

Comical it was. First one nurse poked me twice, each time hitting the bullseye. Each time having the vein collapse. She got "gunshy" and asked another nurse over. She tried twice, have the same success and same failure and following in suit, called over another nurse who, trying once, hitting dead center, having good flow, and then, duh duh duhhhhhhh, seeing the vein collapse. She then called over THE nurse for these types of things.

After thwacking the back of my hand, exactly on the spot of a previous failure, yup it hurt, and tapping up and down my cotton pocked arm, she flips over my hand, says she feels this is the right one, and jabs a teeny tiny little needle into a skinny blue vein. Success. Blood flows. The hookup so the machine could be fed my life's essence and thwacka thwacka pumpy pumpy the harvest begins again.

These stem cells, the building blocks of all cells, will be returned to me to help jump start my ability to make white blood cells to fight off anything after the marrow transplant. After the last chemo treatment next month I will have zero ability to heal until they go to work.

As usual, I was lucky in the harvesting. It only took two days to get what they needed. My understanding, though my fluency in Amazonian is not what it once was, (those years in the tropics make for some fine fireside tales long ago thought they took place) is that this is not the norm, many are there 4 or 5 or more times before an adequate amount is collected and that some never collect enough.

A plethora of tests have been my source of joy this past week or so. PET scan, CT scan, pulmonary testing, more blood tests than I thought I had blood to be tested, EKG and a couple of others I don't remember of the top of my head.

I haven't gotten results from most yet, but there has been improvement. I also had a surprising number of white blood cells. So, as usual, it's not as bad as it could be.

On that note though, let me say a little bit about the drug nupegen. It's a gnarly beast. Injected into the belly or upper thighs, daily, it stimulates the body to produce surplus stem cells. The regimen normally starts with injections 4 to 5 days before first attempt at harvest. It's known to make the long bones hurt. (more on this in a bit)

I should have known when the FIRST thing the nurse in charge of teaching me to inject myself said, "you have to tell us what your pain level is on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being slight and 10 being extreme."

No one had mentioned that there was pain involved. "We don't know how you feel," she went on, "if you're in pain all the time you might be used to it and we need to know so we can take care of you."

Such wonderful encouragement. So dumb was I that I still didn't make the connection. No one had said this drug will make some of your bones, long bones like your sternum and spine and your skull, hurt like someone was folding them over and over. And, of course, the obligatory excess production of hydrochloric acid in my cast iron, HA, stomach which was also inevitable.

I finally figured it out the night my sternum thought it was an origami folding paper with delusions of becoming a swan then flying far away and my spine had ambitions of Ruling all Slinkydom by being better able to bend and twist and slink, all while remaining, in essence, my spine, than any other wound metal wire in the world. Luckily, again, it was brief, lasting only a few hours a few times.

And so, here we are. Just a few more tests in the next month, a few more gallons of blood sent off an ounce at a time and then, then, well..... then we'll see.