Cancer, hepatitis or a very serious virus, several times they changed the diagnosis: “I don’t want my daughters to forget me if I die”
Within two years, Agustín Machado (46) suffered various episodes, four in total, in which he raised a fever. The first time, in November 2016, he says, he took Paracetamol and his temperature returned to normal levels. The second time, in January 2017, he also had spots on the skin on different parts of his body, so he decided to go to a dermatologist who told him that this rash would go away on its own. And so it happened.
“The previous episodes had been growing in intensity. In one of the last ones, they had had to give me a Decadrón to calm me down and the fevers reached 39/40 degrees. I had done studies and also consulted, but they always told me that the fever was due to various issues such as stress, liver attack, fatigue, sun, viruses that are going around. Some time later, I understood that the doctors had not paid attention to the inconsistencies in the studies,” says Agustín.
However, in January 2017, while at his parents’ house, he began to feel pain throughout his body. “The memory I have of that day and until the moment of the diagnosis is that I already suspected that something serious was happening. The repetitions of the fevers were not normal. In any case, being such strong fevers, he did not react strongly to failed diagnoses. I was in another world.”
After that painting, Agustín underwent a blood test that did not give a good result and a tomography that determined that the spleen was larger than normal. However, the family’s consulting physician dismissed those results and attributed everything to a virus.
In April of that same year, Agustín went to the guard at the Las Lomas Sanatorium where a fever specialist treated her. “The doctor felt me and did not acknowledge receipt of anything. Afterwards, he didn’t want to do a blood test. They did it to me thanks to the fact that two other doctors saw me very badly in the shock room and insisted on doing the study. When the blood result was back, the fever doctor insisted that everything was fine and took the study. When Angie (his wife) went to look for him and saw his condition, she ran to get a copy of the study which she later passed on to a clinician friend who, in two seconds, told us that the results were wrong.
Until that moment Agustín led a normal life like any man of his age. He was married to Angie and enjoyed their two daughters: Cata and Martu. At work, he had moved away from journalism and had a software company with a friend. In addition, he very much enjoyed spending time with his parents and siblings and often played tennis with his friends.
At the Adventist Clinic, he says, they did all possible tests to determine what was wrong with his body. The blood did not show good values and it was determined that there was a high probability of suffering from an oncological disease. “I already saw something like this coming, it was really very bad and I was in a wheelchair all day going from here to there or in a bed inside the Shock Room. There they tried to lower my fever with Paracetamol. But there came a time when it no longer had an effect and they began to put several ice packs on me that helped keep the fever from going above 40 degrees,” he recalls.
When he was transferred to the Diagnostic Institute, Agustín did not know what his diagnosis was either. At that moment, he confesses, he began to think about the end and how surprising death was. “I don’t want my daughters to forget me if I die. I was thinking of infantile amnesia, whose characteristics Freud detailed, where the little ones forget their childhood. While the theory, I think, says it’s around five years, I think it lasts longer. I imagined that possibility as certain, especially since my daughters were between three and seven years old. I have friends who were orphaned and have no memory of their parents. Just a few flashes. I was never afraid of dying. It is not an idea that I like, but I accept it as part of life. Anyway, being something so sudden, I didn’t have much time to think either. Perhaps, if I had a terminal illness that lasted a long time, my attitude could be different. In any case, I strongly believe in the attitude of resignation in the face of the inevitable”.
Beyond the worries, the uncertainty and the fears that Agustín felt, Angie and her daughters were the three engines that drove him to be more patient and optimistic while waiting for that diagnosis that, being hospitalized, had not yet arrived.
The possible diagnoses specified by the doctors were cancer, hepatitis or a very serious virus. “From the faces that the doctors put on me, the outlook was very bad and during the first two days I even thought that it was the end,” he confesses.
Only after eight days of hospitalization did they give him the news. He suffered from Type B Non-Hodgkin Leukemia (also known as lymphoma) in the Splenic Marginal, a disease that was treatable, so Agustín experienced a sense of relief. It seemed that after so many twists and turns the uncertainty was over. To be cured of the disease he would have to be operated on to remove his entire spleen, and then he might need chemotherapy.
During the hospitalization, Agustín had to be isolated to prevent any virus or bacteria from complicating your situation. “The measures were quite strict since leukemia takes away your defenses and any virus can wreak havoc on your body. Every morning the room was deep cleaned. All the people who entered did so with a mask and cleaned their hands with alcohol before entering.
While waiting for the surgical intervention, Agustín could not get it out of his head that in a few days it would be the wedding of one of his brothers in Cartagena (Colombia). As the doctors authorized it, he finally traveled with his wife. “The trip to that wedding was unconscious. I had almost no defenses and could have grabbed anything. I can say that I was very careful not to hug anyone or shake hands, something that is a virus-transmitting factor. Some people were offended, they understood that I was being stiff and they didn’t pay attention to my explanations. They came to tell me ‘but if I’m bathed, clean, I’m not going to dirty you or transmit anything’. At various times I wanted to go back and cursed being there. I was quite afraid of grabbing something. Luckily nothing happened and the trip became an incredible and unrepeatable experience”.
Upon returning from Cartagena, Agustín found out that the study that had been carried out on his bone marrow was not complete in the first pathology. It had to go through the microscope of the hematologist and two machines.
So, she had a consultation with a haematologist who was recommended to her in order to make a better decision since Isolda Fernández, the Fundaleu haematologist, had told her that it made no sense to operate and insisted that, although everything pointed to lymphoma of the b, Pathology was incomplete.
“It was a very good thing because it turned out to be a more benign leukemia than the one previously diagnosed and the treatment was faster. The diagnosis changed because a new pathology was made and the protocols were respected. I didn’t have much time to think because as soon as the pathology was confirmed they admitted me. There was no time to lose. I thought, until then, that I would have a few days to organize myself, but no. `You have hairy cell lymphoma, in two hours we are waiting for you to be hospitalized,` Isolda told me. I said goodbye to the girls and went to hospital”.
Gone was the diagnosis he had received before traveling to Colombia, as well as the operation that was going to remove his spleen. Finally, Agustín had to undergo seven chemotherapy sessions of 23 hours each.
“I was connected to the machine all week. Day and night. Later, I was left without defenses and a virus entered me, so I stayed for more than 10 days fighting the fever, plugged into the machine, where they tried different antibiotics to defeat the virus. Luckily, the defenses were recovering and after 10 days my body was able to heal itself. I don’t have much memory of those days with the virus since I spent almost every day with very high fevers and dozed off as much as I could. In total, I was hospitalized for about 20 days.
Agustín does not know if he clung to something or someone special when enduring everything that had happened to him in recent weeks. He says he got carried away. However, Angie’s presence was fundamental not only emotionally, but also practically. “She knew more about the disease than I did. She kept the house spotless 24 hours a day during my stay at home and used all her energy so I could focus on getting mine back. The girls were very scared. They cried when we dropped them off at school. The youngest cured me every night with her set of doctor toys. In any case, they were always aware of the process and knew how to behave at all times. They matured suddenly and, at the same time, remained girls. Luckily, everything went back to normal.”
In 2020 Agustín decided to write Chronicles to be reborn, a book in which he recounts in real time each of the moments he had to face from the first hospitalization until his cure. “I had always wanted to make a novel happen, but had never succeeded. He started the stories and left them unfinished. I still do. The disease gave me the opportunity to have my first novel or fictionalized chronicle. He had a story that began and ended. On the other hand, it helped me to channel the intensity of the disease, something that I am still processing today.”
Agustín says that he is currently still with the same family and friends and that he is returning to journalism. “Little by little, the disease has become part of my memories, although I still have to have check-ups every six months. I try to enjoy the little things and I consider myself privileged because of the access to treatment I had”.