Top of the Hill
Racing the Ghosts on the Corners
By Kitty Delorey Fleischman
There’s just something about cars and speed. It’s always been part of my psyche. I liked it when Dad drove, because he’d pass other cars.
Mom almost never passed anyone—even on two-lane roads before the days of Interstates. When Dad would pass, she’d draw in her breath and say, “Oh, Don,” and gently touch his forearm. I never saw Dad do anything unsafe or impatient, so I had no qualms when he was at the wheel.
My own fascination with driving fast started in drivers’ ed in 1964 when Mr. Heim, our instructor, would allow me to drive only in second gear the entire time, telling me I had a lead foot. My daughter called me a lead-foot too, although I rarely had cars with enough power to challenge the speed limits, and many of my roads were dirt or gravel, which didn’t lend themselves to much speed.
All of that changed around 1988 after I’d been diagnosed with polycythemia vera, a chronic leukemia that was considered incurable. Apparently I’d had it for some time when it was caught before a blood donation. Looking at the sample under the microscope, the nurse said, “It looks funny.” That simple statement led to months of tests through my family doc and specialists, who tried to find out why it looked funny. Chasing up a lot of dead ends, they finally figured it out, and I was the first patient with polycythemia vera diagnosed in Idaho. For several years, it was treated with phlebotomies, where blood is drawn off to remove the extra cells, then is discarded. (One of the nurses gave me a wink and told me it had her roses thriving.) As the blood was drawn off, however, my marrow decided I needed yet more red blood cells and started making them even faster. By the time my blood looked like bad motor oil, thick and gunky, my doctor wanted to give me chemo, adding that an extremely high dosage was required, which wouldn’t cure it, but would slow down the progression of the disease—once. I refused, preferring quality of life over quantity. (Interestingly, later research suggested that the disease does not mutate to acute leukemia, but that chemotherapy may cause the mutation.)