In the spring of 2011, during a routine blood analysis, it was discovered that I had a very low white blood cells count. I need to explain that in France, we have ones a year a checkup by a special doctor during the time we are in activity. For me, as I was working as a chemist for a government agency at the Curie Institute, I had this twice a year.
I was sent to an hospital for further investigations. I had a myelogramme, which showed that I had MDS. The three lines of blood cells were affected, which was kind of unusual. The “special doctor” at Curie outlined the fact that it was possible to make a link between MDS and the use of benzene. At this time, I did not use benzene anymore, but I had used it years ago, and in small quantities anyway.
Of course there are no ways to prove anything. In fact, there are other factors which can be responsible of the disease (beside the genetic propensity of course), like previous chemotherapy, radiotherapy, exposition to radiations. In fact, during 9 years I was exposed to “low level of irradiation” in the office at the Curie Institute. My desk was located just above a radioactive spot, probably a radium contamination. There were several other “spots” in the room, which means that we were exposed to radon too, coming from the radium decay. The concentration of radon in the atmosphere was never measured (too late now as the radioactive spots have been cleaned!). It was also discovered during the cleaning a big spill of mercury below the wooden floor. So we were also exposed to mercury vapor! Conclusion: back in the old good times, researchers had low ability as experimentalists! (In fact, we learned that the office we were in was a “physics lab” and that the researcher worked on radium-mercury alloys!).
After some time, I lost the possibility to do organic synthesis because the doctor forbade me to use solvents. It was hard, as I enjoyed so much working by myself in the lab… Even, for my following yearly visit to Boulder (Dept of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Prof.D. Walba’s team), I did not enter the lab I used to work in: it was so heart braking…
I retired in April 2015, but got an emeritus status so I could come to the lab and do some writting and no real chemistry.
However, during all those years the situation regarding my blood analysis did not change that much, just a slow decrease of the red blood cells and the platelets (the neutrophil count was so low from the start that it could not change much :-)!).
Then, when we came back from Boulder on mid-december 2015, everything changed. When I did my regular analysis, 3 days after coming back home, we discovered that I had anemia. So I did a red blood cells transfusion in a kind of emergency. My count of platelets had also dropped and was also a concern for the doctors. It was early January 2016, and in less than a few months everything had changed…