Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Everything Working in Concert

     My favorite music group is Dave Matthews Band. They are the band I requested to be played as I entered the OR prior to my transplant. I have seen them five times in concert, and starting three years ago, I'd made it my vow to see them every time they rolled through Michigan on their annual summer tour.  However, in 2013, I was still adjusting to being on oxygen, which I either had to carry or drag behind me on its little luggage cart style stand.  I was in the process of getting a scooter when the tickets went on sale, and I decided it was just too much to try to go to a venue where I wasn't even sure about the accommodations they have for disabled people.  I remembered vividly that when I went in 2012, the walk to the entry gate was long, the stairs were extremely steep, and the bathroom was down another huge flight of stairs.  So, after missing the concert in 2013, I was committed to making it work the following summer.
     Thankfully, I'd become more capable of getting around even though my health was declining as I neared the anniversary of one year on the transplant list.  Our tickets didn't go to waste, as I was feeling well enough to go on the day the concert arrived.  We used the handicapped parking area, and it was a just a short, stair-free scooter drive to the disabled seating area, which is directly behind the covered pavillion at the DTE Energy Music Theater, Dave's most frequented performance venue in Michigan.  Everything went so well that night, and I even got up out of my seat and danced briefly with my wife to "Crush," the one song we didn't play at our wedding, but wished we had.  She wouldn't call herself a "fan" of DMB, but she went with me because she's an awesome wife.  It turned out to be a fantastic experience, and as we drove home, I imagined what the coming year would bring, and what shape I'd be in when the band came through the Detroit area the following year.  Little did I know I was two months away from getting "the call."  

     With about six months of successful recovery behind me, I bought tickets in February, and felt confident my wife and I would be able to go come July 7.  A few months before the concert, my wife was informed that her graduate school class met for the first time that night, so we found someone else to join me.  Her cousin's wife, however, had a last minute change in plans, so I ended up going to the concert by myself.  Which was totally no big deal, even though sympathy for my "plight" was coming in from all angles.  Hey, I was seeing my favorite band.  Nothing to worry about.  

     I also had a plan to spread the word about how grateful I am for my successful double lung transplant.  In 2012, I invented a game called "DMBingo," partly because I was going to the concert with my friend / former student teacher, and two of her friends, who'd I'd never met.  It seemed like a good way to break the ice, and they all liked it.  The basic idea is that it's a bingo board with information in each square that is unique to a Dave Matthews Band concert experience.  A few people have posted images of DBMingo sheets to Instagram, but all of them have songs written in the blanks, whereas mine has squares such as "Dave mentions being environmentally conscious," "The band plays a song that is longer than ten minutes," and "Dave sings a lyric that mentions an animal."  All things that a fan of his music would expect to hear and know to listen for.  I made about 20 copies of three different versions of the board, and took along roughly that many Gift of Life pens, which I had left over from an official GOLM activity I did in June.  I figured this was an excellent opportunity to do some non-official awareness raising.

     After I'd found a spot on the lawn and been "adopted" by a couple who was sitting behind me (who turned out to be friends with someone I know and live in the town I work in (small world!)), I walked around the lawn, handing people in twos or threes copies of the bingo board, which had a short blurb about how last year, I was at this concert on oxygen and using a scooter.  I suggested in the same little paragraph that with their driver's liscense and a smart phone, they could register to be an organ and tissue donor in roughly one minute while they waited for the concert to start.  Only one pair turned down me down when I offered them a bingo sheet, but who could resist when I told them that the winner got to keep the Gift of Life pen?

     As I was almost running out of materials, one person I gave DMBingo to told me that she'd donated her kidney to her dad a few years ago.  The very last couple I approached knew a girl with Cystic Fibrosis and were fascinated to hear some of the details of my transplant experience.  It felt awesome to find a way to bridge my passion for getting more people on the donor registry and my enjoyment of seeing my favorite band in concert.  As I walked around, climbing up the steep hill which provides the "lawn seating" numerous times, never once feeling winded or needing to stop, I marveled, as I so often do in moments large and small, about what an impact my donor has had on my life.  

     The songs that night, which so often touch on the themes of both love and death, repeatedly connected with me on a level they hadn't previously.  Though my favorite song, "Dancing Nancies," wasn't on the set list, it perfectly captures how all of us wonder about the alternative paths our lives could have taken.  The song has always spoken to me, but now, when I consider what might have been, I do it from the other side of the question.  Of course, I'm not cured of Cystic Fibrosis.  I haven't become a person free from health issues.  But its often easy to forget those things in my day to day life.  The question of, "Could I have been anyone other than me," seems moot.  In ways both literal and figurative, I am.

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