Friday, October 16, 2015

A Detailed Glimpse

I wrote this to help promote the Vita Redita, a fundraiser held annually by the University of Michigan to raise money for the Transplant Center. It is now sold out!  I am so excited for this opportunity.

What follows is a more detailed account of some of the more memorable moments during my recovery:
     Colors swirled in a kaleidoscope that only I could see.  Whenever I closed my eyes, the hues would shift and change.  As the experience continued, animals emerged from the colors.  A charging gray rhino.  Several yellow jungle cats.  Later, the images bursting from the colors were of my son and nephews, sharing rainbow candies.  These hallucinations were the most interesting aspect of my recovery following a bilateral lung transplant at the University of Michigan just over one year ago.  
     Induced by the litany of medications I was on to keep my body healthy while minimizing the pain, the visions only occurred when I closed my eyes, which kept me from sleeping.  I assumed (incorrectly) that wearing a sleep mask would eliminate the problem.  When I asked the nurse for one, he supplied it with remarkable speed, as if he’d been anticipating my request.  When it didn’t help at all, he gave me some simple but remarkably effective advice:  “Keep your eyes open until you fall asleep—and then if that doesn’t work, just go with it.”
     Looking back, “just go with it” became somewhat of a mantra for the rest of my 20-day stay, split between the ICU and the main floor.  Few stories capture this better than when my nurse had to clear a blockage in the feeding tube that was placed into my stomach through my nose due to my swallow being too weak to eat.  I saw him put a can of Diet Coke on a table.  Perhaps he was thirsty, I thought.  Then I watched him draw some up in a syringe.  Odd, but far be it from me to tell someone how to consume a beverage.  Then he walked up to me with it and explained that this was the most effective way to clear the blockage.  I decided to “just go with it,” and he injected the fizzy brown liquid into the tube.  The blockage was removed, and I could “eat” again.
     The day I left the hospital, my wife wheeled me out to the spot where she could bring our van around.  I sat there, enjoying my first moment outside in three weeks, and a thought struck me:  the last time these lungs took a breath of fresh air, they belonged to someone else.  When the full reality of it hit me, I vowed never to lose sight of the magnitude of the gift my donor gave me, or the loss my donor family will feel forever more.  Nothing I can do will everl replace the son, daughter, brother, or sister who left this earth too soon, but I can pay tribute to my donor and the donor’s family through the life I live.   
     In the year since the transplant, I have resumed doing many of the things I was able to do prior the day Cystic Fibrosis furthered its progression to the point that it rendered my lungs incapable their former “glory”-- I use that word loosely because I'd been hovering around 30 percent lung function for several years prior to needing a transplant.  After a little over a year on the waiting list, constantly tethered to a nasal cannula providing supplemental oxygen, even doing something as mundane as putting on my socks without getting wrapped up in a cord made me grateful.  At my nephew’s birthday party four months ago, my son’s balloon got away from him.  Before he could respond, a steady breeze and helium conspired to take it into the next county.  But I took off running, and with a leap thrown in for good measure, captured the balloon’s string.  I can now run like the wind, and able to be the sort of father and husband that I've always wanted to be.
     I am also returning to another role that the need for a transplant temporarily took from me.  My ten year career as a teacher was put on hold in February of 2013, but as of September, I am back in the classroom, part time, teaching English—the job I knew I wanted since I was in tenth grade. 
     I’m looking forward to a year of “normalcy” after the past two years redefined that word for me on multiple occasions.  I will make the most of my second chance at life by squeezing the most out of every opportunity I have, and by never missing a chance to express the unending gratitude I feel toward all of the people who have buoyed me to this point—my family, friends, colleagues, medical professionals, and even strangers who've learned of my story through my writing or when I have spoken on behalf of Gift of Life Michigan.  I thank every one of them for being in my corner.  I will continue to “just go with it,” and always take my gratitude with me.

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