I was asked recently to write about the best gift I ever gave or received. I thought about writing a very profound post about my husband’s shocking, frightening, and miraculous double lung transplant which occurred in September of 2013…but instead, I think I will just say it like it is, without the bells and whistles and profundity. After 2 weeks on the transplant list, and 2 more weeks on life support, I can easily tell you the best gift I ever received: new lungs for my husband. Without that gift, he would not be here.
The gift is, and was, multifaceted. Number one, Randy is alive and breathing. The gift given by the donor and the donor’s family benefited untold numbers of people. It benefited me, by giving my husband a second chance at life, and giving US a second chance to be together. Number two, it benefited several other organ recipients who were receiving the heart and liver in other operating rooms, and their loved ones, with whom we shared that waiting room. Number 3, it benefited everyone who cares about our family, and after the prayers and love and assistance and positive energy that came our way, apparently there are a lot of people who care, which is a gift in itself! But, number 4 is the most cherished aspect of the gift.
The transplant returned their father to my children, Wes, 23, and Alexandra, 26. The hardest part of the entire surrealistic event was witnessing the agony of my children. To see their suffering was the worst experience of my life, and between you and me, I’ve had a few bad moments. They truly believed he was going to die, and they would never be able to talk to him again. The kids have inherited Randy’s “less than optimistic” view of life (that is putting it very nicely) while I tend to view life through the lens of optimism. I have friends who would tell you that I am “idealistic”, meaning unrealistic and on another planet, but I agree with George Carlin when he says that behind every cynic is a disappointed idealist. I confess that I do have a very stubborn idealism, but I also say I have a fairly well tuned intuition working for me. It never really seemed possible, or realistic, that Randy would actually die. I had other friends who felt that way, too. Friends who texted me the night before Randy would get his lungs and said, “I just don’t believe he will die. It isn’t his time.” The spiritual implications of that are best explored in a future post, but that was exactly how I phrased it as well, “It isn’t his time.” Wes and Ally did not have that hope.
It has always been a conundrum for me, is it better to be prepared for loss, or to lose someone quickly? There are arguments to both sides, and we’ve heard them all, so I won’t elaborate on them here. Randy’s decline happened so rapidly that no one was prepared or expecting such a drastic turn of events. He was not even on oxygen! Most people on the transplant list are more than somewhat debilitated, on oxygen, not living active lives. 3 weeks before Randy was on life support he was snorkeling and walking in Mexico for exercise, daily! Yes, we knew there was a breathing problem, and it had been diagnosed as sarcoidosis, but one of the top sarcoid doctors in the country said he did not think it was sarcoid. He recommended a biopsy. We explained to our young adult children that we needed more testing. 4 days before that biopsy was scheduled, Randy crashed, and the lung function he lost in just a couple of days was irretrievable. In another couple of weeks, another crash put him on life support for almost twelve days. Everything happened so fast, like a row of dominoes going down. It was an episode of the Twilight Zone.
Wes and Ally were devastated. I don’t know any other way to put it. While Randy was on life support, Ally would come to the hospital and work from the waiting room, while Wes would dash in, and dash out, unable to stay because he knew there was nothing he could do. When I was able to let them know there was a 90% chance suitable lungs had been “found”, their hope was rekindled. Even though they are (mostly) grown up, they are still my babies, and seeing the fear and the horror and the desperation in their faces was truly horrific. I cared more about their reactions and emotions than I did for my own, because I so easily put myself in their place, I lost my dad when I was 25. It is terrible to lose a parent at any time, but to lose them young is beyond sadness. The grandchildren my dad never saw, the lack of time, the knowledge that there could have been so much more to his life, to our lives. It is a sadness that anyone who has lost a parent before their time knows well.
Randy is doing well, remarkably well for a guy who was about as close to the end as one can get. (And it was not Sarcoid, it was IPF, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, one of the worst lung diseases you could ever be diagnosed with). Seeing the joy on the faces of my children when their Dad came out of surgery was the best gift I have ever received. Normally I prefer to be the giver…but being on the receiving end of a gift that kept my family together has truly been the gift of a lifetime.