It was four weeks ago today that I had my transplant! And today I enjoyed the longest workout at the treadmill room ever, and with the best oxygen saturations in my blood since… well, since 5-10 years!
Anyhow, Four weeks ago today someone had the generosity to donate their lungs to me… I think about that often…
It was 9:07am precisely when my cell phone rang at my bedside. I had just slipped into a nice dream about washing my hair when the phone woke me with a start. “Hello, this is Toronto General Hospital calling. We may have a set of lungs for you today. We need you to come to admitting right away.” At 9:08 am I called Tom at school, and thankfully he picked up as I announced into the phone… “Round Two!” This time, I was hoping, was no false alarm like back in September when we waited nearly twelve hours at the hospital only to be sent home disappointed and sans lungs. We were all hoping November 4th would be different! Still in bed, I used my phone to make a few calls, mostly about Gypsy-pony’s care, and one to my folks, telling them to hustle on down!
At the hospital I got admitted, xrayed, ECG’d, bloodsucked, swabbed, looked over, & autographed by the surgeon so quickly! As we were all sitting around feeling anxious, the door to my room swung open and Karen the nurse announced triumphantly, “1 pm O.R. time!” We all looked at each other with large eyes. Wow. Getting more real by the minute. I sneaked into the bathroom to have one last look at myself in the mirror. Wow. Eyes look you last! How momentous!
Soon I was wheeled down the hall, family in tow, towards the prep room for surgery. There I met the anesthetist for the day; a freckled lady and her team… there they dressed me in surgical pressure socks and put me on notice that I had but a few minutes till “go time”…. I caught sight of the surgical fellow eating a submarine sandwich. Breakfast of champs I hoped!
Now, saying goodbye to the ones who raised me wasn’t easy, but it all happened so quickly I just did it. I handed over my glasses for safekeeping. A hug from Mom over the side of the gurney cannot possibly encapsulate the love or gratitude one feels for the lifetime of unconditional love, or can it? Another hug from Dad who said he loved me (something Dad finds easier to express through car washes and greeting cards) with the added, “kick some butt!” , and then, turning to Tom, my sweet handsome groom, whose eyes were filled with tears of joy and fear and gladness and everything… Me, looking at him wondering if it’d be the last time, or just the last time with these lungs… But taking my eyes off him was very hard to do. This could be the start of something big! Then the stretcher started to roll away and I think I remember mother nervously joking, “I suppose I should be offended that she’s exchanging something I gave her!” (the lungs).
I pulled a smile, sort of excited and shy to roll into the OR and found it much smaller than I’d imagined. “Is this where it’s going to happen?” I remember asking. Despite my lack of glasses (I’m not that short sighted!) I saw a group of focused people all at work. Someone numbed my arm, started a line here and there, movement all around. I spoke up and said something nervous and silly along the lines of, “okay team, I’m a singer so lets hope the intubation goes well and I’m back singing someday, huh?!” Then the same freckled anesthetist from the prep room leaned over the bed and said smiling, “Everything’s going to be fine, I’m going to treat you like you were my own sister. In fact you kind of look like her!” And with that she patted me on the chest and brought around a white mask. “there’s just oxygen in here now, but I need for you to breath it in….” I believed her….
….and the next thing I knew I was waking up as in a dream afterward. It was almost like on a tv show where the edges go all blurry to indicate that the Hulk is just now awaking from his coma or something…. but I remember vaguely waking up and seeing Tom standing through the haze and I wanted to know, “was it real? Did it really happen? Was this a dream?” He told me yes. Wow. Yes. Apparently I wanted to know a LOT of stuff, but couldn’t ask because of the tube down my throat which was irritating. Imagine ALEX being unable to TALK?! I knew all that was to be expected and I was fairly stoned off my gourd so it was pretty funny trying to write notes to Tom and Mom…. sort of kept falling asleep mid sentence.
That night I kept worrying that I would stop breathing. My old body was still catching up to these new lungs which breathed so well! I got the tube out, which was uneventful thankfully too… but the main thing I kept asking was if I would stop breathing. A very dedicated nursing staff was by my side all that night. A kind nurse sat by my bed and said the “Lord is my shephard….” and somehow the night turned to day, and days to night, and bit by bit I got stronger. Some days it would seem like I didn’t get any better, just different challenges, but a month later here I am. So, evidently taking it day by day did work!
Some funny moments of the early days were the hallucinations the drugs gave me. I’ve never been a druggie so I found them quite bizarre…. bubbles on my wall (think Lawrence Welk!), a quickly spreading shag carpet on my ceiling, once a swarm of bugs, & a monkey with three bums… crazy! I also fancied I heard “We Are The Champions” by Queen, night and day for several days no matter what floor I was on. Go figure on that one. Nobody else heard it but me and so I began to realize I should stop telling people “I hear music…don’t you?” or they’d think I was a right loonie!
Oh, and a funny awakening on one of the first mornings post transplant was me, all sort of foggy, hearing a jazz singer… I thought it was Helen Forrest or someone like that. I was thinking to myself what nice music it was, and I should probably find out who it was and then record that song later for sentimental reasons… I was trying to ask “who is that lovely singer” when all of a sudden the unmistakable clarinet licks of my own Ross Wooldridge came to my ears: THE ALLEYCATS! someone was playing my Alleycats! And indeed, it was the nurses of the ICU who had downloaded our music videos on Youtube and were curiously gathered listening to their patient on the computer just outside my door. I laugh now how I thought I sounded “good, like Helen Forrest”! That, and Queen, are my first musical memories from post transplant…
And that, friends, is one month ago. While it has been challenging and will remain a challenge and an adjustment, just the mere fact that I did so well at the gym today tells me it all stands to be “worth it.” I went in there a month ago on my last legs, dying. I came out with the hope for renewed life. I have to go for another early bronchoscopy to assess some possible concerns again, but that, I’m told, is all normal and the team are so dilligent. Wish me good luck on December 10th when I again get the robot camera down my throat and my shiny (?) new lungs biopsied. Hoping the “fates allow” for much merriment this lifetime!