For the month of April, PCHA will be focusing on the theme of National Donate Life Month. In the first post of our series, Bill Coon, professional author and speaker, shares thoughts on his wait for a multiple organ transplant.
“I didn’t see the point in journaling yesterday. The day as a whole was very monotonous. My only visitor was my mom. She just sat in my room all day as I walked the halls of the CCU and worked on my homework.
It seems the longer I wait for my transplants, the more I begin to think about the life of my donor.
What are they doing right now? What will cause them to die? If they are driving in a car when they are killed, where were they going? Were they happy when they died? Will they find inner peace before they pass? Or did they just finish fighting with a loved one and will never get a chance to say they were sorry? Is my donor a good person? Do they have many regrets from their past? What are their future aspirations that they want to accomplish but will never get a chance to complete? Do they have a family? Are they alone? Will they be scared when they pass?
My mind races with these questions on monotonous days. I find it shocking to believe that my donor’s life is so rich at the moment. They have no idea what is to come in the near future, nor do they have any idea as to whom I am and how horrendously awful my life has become in a matter of three and a half months.
Like always, I am trying my hardest to push those thoughts aside. I try to look for the bright spots in my life, but I still can’t shake the thoughts.
I hate monotonous days.”
I wrote those words from my hospital bed in Chicago on Thursday, September 24, 2009. The very donor I referenced would save my life exactly twenty-seven days later when he or she would gift me their heart and one of their kidneys.
I truly believe that one of the largest misconceptions of organ donation is that the recipient’s life goes back to normal the second they exit the hospital with their clean bill of health. While the physical transition is incredibly quick, the mental transition from experiencing “the wait” is one that takes years to overcome. However, please know that I use the term “overcome” very lightly. For the realization that a stranger must die for you to live is more humbling than the realization of your own mortality. The realization causes you to answer a barrage of interpersonal questions. You spend your days in the hospital (and months, if not years) post-surgery questioning why you were saved. You ask yourself, time and time again, Why did the universe choose me over my donor? These questions, of course, can never be answered with any absolute certainty. However, they do force you to reevaluate your life and begin making decisions that not only honor the miraculous gift you received, but also the life of your donor.
The memories that you develop from “the wait” only deepen your new sense of responsibility to live a good life post-transplant. While I have many memories from “the wait” there are two that changed me the most. These two memories find a way to rise from my subconscious in the moments of my post-transplant life where I begin to stress about petty obstacles. It is as though my brain, in a beautiful way, reminds me that as long as I have my health and my loved ones, there are no problems that cannot be easily rectified and resolved.
The memory I would like to share with you is of a ritual that I had each night of my 70-day wait for a new heart and kidney. My doctors told me that I would be notified of a perfect match via a call to a tiny, white-yellow phone that rested on a nightstand at the head of my hospital bed. In turn, while I waited for the phone to ring, I began to obsess over the fantasy of hearing the tone. Consequently, each night I went out of my way to make sure I was ready to answer the phone at any hour of the night.
Prior to bed, I would take my food tray and set it next to the right side of my bed near my hand. I would then reach over the bed and grab the phone. After stretching the phone cord, I would neatly place the phone atop my food tray. Next, I would place a pillow on the left side of my body because I developed a tendency of banging my left arm against the bed rail while I slept. I would then turn the lights off and I would begin to pray. I would begin to beg for God, the universe, for anybody or anything to save me. I would then transition to the final part of my ritual where I would lie in bed for hours feeling absolutely terrible that I had, technically, just prayed for someone else to die.
This memory is a perfect microcosm of “the wait”. Though you spend your days in organ failure feeling miserable, for the most part, you are rarely left alone. The time spent with others is typically discussion surrounding your medications, upcoming appointments, procedures and what life will be like once you receive your organs. In the rare hours when you are left alone, you spend those hours thinking of the donor. The donor never leaves you before and after they become a part of you.
It is with this in mind that I would like to encourage everyone to become an organ donor. In doing so, not only will you save a life, but also you will be loved and honored each day after your passing by the recipient of your generosity.
Please use this link to find your state’s donor registry and become an organ donor today.
Bill Coon is a two-time heart transplant recipient, kidney recipient, HLHS survivor, author and professional speaker. His book, SWIM: A Memoir of Survivor has been read by thousands internationally and has aided countless individuals in overcoming the mental battle of a chronic illness. Click here to learn more about Bill.