By the time it was definite that the donor lungs were a match, there would have been at least 35 people at the hospital – all friends and family. Even a friend’s boyfriend (now husband) had driven down from uni at Gatton, so he could be there for both me, his now wife and my other friends (love you, Davey!!)
My boyfriend at the time, bless, had arrived at the Prince Charles drunk. With flowers and chocolates. Which I couldn’t eat. I think they became someone’s breakfast. He had been having a night in with the boys at his place, and they all very quickly sobered up when I arrived by ambulance. In fact, most people had beaten ME to the hospital. My Dad ran about three red lights and my best friend ran at least one (what a way to become an organ donor …)
I was taken up to the respiratory ward and we waited in the day room for a couple of hours before I was put in the wards only private room. The only problem was, with the amount of people I had with me, there was a fair bit of noise and it was now around 1.30am. We kept on getting in trouble from one particular nurse who reminded me of Maggie Kirkpatrick’s character on ‘Prisoner’. She could get as angry as she wanted, because I soon discovered that she was going on six weeks of leave when she left handover that morning.
Grumpy nurse: 0
You do silly things when you’re about to die. You put bowls that are used for vomit on your head.
I got to say my goodbyes to each of my friends, one by one, and it was excruciating, both physically and emotionally. My friends held me so close – I remember my friend Tammy especially – and the pain was almost unbearable, but I wanted to do it. Parents of friends who lived in Melbourne brought up prayers and messages for me, and while I was grateful, I was too sick to give any sort of response, except for ‘thank you’.
I was told to ‘have a sleep’, but I wanted to spend as much time with my family, my partner and my friends as possible. And so, around 8am on the 22nd August, I was taken to theatre. This distress is so palpable on my sisters face, you can almost touch it.
If there is a photograph to capture my most life defining moment, this has to be it – saying goodbye to my sister. So many goodbyes that morning.
I hugged my parents and my sister, kissed Lachie goodbye and was wheeled away.
All night and all morning I had been at peace. I wasn’t particularly worried and at one point, I’d had to tell everyone else to calm down. But when the orderlies began moving my bed in the opposite direction of my family and friends, I lost it. Up until then, I hadn’t been too worried – a possible combination of morphine and the desperate yearning to have my old lungs taken out of my decaying body. I wanted the next moment more than the last, and while my body couldn’t fight for it, my mind could. But then my brain broke. Split open like over ripe fruit.
I don’t know where the sound came from, but as I was being spirited away, I looked at the people gathered behind me and I wailed. My body was wracked with sobbing, because I had finally realised that I may never see any of these people again. I could die on the table (that’s another story) or I could make it through the surgery, get out of theatre and into recovery, only to die.
My friends subsisted on chocolate, cigarettes and a carload of Maccas when I was sleeping. Cigarettes. The irony has never been lost on me. Inside the O.R was (as all O.R’s are), subarctic. I was covered in foil to maintain body temperature and given warm blankets as I lay there waiting to go to sleep. I had beautiful conversations with doctors and the nurses and they were able to get me into a state of repose where I even asked the surgeon if I could have a couple of 500ml bags of saline popped into my chest
The Propofol was slowly leaked through an intravenous line in my chest, and I happily surrendered to the milky white liquid like a little death. My last words? ‘Save me, for I am the Sex Goddess.’ ‘Sex goddess’ had followed me through high school as a nickname, except though I didn’t have sex until after I’d left school. But ‘sex goddess’ it was.
Here are a few of Alicia’s brilliant photographs while I was having my transplant.
Here, the surgeons are suturing up my clamshell cut after six hours of surgery. Little did they know that they’d have to rip their beautiful embroidery apart when I had to be taken back to theatre for bleeding.
(I would encourage you to click on these photos so you can see the more minute details)
In recovery. Alicia snapped at the *exact* moment this doctor realised I was bleeding internally, so it was back to theatre to resolve some ‘plumbing’ issues. It pulls on my heart when I see the nurse holding my hand. It’s the little things that for me, mean so much, and I know my family would have appreciated the comfort she was giving me, even though I was in a coma. It’s the whole ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra that writers use, or ‘demonstrate, don’t state.’ And in this gentle gesture, this is exactly what she is doing.
And so this time fifteen years ago, I was dying. I’m two hours away from getting ‘the call’. I get a little introspective on Transplant Eve, but it’s time to head to bed. I’m having a quiet celebration with some friends and family at one of my favourite cafes tomorrow, and on Saturday night, we’ll head out to toast my donor and her family.
Part three of my transplant journey will be with you sometime tomorrow …