As the last gusts of winter cut through the trees, today marks twenty-one years since I took my first breaths with another persons lungs. I know – it’s a bit of a head fuck. Growing up, my chest X-rays would show the shadows of infection spreading like a stain across my chest. In retrospect, the change over my first eighteen years was gradual until I was direly ill and the images resembled more of a white out. These days, thanks to my incredible donor my chest X-rays are what my doctors and I like to call ‘unremarkable’. I love being unremarkable.
When people ask me what I remember most vividly about transplant, I usually think of the pain. The physical pain of dying, and then the pain of being cut in half and sewn back together like a rag doll.
I learned very early in life that you can’t argue or bargain with genetics – both brutal in their truth and delivery – and when I was in the full-throated agony of post-transplant, I bargained with every deity and argued with so many different versions of myself. Some days it was all too much. I would thrash around like a shot buck trying to find its feet as it bleeds out, then I’d stay deathly still so I wouldn’t have to move my aching body. And the whole of me ached. As I’ve written before, my return to life was a violent one.
I usually write something on the eve of my Transplanniversary, but when I got home last night, I was ready to flop into bed. This morning I woke around 5am, had an early brekkie, spoke to my parents and then went over for a cuppa. The last couple of weeks have been
fucked tiring with the near death of one of our family dogs. If I’m honest, it’s been emotionally laborious – dogs make the best humans, after all.
Today I’m working on my memoir while keeping an eye on the sprinkler as I move it around the yard (I call it ‘strategic watering’). Everything is tinderbox dry and the incoming summer is set to be brutal. Tonight I’m off to see Fleetwood Mac with some friends where I’ll get to see my real life spirit animal Stevie Nicks. My first Fleetwood Mac experience was when I was 11. The music was so loud it hurt my chest so we were ushered into a special room which wrecked the concert for my parents and cousin (sorry!). The ushers said that up until then, it was the loudest concert on record with Mick Fleetwood’s bass drum barreling through my chest to behind my ribs and into my back. If only he would barrel into my
bed life, the magnificent beast. I’m lucky to have seen him in all of his drumming glory four times.
Tonight’s special for another reason because I’m sharing it with one of my oldest and dearest friends. Sharon and I have known each other since we were thirteen and like so many of my friends she was there the night of my transplant. I adore the photo of her and Mum smiling at my pink fingers, mostly because she has always been a massive needle phobe. I thought she was so brave coming to see me with all of the needles and tubes blooming out of my body. All of these photographs (and photos of the surgery) were taken by my friend Alicia Alit-Trevatt. To say I’m grateful to have a record of both my impending death and my return to life is an understatement. During those dark nights of the soul when I feel like I haven’t done anything meaningful with my life I often look to these, and they serve to remind me how far I’ve come. I survived. And if that’s the only thing I’ve done and done well, then I’m ok with that.