Four years ago I was reclining in an intensive care hospital bed, connected to fluids running in and draining out. High on steroids and pain killers I was ecstatic to be allowed to take a few sips of water. I prayed silently to my vital organs. “Heart, kidneys, lungs, please welcome your new partner, a liver from another body.” Silently I repeated this mantra over and over, asking that they all work as a team.
Each morning when the doctors from the transplant team made their rounds they asked “How are you today?”
I grinned and responded. “Fabulous!”
My gratitude was expansive. Thankful for the anonymous donor’s family, the team of surgeons, my treasured hematologist, my supportive family and generous friends. Most of all I was comforted by my loving spouse who was camped out, spending her days and nights in the cluttered Intensive Care room with me.
Just four months earlier I had sat in front of the sad-faced gastroenterologist. He said, “You know this was a possibility. The scan shows you have HCC, hepatocellular carcinoma.”
I did know, but suddenly I could not comprehend or focus on the doctors words. I glanced a my new-found friend who was sitting silently in the chair beside me. She was scribbling notes and staring at her lap. With unmeasurable gratitude, I let go of trying to understand right now. Right now I needed to breathe deeply.
It was incredible that I had lived with Hepatitis C for more than forty years before reaching what many had predicted would be my end. It was astounding that despite my life-long bleeding disorder I had survived long enough that liver transplants were now sustainable, due to improvements in anti-rejection medications. It was amazing that even with my bleeding disorder I could not only survive a transplant, I would move up on the waiting list because of my bleeding disorder.
It was miraculous to me that the newest Hepatitis C treatment had cleared me of the virus, just a year before I was diagnosed with liver cancer. If this had not happened a transplanted liver would quickly be contaminated with the virus and the cycle of liver deterioration would begin all over again. Now a transplant would replace my cirrhotic liver, give me blood that would clot, and get rid of the spot that appeared on the MRI image that signaled alarm.
Now, four years later I sit in a row with four other women awaiting a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot. We are all survivors. We have all lived longer than anticipated. We all live with compromised immune systems. We all need others to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and use recommended personal protective equipment.