A week or so has passed. The test results are in and I am once again sitting in Dr. Patel’s office. He has “good” news. I am a candidate for a heart transplant. “I am?” I said, with genuine surprise. He tells me that, aside from my heart, I am otherwise in good health and my other organs are functioning well. “But it’s not something that has to be done immediately, right?” He explains that, since my heart is not functioning well, eventually my other organs will start to fail. The ideal would be to do the transplant before that happens.
My mind is racing. I’m doing okay, I think. I may not be functioning optimally, but I am functioning. I could probably continue like this for several more years. “What if I don’t get the transplant?” The immediacy of the response stuns me as much as his words: “Six months, maybe a year.” At that moment, I go numb inside.
You might think I would schedule the surgery right there. I don’t. I’m not sure whether I should have the transplant or prepare to embrace my final year of life. I have to talk to my husband. I have to think. I need to pray – which seems to be the hardest thing to do. I try, but it doesn’t feel fruitful. I can’t seem to get a sense of what God would want for me. Husband, family and friends all seem in favor of – if not excited by – the transplant. But it is ultimately my decision and I don’t know how to make it. Then it comes to me – and I have to believe the thought is from God. Dr. Siegel has been on this journey with me for 15 years. He knows my condition better than anyone. I put in a call. It comes down to one question and one answer: “Do you think this is my best option?” He does. The decision is made.
I call the office of the Cedars-Sinai transplant team and give them my official okey-dokey. Still, I am on autopilot, moving ahead with what I have to do, unable to assess how I feel about it. At every stage of this process, I have been completely wrong about what I thought would happen. I am again. I thought they would put me on the list and I would wait. Instead, Dr. Patel says it is best to hospitalize me quickly. So, I begin to put my affairs in order. It is a bit like knowing you are going to die. I know that it is a possibility.
I get together all the information I think my husband will need. I make arrangements for someone to cover my job for a few months. My stepdaughter, Tanya, graciously agrees to do this. I am just starting my second online college course, so I let my instructor know I will be attempting to finish it from the hospital – and that I may be interrupted by my surgery. My husband lets his work know the coming months might be unpredictable. My mom makes arrangements to come and stay for awhile.
So, on April 28, 2010, I am admitted to the hospital. I settle in with my laptop, continuing my class work and keeping in touch with the outside world. I am getting used to the idea that I will be “on ice” for a while. The actual sequence of events during this time is a little foggy. I have some much-appreciated visitors in my first couple of days – a couple of students from the acting school and their moms, some friends from church, and my family, of course. I think it is the second day that they tell me they will be inserting the Swan-Ganz catheter in my neck to stay until after my transplant. I knew they would be doing this. I didn’t know I would be in ICU after that. Goodbye, laptop; goodbye, outside world. My brother takes over my Facebook page and lets my instructor know I will be taking an indefinite break from class.
The day after I go into ICU the doctor tells me I am at the top of the transplant list. Because of my blood type (AB+), I am the universal recipient. My body can accept any other blood type. I also need a small heart, which apparently is an additional advantage. One of the transplant coordinators says she will be surprised if I go through the weekend without a heart. I can’t believe it could be that soon; I don’t want it to be. This is happening so fast. I need more time to adjust.
The transplant coordinator is, thankfully, wrong. I get through the weekend. The next Thursday will be my 51st birthday. I make plans to celebrate in the hospital. My doctors get the kitchen “powers that be” to agree to cook me a special meal. I am planning on having a medium rare filet mignon that I know will be my last for quite awhile. I am negotiating for a ridiculously rich and scrumptious chocolate cake. (Hey, if the chocolate cake is good enough, maybe I won’t even need the transplant. Chocolate cures everything, right?) Late afternoon the day before, the transplant coordinator pokes her head in the door. “Guess what?” she says happily. “You have a heart.” “I do?” “Yes. It’s a 20-year-old male,” she says. “Your surgery’s tomorrow.” “Great.” I gulp and smile half-heartedly. I want to be excited; I really do. I should be grateful. But all I feel is numb. “Tomorrow’s my birthday.” “What a great birthday present! Happy Birthday!”, she says. Sure…..happy birthday, I think. I guess we’re really doing this. I start calling to let everyone know.