Author’s note: Most of what I am about to write, including the things that happened prior to my surgery, I do not remember. I will tell the story, as I best I can, from what my family and friends have told me. If details are missing, it is because, in the days after the surgery, to one degree or another, I was sleeping.
And so on the evening of May 5, 2010, I am at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles waiting to hear when my heart will transplanted. The initial word is that it will probably be in the middle of the night. Spud, Mom and Mark are waiting with me. Finally, at around 2 am, we are told the heart will not arrive until around 7:30 am. Spud has worked all day, so he goes home to get a few hours of sleep. Mom and Mark settle in for the night in ICU. I say to them, “Let’s sing, “ and I begin IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL. Mom and Mark look at each other thinking, “Does she know something we don’t?” It’s one of my favorite songs and, under the circumstances, I find it comforting and highly appropriate.
The next morning I am taken in for surgery. Spud is back at the hospital. He, Mom and Mark are in the surgery waiting area. After a bit, a nurse comes out to speak with another family. My family overhears her say to them: “I’m sorry, but your procedure is going to be delayed. We have to do a heart transplant.” The other family asks about the timing. The nurse says: “The heart is on a chopper about 5 minutes out.” My family knows that is my heart.
The surgery takes about 4 hours. I am taken back to Cardiac ICU. The sight of me lying there is apparently quite shocking. Besides the catheter that was in my neck prior to surgery and the standard Foley catheter in my bladder, I have the endotrachial tube in my mouth and three tubes coming out of my chest, just underneath my rib cage. There are two racks of IV’s that hold 12 bags each and they are full. None of my family or friends has ever seen anyone in that condition before. The ICU nurses busily attend to me.
Booh, my boss’s better half & a long-time family friend, has been a major supporter throughout this process. Before I went into the hospital, she planned a surprise dinner for me with all my family. It was very special. On my birthday, she gathers the family at Jerry’s for a celebration. They make a sweet, funny video to share with me later.
At some point, I begin to have moments of consciousness. I gesture at the breathing tube, wanting it to be removed. The first words I remember hearing are from my mom: “She looks flushed.” My brother answers, “No, I think she just has color.” Later on, as I begin to open my eyes, Mom again: “You slept through your birthday.” What day is it? “It’s Thursday, May 7.
More family and friends have arrived along the way. I am somewhat aware that people are coming in. Tanya, Terri, Manny, Lorraine….I remember seeing the faces, but not exchanges. Spud is there, of course. Always. I am conscious enough to know that everything went well. Somewhere along the way, they have apparently removed the breathing tube. I have no memory of that. I am aware, however, of plastic things around my legs that inflate every so often. They are meant to help with circulation, I’m told. I don’t think I like them that much.
On Friday, I am a bit more aware. I am able to somewhat converse. They have me sitting up in a chair and begin to give me tea and broth. Tanya, my youngest stepdaughter, and Mom are with me. The nurse brings in some beef broth. I take a sip and apparently don’t look pleased. “We have chicken, too. Would you rather have chicken?” Yes. She graciously returns with chicken broth. I am in CARDIAC ICU, so low-sodium (read: TASTELESS) broth is a given. Mom is doing her best to get me to drink some. I take a couple of small sips. I am really not interested. Mom insists. “Come on now. Have some more broth. You need to get some food in you.” “That’s not food,” I say tersely. Tanya smiles at the glimpse of my familiar spunk. Everything indicates I am doing well.
Family and friends all go home for the night. Spud settles into the recliner. The nurses are in and out checking on me. Spud is asleep. We are as peaceful as is possible in ICU. With no hint of foreboding, that peace is abruptly shattered. A very intense nurse walks in and says, “Your kidneys are failing. You need to sign this form so we can start dialysis.” My hand is shaking from weakness and mediation, but I dutifully scrawl my name.