A couple months ago, in the throes of anxiety attacks and a failing respiratory system, I wrote an article for Cracked.com about what it was like to be waiting indefinitely for a double lung transplant. It went up today and you can find it by clicking here. We had been using “mind-blowing” instead of “horrific” when we started, but, hey, whatever gets people to read the damn thing.
And if you are one of those people: Hey, thanks. I hope you enjoyed it.
Obviously things worked out well for me and I’m a lot less cynical and insane about the whole thing, but if you’re interested in the blow-by-blow retelling of what went down, you can check out past blog posts about the transplant and cystic fibrosis by clicking any of these pretty red words.
In case that sentence-long hyperlink isn’t evidence enough, I can be a little long-winded when I’m writing stuff. As such, a bunch of what I originally wrote for the article hit the cutting room floor. (Seriously, it was, like, twice the length of a normal Cracked story.) Anyway, I figured I’d post some of it here.
On moving to California:
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just wait at your home in New Mexico?” you ask. Well, I’ll grant you that Albuquerque is technically within that four hour window, via emergency airlift, but apparently insurance companies don’t like paying for more than one of those a year and we blew our insured load the first time I nearly died. And there’s no chance in hell we could swing it on our own. Emergency medical transportation apparently runs solely on gold ingots and the captured radiation of dying stars, because it is literally cheaper to take out a six-month lease in the Bay Area than it is to pay for one trip out-of-pocket.
On top of that, post-transplant, you have to be within one single, solitary hour of the hospital, so we figured we might as well settle in now, rather than worry about it or move again later, immediately after I’ve been broken open and sewed shut.
On slowly going crazy from waiting:
After I was discharged from the hospital that first time, it was time for us to wrap our heads around the fact that we were now sitting around waiting for someone to die. There’s no gentler way to put that. We’re waiting for blunt trauma to the head from a car accident or a clumsy construction worker or a sea lion uprising. Every time there’s a crash or a new shooting part of us gets excited, and I don’t even know how to make that sound less awful.
I’m on oxygen all the time and can’t really do much of anything without getting severely winded and coughing until I shake, which gives me lots of time to think, which is a terrible, terrible thing to do right now. I spend three days a week depressed, three trying to quell my panic attacks long enough to take a shower, and one sitting around on my ass wondering if I should have my Xbox shipped out to us.
Our moods alter dramatically from week to week, but right now we’re both feeling pretty cranky and burnt out, like contestants during the last week of The Amazing Race. Six months is the average wait time at Stanford, and, obviously, we thought we were better than average, because, seriously, I don’t fucking understand statistics. We’ve gone from frantically scrambling every time the phone rings to creeping disbelief that this transplant is even going to happen. That’ll reverse sooner or later, and probably for no reason.
On superstitious nurses:
For a giant building that basically runs on science, you’d think a hospital staff would be a bunch of logic-loving nerds with their heads constantly in books and rational thoughts just, like, vomiting out of their ears. But, no, a lot of them — nurses, specifically — are really superstitious.
I spent a few days in the Intensive Care Unit during my most recent two week vacation to Mandatory Hospital Stay Resort & Spa — on the shores of lovely Lake Intravenous Antibiotics — and each of the nurses independently used the phrase “to ward off evil spirits” in reference to one thing or another. It was mostly little stuff, like the angle of their computer screen or the shoes they wore or something, like ballplayers in the playoffs, but with fewer beards.
A better example is the ventilator. After an emergency (non-transplant) procedure, I was moved back into my ICU room and the breathing machine was brought along for the ride. I was off of it, breathing on my own, but they left the ventilator there “just in case.” Even 36 hours later, after I got the go-ahead to be moved to a non-ICU floor, it stayed. And this wasn’t, like, a toaster or something. The breathing machine was pretty damn big and took up a lot of the tiny room — people were contorting to get to stuff behind it for days — but nobody wanted to move it even slightly because they thought leaving the thing as it was brought good juju to the room.
Again, you’d think dosages and rate monitors would win the day when it comes to figuring out a patient’s deal. Apparently, though, whether or not everything works pretty much seems to be governed by ghosts.
On a six-month-long existential crisis:
If it sounds like I’m complaining, I don’t mean to — not owning a turtle is a small price to pay for being able to breathe again. It’s just that waiting for transplant puts you in a uniquely awkward position of being completely, stupidly optimistic while simultaneously focusing on all the negative stuff ahead, because you need to know that it’s not all blowjobs and candy if you want to actually get to the blowjobs and candy. Not to mention coming to terms with your own imminent mortality while simultaneously preparing to live a longer, fuller life than anyone has ever expected for you.
And the kicker to all of this is thus: being transplanted doesn’t make you a unicorn; the whole point of this entire ordeal is to get you healthy enough to go back to your normal, boring life. So while I may have a whole new appreciation for every sunrise, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to bask luxuriously in their warming glow each morning. The dog’s got to get walked, bill’s have to be paid, I’m going to have to find a new job… Because, you see, in addition to being short, life is also hilariously cruel.
I have had no fewer than three full conversations with an entire team of doctors while I was actively pooping. I have shit liquid into a plastic basin in the middle of my ICU room while smiling at nurses walking down the hallway on the other side of the glass walls.
You learn a thing or two about yourself in situations like that and that thing is this: The world is your toilet.