Just two weeks ago, I wrote of a friend that was, at the time, fighting for her life in the ICU, hoping for a lung transplant. She was on death’s door, and no one could guess if she would make it another week, waiting for a donor.
I am happy to say, that, as of yesterday, she received her transplant. A call came in late in the night on Sunday, and by 8:00 AM, she was being wheeled into surgery. That’s all well and good. It’s great news, in fact. It’s one less person that is going to die from Cystic Fibrosis this week. I witnessed Megan’s brother Jason in almost the exact same state, back in 2005. He didn’t make it. I witnessed Megan in almost the exact same state in 2011. She DID make it. It’s always hit or miss, but in this particular case, it was a “hit”.
But. There’s always a “but”.
But there were some complications with this surgery that throw me right back into the uncertainty and anxiety that I lived with for over a decade. Mind you, this friend is more of an acquaintance. It’s her sister that I’m actually close with. A sister that has leaned on me a bit for advice and recaps of Jason and Megan’s paths to transplant or lack thereof. Now her sister is in a state that I’m not sure any of us has experienced.
Upon first chatting with her a few weeks ago, I was able to state with confidence and and a clear head about what she could expect, and what was a total guess. I relished in the fact that Megan’s transplant, rejection, and death still held meaning and gave hope or insight to someone a few years later. Yeah sure, it would have been great if she didn’t, you know, die, but at least the fact that she did was able to help in some small way.
Last evening, I received a text:
“Just met with the surgeon. He is pleased with her transplant - it was a success. However, her lungs were severely attached to her chest wall cavity and so detaching it resulted in the swelling of her new lungs. They need to keep her sedated with her chest open for a few days. They're hoping to reseal her in approximately 3-4 days and then very slowly wean her off of the ventilator. Her new lungs are in as good of condition as possible as her donor was younger than she is. Please continue to pray for her and her donor's family who is giving her this chance at a new life.”
What in the actual hell? All the hope and joy we held out for most of the day, and at the end of it, she’s going to be lying in a hospital bed with her chest open for 3-4 DAYS?!?! Now, for those not familiar with transplant, they want to have you “sealed back up” as quickly and cleanly as possible. The risk of an infection taking hold is immense, even when (like in Megan’s case) the surgery is clean and done in less than 6 hours. To have an incision a gaping hole open in your rib cage and chest wall for a few days is frightening.
I had no words. I never experienced ANYTHING like this with Megan, or Jason. Jason, again, never made it to transplant, and Megan did, and the surgery went cleanly. The only “complication” with Megan were that the donor lungs were slightly bruised...just something they “wanted to keep an eye on”.
This particular case though, only took me to the summer and fall of 2014, when Megan was lying in an ICU bed for six months, on a ventilator, then off, walking one day, then bed-ridden the next, having no appetite and being sedated on Tuesday, then eating like a horse and talking our ears off on Wednesday. It f*****g sucked. You didn’t know if she would be alive the next morning, just as you didn’t know if she would be receiving a transplant, or going into septic shock.
How am I supposed to convey THAT experience to my friend? That her sister is at a HUGE risk for infection, and that all she can do is hope for the best? I know Megan. She would bluntly tell her that “shit’s not good, hope for the best, but expect the worst”. I can’t do that, for some reason. There is a tremendous pull in my mind to simply tell my friend what she wants to hear. She’s smart, she KNOWS this risk, as she has CF herself, and her husband received a double-lung and liver transplant, simultaneously, a few years before Megan. Still, I can’t repeat to her what she already knows. I simply said “there are no words” and that I would check in with her in the morning.
We’re planning to head up to the hospital in the next day or so, to visit. It will be the first time for me stepping foot into that godforsaken ICU since I walked out, tears flowing, on November 19th, 2014. I still won’t know what to say, and will probably need more help than her sister at that time. The last time I was there, I watched my wife die. I have no way of foretelling what it will be like to smell, see, and hear that ICU again.
This is one of those cases where Megan’s death is truly ironic.
What we both need is Megan’s voice, but we need it because Megan isn’t here.