It is early in the morning of my 11th day at the hospital. I was scheduled for release today but I had arranged to have some work done at home during my absence and it involved glazing the bathtub and kitchen sink, a process that produces toxic fumes, so my place will not be fit for human consumption until Saturday morning. The chief surgeon here feels that I am doing so well, and they have invested so much in my surgery and recovery, that it would be a shame to jeopardize it in any way, so rather than risk I might go into the apartment too early, they are keeping me a couple days longer.
Prioritizing allocation of liver transplants is based on The Model for End-Stage Liver Disease, or MELD, a complicated system that even the doctors involved in liver transplantation do not completely understand. By late April, my Meld score was high enough that I started receiving offers for livers. Several times, I got phone calls that a liver was available but the primary candidate might be too sick for the surgery, so I should stand by as a backup. The week before my actual transplant, the situation looked favorable enough that they brought me in, gave me a room, and I waited all day while the transplant surgeon went to New Mexico to inspect the liver. None of these worked out.
Finally, Sunday the 11th, another call. Stand by, no eating or drinking, and this time, I was the primary. There was little question that I was well enough for the surgery. Well, I hoped I was well enough, there was a small bit of doubt on my part. In any case, around 8am Monday morning, a final call. This is it. The liver is good. It’s yours. Get here as quick as you can.
My second cousin, a young filmmaker, picked me up and stayed by my side during the several hours’ long prep for surgery. It is all a blur to me now. I remember it was around 1:30PM when the anesthesiologist, said, “I’m going to get you drunk, now.” The next thing I knew it was sometime Tuesday and I had a new liver.
One reason why I am doing so well is that, as I indicated, I was relatively healthy prior to surgery. Most recipients are very sick by the time they get a liver. They been through interferon treatments, or perhaps have battled ascites, the distended abdomen swollen with fluids. Liver cancer put me on the fast track. I got extra MELD points for cancer. Now as I write this, I realize that I have crossed over another threshold: I am a cancer survivor. I no longer have cancer.
There isn’t much to do here. Read, wait for breakfast lunch dinner, wait for someone to come in and interact with you and relieve a few minutes of your boredom, even if in doing so they prod or poke or otherwise inflict some pain upon you. And watch TV. In my case, it’s more a vain search to find something worth watching. Unfortunately, the channel selection is limited and what most Americans find interesting on television, I have no use for whatsoever.
But here I am. Alive. And although it is such a cliché, with a new life. Biding a few more days, rejuvenating, growing stronger, preparing to embark on the new normal, one centered around taking medicine designed to suppress my immune system. It’s exciting in many ways, for now that the heavy lifting is over, I am much more confident to face what lies ahead. That confidence was always there, I just wasn’t always able to touch it. I know it will be hard. I know there will be setbacks, possible rejections, and possible future hospitalizations. And with that knowledge, I see it is really just a another phase of the old normal, the same old life, the ceaseless struggle against suffering, the path that goes on forever to the endless further.