My Mom’s Transplant Journey
On my mother’s 64th birthday, she woke up breathing with new lungs. This is nothing short of miraculous and I will tell you the story.
It’s been a long, excruciating journey to get her here. Many years back, my mom started having trouble breathing. It started with a sore throat, a persistent cough, and getting winded going up a flight of stairs, and progressed into something far more insidious than I could have ever imagined, to the point of complete immobility, rapid breathing with fits of suffocation, physical deterioration of muscles and rapid weight loss, bone loss and resulting fractures, multiple wrong diagnoses, a sideshow of pharmaceutical side effects, a coma, and countless near death experiences. I never thought I would be feeding her, bathing her, and taking care of her as if she were a small child. The role reversal seemed more natural for me, but for my mother, who was always a tough, do-everything-herself kind of woman, it was humiliating.
When she started her sharp decline, it struck me that I would lose my mom unless we made some kind of drastic shift. The disease pushed forward relentlessly, and the month following that realization was one of the worst times of my life. I felt this constant pit of dread in my stomach that I later recognized as anticipatory grief. I wasn’t willing to lose my mom at that time, but what I didn’t know then was that the process of accepting that I might have to let my mom go freed me from a fearful paralysis and allowed me to spring into more decisive action.
When I set out to help “heal” my mom, my idea of healing and what the facilitation of that looked like was nothing like what it ended up being in reality. I pictured brewing herbal concoctions and doing Tai Chi in a garden, but sometimes healing looks a lot more like having difficult conversations about death and loss, hearing real talk and bad news from doctors about what is happening in her body, crying and sobbing, pushing through even when everything in your body and mind seem utterly defeated and you want to give up, being humbled and occasionally embarrassed, being extra organized and willing to learn and re-learn, taking lots of breaks, and laughing at the inane morbidity of it all. Lung transplant was definitely not within my definition of what “healing” meant.
What I’ve learned is that healing is far more messy and complex. It involves not only the person who is sick but all the loved ones and anyone in immediate orbit. It is a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual odyssey that leaves you changed. It’s not just about avoiding all medications and surgeries at any cost and only using natural methods, but more about artfully combining the subtlety of energetic, integrative, preventative and herbal medicine as a means to build better health, and using the “heavy duty” cutting edge stuff of western medicine when it is necessary. It’s about being informed about your options and making wise choices. It’s also about believing that something good can happen to you.
Today, I am so grateful that we’ve made it this far. I’m grateful for taking dives into the unknown, for those who enabled me to make the life changes necessary in the past year to support my mom’s healing, and for following my gut about decisions that often seemed kind of nutty, scary and drastic because it’s what felt right.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude that someone chose to be a donor and that a family had to make that tough decision during the worst times of their lives. I’m in awe and admiration of what my mother has been able to survive. We never gave up and we never stopped fighting for her life, even at the literal brink. When you fight hard, you have no regrets at the end of it, no matter what happens; it makes it easier to later let go. This was the power of love at work.
Those precious, delicate flapping wings in our chest cavities breathing life into us are to be thanked everyday. I never thought much about checking “organ donor” on my driver’s license in the past, but now I see what a life-changing choice it can be. Being thankful and understanding of what your organs do for you not only in this lifetime, but how they can outlive you and support a life beyond yours is a humbling and awe-inspiring place to arrive.