One year ago today, I was marching into Duke University Hospital to manage a day of patient care. You see, walking into a hospital for a day of patient care, is an ordinary occurrence, but doing so for those you love, is completely different. I was going through many emotional and mental changes and transitions at this time, and couldn’t imagine that a year later I would still be going through this transition.
As Fran and I traveled down to NC last year, I had not a doubt in my mind that all would go well, but I also had no visualization of what was ahead of me. I didn’t have time to make a real plan, which is NOT the way I do things. I had too much to prepare at home and had no previous experiences in the organ transplant realm. I am glad I had no picture or plan. Nothing could have prepared me for the journey it started. Those who know me, know that I will do everything in my power to help someone I care about in need. If you need meals, I can do that, if you need help with your kids, I’ve got that, if you need my time or brain power, no problem. This experience pulled from every resource I had still required more. It was the most life changing week of my life. I thought it was life changing as it occurred, and it was, but I was so busy I didn’t have time to process it all.
I met a woman that gave me a greater perspective on life. She was on a journey that I couldn’t imagine. Within minutes of meeting her, I put myself in her shoes, and very quickly wanted to give those shoes back to her. I knew my personality was exactly what she needed in her life at that time. I had just enough medical knowledge to contribute a few words, time to listen, love to give and a shoulder to cry on. I was meant to be there to care for more than just Sarah, which I realized quickly, but didn’t realize I was there to change myself.
I took for granted the support system that I have in place. In a moment’s notice, I can have multiple family members by my side, and that is not counting the multiple friends that would be there as well. To see this mother there by herself to watch her son go through this life changing surgery, was unimaginable to me. From the hours in actual surgery, to the days that followed, I learned to love this woman like any family member. We came from different worlds and have been down different roads, but came together to support this little boy.
I can’t describe the feeling of being in the room as this little boy was seizing and crying with his mother as we watched the team work on him. I get that same sick feeling in my stomach thinking about it now. I got the momma bear instinct instantly. I wanted to be sure every person involved was doing their job to the best of their ability. Sometimes that meant pressing the call bell every 5 minutes until we received the meds we were requesting, sometimes it was standing in the hallway stopping any person who may be able to help us, sometimes it was simply bringing lunch to this amazing woman who stayed by her son’s side 24 hours a day for weeks at a time. Each and every task was as meaningful as the last.
To say I got a life perspective is an understatement. Sarah has always taught me about being selfless and trusting God in every way, but my journey wasn’t about this surgery, it was about the people surrounding it. It was about appreciating our health, our families and our ability to help others. To see this little boy go from deathly ill, to having a healthy future in view is beyond anything you can imagine. To feel the helplessness of having no control over what is happening around you certainly brings you to your humble knees in a hurry. To this day, I think of this little boy and his mother at least once a day. I think of the journey we have been on together, I think of the battles his mother fights every day for him. I count my blessings and still feel blessed and thankful to be lucky enough to be a part of it. I would do it again in a heartbeat. These changes don’t even take into consideration my changes of thought on organ donation. I have always been an organ donor and been in full support of it, but it is taken to a new level. To witness both sides of the surgery is a perspective few people get. To witness a life being saved…it just can’t be put into words. I am a better person by being a part of this journey. I can thank Elijah for changing my life, I can thank Sarah for allowing me to be a part of it.
I didn’t think I’d be so affected a year out from liver surgery. Really, I’ve learned the lessons I was meant to learn, I appreciate life so differently, and I’m healing well (except for the blasted itchiness of my scar). I guess I can thank Facebook for reminding me of all the things that were posted the few days leading up to surgery, during my stay in the hospital, and my recovery at home. Throughout this past year I often thought of the whole ordeal but these past few weeks it has weighed heavily on my mind.
As I reflected back, I noticed a clear and distinct trend about what my mind chose to remember. After my first round of testing at Duke it was determined that my body and liver were perfect as long as Elijah’s team agreed. I didn’t remember the long drive along back and forth from Duke, I didn’t remember waking up super early to travel, and I didn’t remember the (what felt like) 8 million blood tests and MRI’s. I remember Tina, my Mom, and Rebekah nonchalantly giving me their blessing and reassuring me they would do whatever they could if it worked out. I remember the confidence Jordan had in my ability to make the right decision and the ability of the doctors to perform well if indeed I was chosen. I remember the clear understanding the kids voiced when I told them this was a possibility.
Late afternoon on Tuesday May 12, 2015 I was informed I needed to be at Duke Thursday evening for an early Friday morning prep for surgery. What I didn’t remember was the exhaustion I experienced running like a nut on Wednesday and Thursday to make sure the pantry and refrigerator were full, bed linens were washed, dog food was ordered, school was notified, POA’s were updated, etc. What I remember is that two hours…that’s just TWO HOURS…after I “got the call” Tina and my Mom had not only cleared their schedules to come down and support us but they also managed to gather freezers full of meals from friends and family in PA. I remember Rebekah and Tracey reassuring me that my kids would be fine and would be loved. I remember thinking what a blessing it was to not even have to make a list of what needs to be done in my home. I don’t remember how tired I was at 8:00 pm Thursday night when I still had to pack and had a three hour drive to Duke. I don’t remember what clothes I packed or what books I intended to read. I remember Brea’s big huge stuffed dog that she insisted I take with me. I remember kissing my kids and leaving with a peace that can only be explained one way.
Friday morning I don’t remember all the surgery prep, I remember how sweet and caring my transplant team was. Friday after surgery I don’t remember the discomfort of the NG tube, catheter, and O2. I remember waking up and seeing Tina’s face and hearing her talk to me like we always do. I remember that Pastor Steve called to check on me. I remember wanted to call my mom. Friday night I don’t remember the discomfort, I remember waking up scared to death because I couldn’t see Tina. I remember the dear nurse who instead comforted me and told me that my friend would be back at 4:00 am because she needed some sleep too.
Saturday I don’t remember the continued irritation from the NG tube. I remember that Tina brought my favorite coffee and helped me put on my make-up. I don’t remember the painful first steps with the walker but the nurses other patients who cheered me on as I walked slowly down the hall. Saturday night into Sunday while I know I had extreme amounts of pain, I don’t even remember how bad it was. I do remember Tina fighting so fiercely for it to be managed. I remember hearing the buzz of my phone and reading all the dozens and dozens of encouraging texts and Facebook messages. I remember the prayers that were sent via text in the middle of the night from those of you who woke up and prayed. I remember the fiery look on Tina’s face when she told the nurses and doctors that THEY had no option. THEY were going to manage this pain or SHE was calling someone who could.
Saturday night I don’t remember the pain and discomfort of the long elevator ride to the children’s wing. I remember being awestruck as I met Renae and Elijah for the first time. I remember feeling connected to them without even knowing them. I remember knowing that I just witnessed a miracle.
The rest of the days there I don’t remember the discomfort of having to only lie on my back or sit in the chair. I remember Tina keeping me company. I remember the phone calls and cards from family and friends to encourage me. I remember hearing the cheerful voices of my kids as they were excited to finish their last week of school. I remember all the updates from my mom and Rebekah about all the meals that were continuing to be dropped off at the house and those that the church arranged to have delivered every single night for six weeks. I don’t remember how hard it was to shower, I remember Tina helping me and joking about so we could at least laugh instead of die of embarrassment.
I don’t remember worrying about what Jordan would think (remember, he didn’t know this was a sure thing). I just remember four days after surgery when he showed up at the hospital and held me in his arms. I remember having to stay longer than expected and being so very sad when Tina and my Mom had to leave. I remember Jordan making the six hour round trip drive each day after that to visit me while still being with the kids. Once discharged while I know the drive home was torturous, I remember Jordan driving excruciatingly slow, trying to avoid every bump and sudden stop so that I would be more comfortable.
For the next six weeks, I don’t remember the aches, the sleepless nights, the incision, the bruises, etc. I remember the love shown by everyone. I remember being utterly overwhelmed by the love and support shown in so many ways and feeling so unworthy.
I write all this to prove my point and drive home the theme that all the memories that stuck with me have: the all have to do with relationships…not stuff.
Life is about relationships. And good relationships are about love. And love is about sacrifice, about putting others above yourself. Every single memory that has stuck with me the past year has to do with the relationships I’ve formed with those around me. It was everything to do with folks sacrificing to help out through their time, energy, and resources. I still am amazed (so very amazed) and humbled at how the entire process was pulled off flawlessly. That’s no simple feat with the hospital being three hours away, living near no family, having six kids, and having husband who was away. I realize how incredibly blessed I am to have so much love and support. As I type that sentence and as I say that sentence, the words just don’t seem to do it justice.
I encourage you all. For those of you who already doing and helping and serving – keep doing it. God created us to love each other. To serve each other. The beautiful thing about serving is it brings equal amounts of joy to both parties. For those of who you who may choose the “my four and no more” mantra, branch out. Invest yourself, your time, your resources. When you serve others and when others serve you, that’s what you’ll remember. Those are the memories you’ll hang onto. Those are the times your cup will be so full and you’ll be overflowing with joy. The person you help may need it more than you realize. You just may be the light in the darkness they need. You just may be the small glimpse of God they see in their life. You may incite them to adopt the same attitude and they’ll pay it forward and serve when they can. Regardless of how they perceive, I can guarantee it will change you. The more you serve, the more you realize the blessings you have be given.