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The Journey We Take Together

Yesterday it became real.  I was choking just listening to an hour of horrifying instructions over the phone.  You want to scream out: “Stop. No. I’ve changed my mind.”

But how can I?  My husband will die.

The heart transplant coordinator is telling us every unpleasant detail to come, now that he has been formally added to the National Register for a double transplant. Things that you really did not want to know about.

There will be a comatose donor, nearly brain dead, and a family in agony. No goody-byes. No more life to share with them.

How will we face stealing a life that is no more, so my husband may live? Maybe.

While our minds can’t help but wander to these ethical, life-and-death issues for a split second, the heart coordinator  continues on through her list.    The phone will likely ring in the middle of the night, she says, waking us from a deep sleep and beginning the final phase of this latest medical odyssey. Frightened for our lives together, there’s not time to think. We absolutely must get to the hospital within four hours.

We’ve never been big believers in telephones.  We’re notorious for just letting calls go to voicemail.  Our argument was unassailable―we never ever missed an offer of a million dollars, an authentic call from Elvis or a Presidential appointment because we didn’t pick up the phone.

But not anymore.  If you miss one call for a donor that matches, that could be the ballgame.  So we’ve now got to be packed and ready.  And jump to answer every call.

Now she’s saying “so the first surgery will last ten to fourteen hours.” (10 to 14 hours??) And I’m immediately thinking:  Oh my God…what will I do, waiting to hear?

But she’s still talking.  When the surgery’s over, she says, Mrs. Prisant you will see your husband connected to ventilators, monitors and more.

I’ve seen all this before with Sandy―twice now, but this time I will have to wait all alone.  There are no more lifelong doctor friends around and no family. So there’ll be no one putting their arms around me; no one offering kisses and hugs.

And then, within 36 hours, the next agony will begin―the second surgery. The kidney transplant.  That should take about nine hours more.

The coordinator is still reading all the rules and instructions. Not cold, but very business-like. Is she slightly detached? After all there are dozens of candidates who get this far and need to know these rules even though some will never get that transplant.

And every few minutes I can’t listen anymore. We’ve lived with this illness for over four decades, but none of it felt as daunting as this―after eight months of evaluation, we’re now facing hospital testing and blood draws almost every other day for weeks or maybe months after surgery.

This phone call is now becoming suffocating.  Our throats are dry as we listen and grunt acknowledgment of each instruction.  And then, “Mrs. Prisant you have to get your own accommodations for the two weeks or more Mr. Prisant will be in hospital.  And then three days a week he will have to come back for checkups. You will be responsible for room, board, meals parking, etc.  (She forgot about the cost of kenneling the dogs and other incidentals.) You stop listening to her for a second as your internal calculator starts throwing up big numbers. Very big numbers.

Having been through these near-death experiences before, you might think I wouldn’t find this overwhelming. But it’s almost a year now since Sandy has been so sick. And all those months since we started the grueling transplant evaluation.

It tells you all you need to know about saga to learn that on the very night, December 28, we got good news: my husband formally went on the National Transplant Register. And bad news:  he was ordered back into hospital for kidney failure problems. Hope and heartache. Hand in hand.

And that left me in a hotel room nearby. The next morning this very charming lady in the hotel café asked if she could share my table. Her husband was also in the hospital.  It’s easier to talk with a stranger when they’re sharing similar pain. But Karen’s situation was different. Her husband had already been on life support and just died.  Our pain was one. We held each other, no longer strangers. Two women sharing a moment of peace.

And then Karen stopped her story in mid-stream and made an astonishing offer. She learned slightly forward and said to me: “Can I offer you my husband’s kidney?”

Susan Prisant’s husband is awaiting a kidney and heart transplant after a lifelong struggle with a congenital kidney ailment. The both blog about their experiences at My Story Lives.

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