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There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lung

A miracle is not always what it's cracked up to be.

 

Don't get me wrong, I believe in miracles. I’ve prayed for them. But there’s always a trade-off.

 

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis: a nasty disease where fibroids develop on the lungs, scar over and cover the lungs, which results in smothering the owner of said lungs. Nasty. And there is no cure.

 

The disease can progress slowly over the course of several years, like mine did. But when it gets moving? Hold onto your hats.

 

One day, you’re breathing on your own--admittedly huffing and puffing, as if you’d just run a race, but still doing fine. Then, the next day, wham! You’re on oxygen, 24/7, and heading for the finish line.

 

By last June, my disease had progressed so quickly that I was given the choice: lung transplant, or die within a year… and a painful year it would be.

 

With a husband I adore and two daughters in their 20s, for me, that wasn’t much of a choice at all. But then I went to my first appointment.

 

First of all, it turns out getting a lung transplant is hardly an option for most people. In fact, it’s harder to get on the transplant list than being accepted as a member of the Pebble Beach Golf Club. Unlike Pebble Beach, it has nothing to do with money or who you know. It’s about the strength and health of your heart, your liver, and your kidneys; it’s about your age, your home care situation, and your emotional and mental health. Luckily, I scored well on all the tests--a first for me and tests of pretty much any kind.

 

That first appointment gives you the lowdown on the potentially ugly side of post-operative life. Downer statistics like transplant success rates, life expectancy rates, and the full monty of side effects you can expect from the flotilla of meds you’ll need to be on to keep your new lung functioning.

 

The big guns in this army are the immune suppressants. Our immune system’s job is to fight foreign invaders, which includes colds, flus, viruses, and--yes--new body parts. So unless the big guns stop blasting, your immune system will try to get rid of your new lung.

 

 Whether doctors are bound by law to fully disclose them, or my particular doctor was closer to the ultraviolet end of the doomsday spectrum, I’m not sure, but by the time I left the office, I was no longer convinced that “get a new lung” was the only choice available to me, because it came with a very good chance of getting every cancer and infection that came down the pike.

 

It got me thinking about that husband of mine, those daughters I adore. I would give anything for more time with them, but was it better for them if I went cleanly, sooner rather than later? My husband is still young enough and attractive enough to find an energetic, fun-loving companion, I thought. And my girls… perhaps I've given them my best?  

 

Forget Sophie’s Choice. This one was all mine.

 

It's been seven months since my transplant, and the fact that I’m sitting here writing this tells you which choice I eventually made. But it wasn’t without cost.

 

Most people assume that the transplant surgery, and the recovery period of a month or so after, was “IT” with a capital I-T. Get past that and you’re home free: breathing like a champ, climbing stairs, walking the dog, making love, living life as you knew it. Wishful thinking.

 

Before I got my transplant, one of the doctors on my team told me--several times, in fact--about a patient of his who was playing tournament tennis eight weeks after his transplant.

 

God bless him, because eight weeks after my transplant, I was pulling fists full of hair out of my hairbrush with hands that never stopped trembling. My hair was falling out due to just a couple of the two-dozen meds I have to take every morning. As for the shakes, or tremors as they’re called, they came from my daily dose of steroids… steroids which also give me perpetually cracked lips that no amount of Chapstick has cured.

 

What’s tremors, or cracked lips, or going bald even, compared to dying? Nothing, right? Bupkas!

 

Same with the insomnia, and the two-month long bouts of flu, that have come from my ‘big gun’ immuno suppressants doing that huge, important job of keeping me from rejecting this gorgeous new lung. What can I really do about these drugs that are robbing me of my hair, my sleep, and sometimes even my sense of humor? Take them and be grateful.

 

So I do. I think about what I’m going to wear to my daughter’s college graduation next year. I think about going Stand Up Paddle Boarding again. I think about what wigs will look good on me. Should I stay blond or go dark? Short or long?

 

It’s all about my “new now”--the trick is to make friends with it. That's the trick for anyone blessed enough to receive a life-saving body part. Make friends with your “new now,” and get into gratitude as quickly as you can.

 

The truth is, there ain't no such thing as a free lung. Once I understood that, I began to warm up to my new now. I can't say that we are BFFs yet, but there's warmth and respect. And I’m hoping one day soon we will be.

A miracle is not always what it's cracked up to be.

 

Don't get me wrong, I believe in miracles. I’ve prayed for them. But there’s always a trade-off.

 

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis: a nasty disease where fibroids develop on the lungs, scar over and cover the lungs, which results in smothering the owner of said lungs. Nasty. And there is no cure.

 

The disease can progress slowly over the course of several years, like mine did. But when it gets moving? Hold onto your hats.

 

One day, you’re breathing on your own--admittedly huffing and puffing, as if you’d just run a race, but still doing fine. Then, the next day, wham! You’re on oxygen, 24/7, and heading for the finish line.

 

By last June, my disease had progressed so quickly that I was given the choice: lung transplant, or die within a year… and a painful year it would be.

 

With a husband I adore and two daughters in their 20s, for me, that wasn’t much of a choice at all. But then I went to my first appointment.

 

First of all, it turns out getting a lung transplant is hardly an option for most people. In fact, it’s harder to get on the transplant list than being accepted as a member of the Pebble Beach Golf Club. Unlike Pebble Beach, it has nothing to do with money or who you know. It’s about the strength and health of your heart, your liver, and your kidneys; it’s about your age, your home care situation, and your emotional and mental health. Luckily, I scored well on all the tests--a first for me and tests of pretty much any kind.

 

That first appointment gives you the lowdown on the potentially ugly side of post-operative life. Downer statistics like transplant success rates, life expectancy rates, and the full monty of side effects you can expect from the flotilla of meds you’ll need to be on to keep your new lung functioning.

 

The big guns in this army are the immune suppressants. Our immune system’s job is to fight foreign invaders, which includes colds, flus, viruses, and--yes--new body parts. So unless the big guns stop blasting, your immune system will try to get rid of your new lung.

 

 Whether doctors are bound by law to fully disclose them, or my particular doctor was closer to the ultraviolet end of the doomsday spectrum, I’m not sure, but by the time I left the office, I was no longer convinced that “get a new lung” was the only choice available to me, because it came with a very good chance of getting every cancer and infection that came down the pike.

 

It got me thinking about that husband of mine, those daughters I adore. I would give anything for more time with them, but was it better for them if I went cleanly, sooner rather than later? My husband is still young enough and attractive enough to find an energetic, fun-loving companion, I thought. And my girls… perhaps I've given them my best?  

 

Forget Sophie’s Choice. This one was all mine.

 

It's been seven months since my transplant, and the fact that I’m sitting here writing this tells you which choice I eventually made. But it wasn’t without cost.

 

Most people assume that the transplant surgery, and the recovery period of a month or so after, was “IT” with a capital I-T. Get past that and you’re home free: breathing like a champ, climbing stairs, walking the dog, making love, living life as you knew it. Wishful thinking.

 

Before I got my transplant, one of the doctors on my team told me--several times, in fact--about a patient of his who was playing tournament tennis eight weeks after his transplant.

 

God bless him, because eight weeks after my transplant, I was pulling fists full of hair out of my hairbrush with hands that never stopped trembling. My hair was falling out due to just a couple of the two-dozen meds I have to take every morning. As for the shakes, or tremors as they’re called, they came from my daily dose of steroids… steroids which also give me perpetually cracked lips that no amount of Chapstick has cured.

 

What’s tremors, or cracked lips, or going bald even, compared to dying? Nothing, right? Bupkas!

 

Same with the insomnia, and the two-month long bouts of flu, that have come from my ‘big gun’ immuno suppressants doing that huge, important job of keeping me from rejecting this gorgeous new lung. What can I really do about these drugs that are robbing me of my hair, my sleep, and sometimes even my sense of humor? Take them and be grateful.

 

So I do. I think about what I’m going to wear to my daughter’s college graduation next year. I think about going Stand Up Paddle Boarding again. I think about what wigs will look good on me. Should I stay blond or go dark? Short or long?

 

It’s all about my “new now”--the trick is to make friends with it. That's the trick for anyone blessed enough to receive a life-saving body part. Make friends with your “new now,” and get into gratitude as quickly as you can.

 

The truth is, there ain't no such thing as a free lung. Once I understood that, I began to warm up to my new now. I can't say that we are BFFs yet, but there's warmth and respect. And I’m hoping one day soon we will be.

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