Part 9: Home for Christmas
Being Home for Christmas was the Beginning of Full Recovery
Once I “deflated” I began to feel much better. My work colleagues and friends had sent lovely flowers which cheered me and of course I still had some visitors and not only from family and friends. Each day Dr Kirk, Taro’s surgeon who was now looking after both of us came in to visit with a large group of colleagues and/or students in identical white coats. It reminded me of the movies. Since they travelled in a monochrome cluster (and sometimes clogged the narrow hall) I dubbed them ‘the clot.’ Everyday with the clot in attendance, Dr Kirk would ask me how I was? I managed to say ‘fine.’ The clot looked on with interest. He asked if I felt any pain? I would shake my head and the clot would nod to one another. One day he told me things were going very well and that Taro was cured. I smiled and the clot smiled back.
After three days NIH discharged me to a nearby hotel paid for by the transplant unit. There were shuttles between the hotel and NIH so I could return for tests and visit Taro. It was an excellent arrangement while I awaited clearance to fly home for Christmas. I was now very eager to get home and see the children. I flew home on December 23. Although I could now walk fairly well I still tired very easily and arranged for wheelchair service in Washington and London.A godfather stepped in to sit with the children so George could meet my late flight. I slept most of the 24th but I was determined to be up for Christmas for our traditional meal.
Christmas Day was the happiest day of my return because it was my first normal day with the family. But I also could not wait to go to church with George and the children to give thanks for a successful outcome. Normally we walk to church but that was out of the question. As I got into the car my neighbour Tina came running out of her house. She gave me a close hug during which she burst into tears. She is a doctor and clearly knew more than I about what could have gone wrong. We have a very close church community. After the operation George had called our vicar from the hospital, who in turn asked if he could tell the congregation about the transplant. He told them just after the nativity play performance which I normally directed. By the Christmas service everyone knew and I could literally feel the tenderness around me. One of the churchwardens put a kneeler on my chair for me to sit on so I would be more comfortable. Later she stood near me as I rose for communion. After the service several people gave me hugs and good wishes. The care of my fellow church members proved indispensable in the long days ahead.
Despite my eagerness to get home, leaving Taro and my family in the US and also the NIH family was very sad. Thinking back on it, I think the post operation phase can be depressing for the donor especially considering the enormity of the risk. The risk that the donor takes on in the transplant is significant. Taro and I had learned early on that the donor’s operation is longer, more complicated and more dangerous than that of the recipient. I went in a full hour before he did and I came out much later. My sister Sharon told me later that while I was suffering with my high fever and ice chip nourishment Taro was sitting up and chatting. He also returned to work long before I did although some of this was due to the brutality of my one hour London train commute versus his leisurely 10 minute drive. While the attention of the carers, and family is in place the sacrifice is more than compensated for by the care and attention. If it begins to wane while the donor is still recovering, it could be very difficult. Luckily, this was not my case. First of all, I had the gratitude of Taro. Every email before and since (until I asked him not to dwell on it) was filled with profuse thanks. Secondly, I had wonderful support at home despite the fact that George had now moved to his new base and was only around on weekends. In fact I had such good support that I found myself thinking that I had done this to be good friend and in return discovered what good friends I have.
Cecilia who had been my walking buddy now brought me soup and checked on me nearly everyday. To give Cecilia a break another friend, Debby flew in from Rome to stay with me. The vicar visited and gave me communion and chatted. And when the time came to take walks alone to the post office or bank, I could depend on running into a member of our church who never failed to ask how I was or if I needed help crossing the street. I was also visited by some of the young people. I came to the conclusion that they truly empathized with me because they are still at a stage in their lives where friends mean a great deal. Thanks to my friends I recovered well even though I did not have a family around to help me.
Now Taro and I are both recovered and while I can not say the essence of our friendship is changed, there is a deeper dimension. We do now think of ourselves now as siblings. Later Taro came to London again. I thought about taking him to the restaurant where the whole process began but instead George and I decided to have a party at home inviting our friends and neighbours who had helped care for me. As Taro and I stood side by side thanking everyone, I know we were both thinking that our relationship had come a long way since meeting in the college cafeteria.