Part 8: Getting Well
Getting Well Takes Both Determination and Support
I spent a miserable night but it would have been much worse without my sister Sharon. She put cold compresses on my head and fed me little slivers of chipped ice which was all I could take in. Sometimes I rejected chips that were too large by pursing my lips and shaking my head very slightly. They needed to be no larger than a half a pea, one at a time. There was an enormous fan trained on me to reduce the heat induced by my fever and I was grateful for it. The next morning I was not great but I was much better. I learned that Marlene had sent someone to check on my condition before she returned to California. I was so sorry I had not asked her surname. My mother and George arrived early looking refreshed and sent Sharon back to the hotel to rest. Alison had also arrived so they could take turns keeping watch. In laparoscopic surgery you are blown up with a kind of gas so they can move the cameras around. One of the reasons I felt paralysed and could scarcely feel Dr Pinto’s hand was that I was so bloated. By the next day my insides were starting to ‘deflate’ so I was feeling better. I could see that my hand looked large but Sharon said I looked more like myself. My skin colour apparently also started to come back. I still felt nauseous so they gave me a drip for it and the nausea did not reoccur.
Once I was out of surgery my goal was of course to restore my health. The first 24 hours I could do nothing but after that it was important to make an effort. I had no inkling what was involved in recovery. Certainly, the accounts I read did not discuss recovery at all. I assumed it was only a matter of resting and dealing with the pain. In fact pain was not at all a problem just as the other donor had told me. I felt very little pain in the surgical area and what pain I did feel was easily managed by the IV and later by taking very few of the pills they gave me. On the other hand the surgery itself was a major shock to every system. It is true that recovery from transplant surgery can be very swift. I was out of the hospital in three days and well enough to fly back to London in ten. But the first two days are AWFUL and anyone considering donation will need two things to help get through them well – determination and support. I had both but I wish I had had some earlier indication of what was involved.
First of all, although I no longer had a breathing tube down my throat, breathing was difficult. As a result I could not talk. It was days before I could speak and even brief conversations left me completely exhausted. Deep breathing was down right painful but it had to be done. To assist in regaining the ability to breath deeply with ease I was given a breather to blow into. The cure was as painful as the problem. I could only do one or sometimes two before stopping. But after each time I was able to breathe more deeply so it was obviously working and after a while I would try again. Sitting was also deeply painful. After being shown how to lift myself up properly I would get myself over to the cushioned armchair right next to the bed which does make you feel proud! But the pain in my back from the act of sitting was frankly excruciating. After about 10 seconds I returned to my soft pillows on the hospital bed. But I kept trying as often as possible. Each time I went to the chair I counted so that I could surpass my previous count. Two minutes was a major accomplishment. So much for the determination, now the support.
Just before flying back to London the social worker asked me to speak to a woman who was preparing to donate to her son. I stayed in touch with her through her recovery period which was not as speedy as mine. I felt terrible that she was suffering so much but I soon realised something. Her recovery probably could have been easier but she was alone. She had no one to encourage her and coach her. Her husband and children did not stay with her nor apparently did her friends visit. My situation was very different. George was there to cheer me on when the breathing tube hurt. One morning when he walked in with my mother I was in the chair counting to two minutes. He smiled and rewarded me with a kiss. The day sister was resting my mother and George were there. When they needed a break Alison relieved them. When George left to return to the children in the UK and my sister needed to return home, another friend Sandy flew in from Ohio to stay with me. And a third, Mariam came in from New York to take me for cheesecake. Having family and friends around helped me to progress rapidly. The best moment of all however was my first walk during which I passed Taro’s room and saw him for the first time since the surgery. He looked entirely different. His face seemed fuller and most strikingly his skin colour had changed. Our kidneys affect our colouring. The grayish tinge to his complexion was gone. The feeling of elation I had in seeing him so well is indescribable. I taught him a new expression, I told him he was ‘in the pink.’