I enjoy the holiday season, especially Christmas celebrations. As my siblings and other family members were born in Poland — I am the only one born in the U.S. — we follow a traditional Polish Christmas, holding most of the festivities on Christmas Eve, or Wigilia. Special foods are eaten and presents unwrapped.
Since my mother passed in 2007, the holiday hasn’t been the same. Though I miss her presence, four years after my transplant, I am grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the tradition.
My wife bakes delicious cookies to give to our friends and family. She doesn’t bake often, but when she does, the results are excellent. I haven’t told her this, but when she is running around the kitchen wearing her apron and covered with flour, she reminds me of my childhood Christmases — a peaceful time that was free from worry.
My mother would start baking and cooking weeks in advance. She was a textbook Polish woman, she wore her apron and, of course, her babushka. Sometimes I would laugh at her outfit; she looked as if she was preparing for a cooking war. My favorites were her dumplings, pierogis, and uszka, the latter filled with mushrooms and eaten on Christmas Eve.
I had my transplant appointment on Dec. 17, and I was delighted that I could properly celebrate my “lungiversary.” My physician was very pleased with my current condition. When she is satisfied, I am happy, but I try to avoid getting overly emotional. She thanks me for being compliant about taking my medicines, following my exercise routine, and overall implementing self-care. I am incredibly grateful for her knowledge and expertise in the field of transplant.
On Christmas Day, my wife and I ventured out to Monterey Bay, California. Surprisingly, the weather during our first two days in California was less pleasant than it was when we left Cleveland, Ohio. The purpose of our visit was to see close family and enjoy what the Californian coast has to offer. During our weeklong stay, we enjoyed the companionship of our family and took a trip to Cambria and Morro Bay.
I am enamored with sea wildlife and take every opportunity to observe sea animals in their natural habitat. It is amazing how much comfort proximity to seals and otters can bring. When I’m around them, I feel as if I am a child again. And sometimes I wish that I was.
I wonder if I had done things differently or changed my lifestyle, perhaps I wouldn’t have developed idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and subsequently required a lung transplant. My disease came on suddenly and disrupted my life in many ways. I wish I could have that time back and not have to worry about people around me being ill, avoiding handshakes, or stepping back when someone sneezes. I regret the loss of the little things most of all.
My holiday season wasn’t without its difficult moments. The mother of a close friend was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. She is 89 years young, with the spunk and sass of a 13-year-old. She is currently undergoing radiation therapy to shrink tumors in her hip and leg. When I visited her, I was amazed at how well she is doing — she looks and feels great. I have known her for 35 years, and her attitude toward life is like the title of my column, “Gonna Live My Life.” Except for a slight problem with walking, one wouldn’t notice anything amiss with her.
Last Saturday, my transplant friend passed away. We received our transplants several months apart. Unfortunately, he had to move away, and the care at the facility where he was treated was substandard. I was fortunate to have known him. I visited often, spending time and appreciating his sense of humor. During his final days, he had a tracheotomy due to the deterioration of his lungs.
My wife and I were called to the hospital early in the morning as a decision had been made to remove my friend from the ventilator. He had been unconscious for a week and wasn’t expected to come out of the coma. He passed shortly before we arrived, and his aunt took us to the room to see him. As we left the room, I wondered at my good fortune. His aunt described his last moments: He took two nice and easy breaths before passing away. Unfortunately, those breaths were probably the easiest he had in the past several months. No machines to help and no more worries.
Rest in peace, my dear friend, and breathe easy.
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