Recalling My Mom’s Transplant Day One Year Later
This weekend, we will celebrate my mom’s re-birthday. It is hard to believe that an entire year has passed since my mom, Holly, had a double-lung transplant.
The important moments of that day remain vivid in my memory. The phone rang at about 8 a.m. My adrenaline spiked, as it had with every odd-hour phone call for months. When I answered, my aunt Shari simply said, “We have lungs.”
The phone beeped in my ear. It was my dad, Ed. I switched calls and got all the details: The donor was a very close match, except for the size of the lungs. They were too big, but the surgeon thought they could make it work. The donor had been a patient at the same hospital where my mom had awaited the call for three months. With no transport required, the surgery could begin once preparations were complete.
I had a text message from my mom when I hung up the phone. I tried to video call her to share the moment face to face, but she was already busy with preoperative procedures. We exchanged a few text messages, and I tried not to think about how much I wanted to be there to walk her to the operating room. I was giddy, relieved, energized, and terrified.
My conflicting emotions might have complicated getting everything done before I left, had I not prepared for the call. Instead, my clothes were clean, my bags were packed, and I had a list reminding me of essentials to grab and tasks to complete. All I had to do was book my flight, throw a few things in a backpack, and make sure there were no issues with public transit from Oakland to San Francisco.
My husband, Jonny, left work early, and my to-do list was complete by the time he got home. We took a walk to kill the time. The day was warm and bright — a rare sight this time of year in Olympia, Washington. The sun burned through the clouds and dispersed the fog of uncertainty and anticipation that had pressed upon me through the winter.
My mom texted, “Here I go!” at 11:02. I tried not to think about what she was enduring as Jonny drove me to the airport. My itinerary ran in cycles over and over in my head, creating an autopilot program of the steps I would take in the coming hours: Airport, Southwest Airlines desk, security, gate, plane, bag claim, BART station, exit at Embarcadero station, downstairs to Muni platform, get off at Parnassus stop, parking garage elevator, hospital, waiting room, Mom. Repeat.
Experiencing the anticipation in public was surreal. As I moved from point to point toward the 10th-floor ICU, hundreds of miles away, my mom was in a state of suspended animation. Machines performed the functions of her heart and lungs as surgeons delicately removed her diseased lungs and replaced them with healthy ones. A person who had developed those lungs inside of their body before birth, who had breathed into those lungs for a whole life we’d never known, was no longer breathing.
I knew all of this was taking place as I moved through the phases of my travel. The TSA agent checking my ID asked how my day was going, and I said, “My mom is getting a lung transplant right now.” Realizing that my capacity for small talk — which isn’t great anyway — was nonexistent, I put on headphones as soon as I was through security. I buried my face in my hands every time I thought of the donor’s family. There was so much going on in my mind, yet I felt like I was also in suspended animation.
I ran into my cousin in the terminal — a serendipitous moment that helped to ground me. Once he boarded his flight to Arizona, my autopilot mode engaged. The next thing I remember is staring at Sutro Tower, the tallest structure in San Francisco, from the air. My final waypoint, UCSF Medical Center at Parnassus, sits at the base of the massive radio tower. From the plane to the BART train and the Muni, my eyes were glued to it whenever it was in sight, watching it grow as I drew nearer.
Before long, I was dragging my suitcase into the surgical waiting room. My uncle Scott was standing guard. My dad arrived and we shared several giddy, nervous, grateful, fearful, joyful hours.
At 10:46 p.m., after most people had cleared from the lobby, the surgical team sent a text message update: “Out of procedure.” Soon after, a nurse found my family and led us to my mom’s room in the ICU, where she lay, still sedated, but breathing deeply without IPF.
Thank you, donor. Thank you, UCSF.
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