My Memories of Transplant Recovery: Hallucination and Defibrillator Paddles
When I write about my lung transplant, I honor my donor, for whom I am forever grateful.
I didn’t know him, but I know he was a caring person. Last August, I was the lucky recipient of his lungs, which changed my life like nothing else has, or ever will.
When I think about the day after transplant and how my recovery went, a few things come to mind:
- My hallucination
- A pair of defibrillator paddles
- The new nickname “Double Derriere”
- Restricted visiting hours
My surgeon said recovery takes a year. Additionally, he said I would have several up days and down days. Thus, I must have self-restraint in my recovery.
I had my share of rising and falling days emotionally. Remember, each transplant recipient experiences their own unique recovery, and my case is no different.
My first day was a low point. Click, click, click on the roller coaster.
On Aug. 14, 2020, at 9:30 p.m., a surgeon completed my lung transplant. Hospital staff brought me out of an induced coma the next morning and took me off the ventilator.
While waking up, I hallucinated, believing I was coming out of anesthesia. I felt like I could barely open my eyes. Next, I sensed that two nurses were about to take out my endotracheal tube, but that didn’t happen. And the next thing I envisioned was a janitor wearing a brown coat pushing a cart down the hallway.
After the janitor scene, I returned to picturing the two nurses trying to take out the breathing tube. It felt like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day.” I imaged opening my eyes a little more, thinking the tube would come out now. But my hallucination skipped to the janitor in the hallway.
Once again, I returned to the beginning of the delusion. I tried moving my fingers and opening my eyes more, and visualizing my hands. But something blue that looked like boxing gloves had been wrapped around both of my hands. That turned out to be hospital staff wrapping my hands with gauze and blue tape to keep me from pulling on the tubes.
This hallucination continued until I finally was off the ventilator.
I asked the doctor and nurses how many other patients usually experience hallucinations. They said it happens occasionally, but that it’s rare.
Later in the day, my 5-foot-2-inch nurse wanted me to move from the bed to a chair. I sat up in the bed. She told me to take my time at the edge of the bed.
As a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, I was trained not to fail any challenges, no matter what. We were taught to do whatever it takes to succeed. So, after waiting a minute or so, I used my West Point training to move to the chair.
But when I stood up, my head started spinning. The nurse asked if I was OK. She said I should focus and breathe.
The next thing I knew, I was in the chair with one derriere on and one derriere off. I had passed out for about 20 seconds. The room was full of people, and one nurse even brought defibrillator paddles. Seeing all of those nurses — especially the one with the paddles — horrified me. I didn’t know who was more upset, the nurse or me.
In hindsight, I suspect that I had torn two small holes in the clamshell incision on my left side. These two small holes eventually caused issues with my recovery. This incident showed me that I needed to take things slowly and carefully. It was all about building more of my West Point character.
I told my friends about the incident, how the petite nurse had guided me into the chair, and how I had one derriere on and one derriere off the chair. In response, my West Point friends nicknamed me “Double Derriere.” So, I am on the Double Derriere Vertical Loop forever.
My day didn’t improve too much after the first two incidents. I was allowed to have a visitor from noon to 8 p.m. Before that, I needed to get the results of my post-surgery COVID-19 test, but a new COVID-19 policy at the hospital delayed the results.
After passing out, I was distraught, and I needed to see a family member. After the operation, I had only spoken with my wife, Dana, and my daughter, Terri.
Finally, around 6 p.m., I was allowed to see someone, so I asked for Dana. The COVID-19 restriction allowed me to see only one person a day. It was hard for me not to see Terri, and I know she was upset about it. We talked before the surgery, but we hadn’t been able to see each other, which was emotionally challenging.
Have you or a loved one faced recovery following transplant surgery? How was your experience? Please share in the comments below.
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