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A Healthy Laugh

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Andrea Czarnecki-Galgon

On April 20, 2010 the phone next to bed rang at 1:30 in the morning. My husband and I both woke up and knew it was "the" call. My transplant coordinator calmly told me that a new set of lungs were being prepared for me. The next few hours were a blur of activity. The drive to the hospital, being prepped, calling family and friends and then the wait in the pre-op area with my husband. I'm not sure if it came too slowly or too quickly, but it was time to head to the OR. Show time.

I remember there was this bright light shining above me. At first I wasn't sure if I was supposed to go into the light or if it was just a light. When I tried to move a bit a realized I had made it through. The breathing tube caused me to panic a moment, thinking something had gone wrong. That's when a very calm nurse reassured me things went right.

By the time I was taken to my room upstairs I was thrilled. I had made it - soon I would be able to take on the world. No more leaning over shopping carts, steps would not be the enemy and my fuzzy dog was going walking with me. That was what my mind said - my body pointed out a few minor things I had to deal with first - 6 drain tubes, a bronchoscopy or two, 10 day hospital stay, blood draws and a few months of rehab and learning the names and dosages of all my new meds. Prograf - Tacrolimus - tomato - tom-ma-toe.

There were good days and bad days, but not one day when I couldn't breathe. Learning to care for my new lungs and rebuild my body took some time and a lot of effort, but it was worth every ache, pain, scar and frustration that happened. My inner voice kept reminding me that someone had given me a gift and I needed to appreciate it. Mentally it took a little longer to wrap my mind around everything that happened. Weeks after the transplant for some reason the thought that I had someone else lungs in my body hit me like a wall. It took a bit for me to wrap my mind around the fact that not all my body parts were original factory issue. Had these lungs ever smelled lavender in France? Run a marathon? Off and on for a month my mind would mull these and other questions, but as the months passed I realized it was more fun to actually go out and run, sniff and breathe for myself.

I wasn't 100% optimistic 100% of the time. I was always a tall, thin girl. Remember Twiggy? I found out that with the help of loading and then a daily maintenance dose of prednisone I suddenly had curves. Ok I gained weight and rounded in places I never did before. A female and weight gain - this was going to take a bit to come to terms with. Funny when I was really thin I wanted curves, now not so much. I've dealt with people asking me what it was like to be dead, do I have feelings from my donor and why I would do this only to live an extra year or so - if I could handle that I could handle these blasted curves. After intensive shopping therapy, basically a whole new wardrobe, I realized I can breathe deep, look good and shake my curves on the dance floor. The Twiggy look was over rated. Time for Andrea 2.0.

It might seem that I have a more humorous approach to my experience than others. The truth is any transplant is not easy, not for the recipient or the donor/recipients families. There is that moment when you're told your only options is a transplant and your mind just shuts off, all those seemingly endless test, jumping every time the phone rings and well-meaning friends and family who saw, read or knew somebody who went through something. Humor was my coping mechanism. I found that if I could find humor in some of the small things, the big ones didn't seem too bad.

It's been over five years since I started my transplant journey. I have no idea where the future will take me, but then again nobody does. I've been able to live life, instead of being just a by-stander - which is what organ transplant is all about. The first Halloween after my transplant I carved a pumpkin for my front yard - Frankenstein. Given my experience I wanted to tip my hat to the first organ recipient. (I told you, humor works.) ■

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

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