151 Band

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Part 3: Up To Date

It was merely a week after my transplant that I was discharged from the hospital and sent home.  That week included exercise, pain management, meetings with doctors and pharmacists, and yes, a bit of anxiety.  At first, I thought that one week out from the transplant may have been a bit early because I was still exceedingly weak and required assistance to just walk around the room or to go to the restroom.  But, the doctors knew best and I was discharged with an arm full of medications, instructions, warnings, and even a good dose of encouragement.

Arriving home was surreal.  I had been gone for a month and while it was home, I saw it in a new light.  I saw home as a sanctuary; a place to heal and a place to get my head and my spirit right for what was to come.  The process of healing from a transplant can be pretty arduous and there are a multitude of things to remember.  Fortunately, there is actually a handbook that I can refer to upon occasion to refresh my marginally depleted memory.

The first day home, I got comfortable on the couch and then decided to try and make it to the bathroom.  I was issued a walker so I tried to use it to help me stand up but my legs were so weak that I just collapsed on the carpet like a rag doll.  I couldn't get up but somehow I found the humor in it and began laughing.  "Oh, how the mighty have fallen," is what I muttered under my breath, followed by a brief prayer, informing God that I "got it," that I see that humility was going to be my friend and humility and I would become very close over the next few weeks.

Carolyn helped me up and eventually, I made it to the bathroom, but not without pain and frustration. I confess that the level of pain was astronomical and nothing seemed to work to curb it.  There were moments when I thought that there was something severely wrong, but was reassured by my transplant team and my wife that what I was experiencing was normal; I had just had major, major surgery and it would take a while to get back to the "new normal."  

I've had occupational therapy, physical therapy, and have tried to stay as active as I could as the pain subsides and affords me the opportunity for mobility.  I've even overdone it a couple times only to be set back a couple days in terms of progress as a result.  But with each passing day, I could see and feel myself getting stronger and able to walk without the aid of a walker.  

There have been some emotional sticky places as well.  They usually take place when pain is almost unbearable and my frustration hits the roof.  I admit that I questioned why I had received the miracle of a second chance when clearly, I wasn't up to the task.  Somehow, I've made it through thus far.  I've continued to fight and push towards the goal of being self-sufficient completely.  My kids were at the hospital with me and spent a great deal of time with me but now, the routine is back in play and I don't get to see them; particularly Heather and Matt who live out of state.  My youngest two are working and schedules are a bugger.  Makes it a little tough, but thank God for FaceTime.  

I have some friends who have been unbelievable through this process and they deserve a shout-out to say the least.  Steven and Jen Jones have been there by my side at the hospital and have been regular visitors to the Gorilla's Cave since I came home.  Jen underwent a double lung transplant a couple years ago so, we're kindred spirits of sorts.  Many of the things I experience now, she once did as well.  They have been a blessing beyond measure and I can't adequately describe how much it means to me.

Even my sisters-in-law flew up from California to be here with me, to make sure I don't do anything stupid and to ensure I stay on target and on track.  Debbie and Sandy are two truly remarkable women who have been selfless and caring to a goofball like me.

To all of you who have sent your prayers and well-wishes my direction, and those who have paid me a visit, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate you and your kindness.

Now, the battle rages on.

Ron "Gorilla" Black

Monday, May 14, 2018

Part 2: Post Transplant Weirdness

Dr. Kohli, one of my surgeons.
When I was wheeled into the operating room, the last visual was that of my family and friends, all cheering me on and hopeful that all would be good.  I admitted to everyone there that I was scared beyond description; no room for pride or shame at that point.  They understood and were very encouraging.  The last thing I remember about the operating room was being transferred to the table and the anesthesiologist telling me that he was injecting the anesthesia into my IV.

I have a great deal to be thankful for.  My family, the surgeons, and all of the doctors involved in my transplant.  They are amazing people with incredible God-given talent and they saved my life.  

The next series of events are a blur because I was pretty heavily medicated and it was tough to distinguish between what was real and what was imagined.  I do remember waking up with a respirator, a catheter, and some weird tube thing that went down into my stomach.  I was a bit panicked because for a few moments, I couldn't remember why I was there.  I also remember a 7' tall, German woman named "Hilda" standing at the foot of my bed laughing and making jokes with me about my health and circumstances.

It was bizarre.

Apparently, I tried to take out the respirator but the nurse stopped me and at one point, I made the decision to follow my wife into the hallway of ICU and succeeded in ripping out an IV.  I don't remember it at all, but I do remember the blood stains all over the sheets and my blanket.  I was told later that they had to restrain me because I was being, well, bull-headed and determined to get out of the bed.  I was also informed that I wouldn't believe them when they told me that I had made it through transplant surgery.  I didn't believe that I had received a transplant so quickly and that I had survived.

When I began to gather my wits to some degree, I realized that I had actually received a transplant and that the events of the previous days were not imagined, but real.  The hallucinations stemmed from the fact that I was loaded with steroids from the procedure and the different types of pain medications contributed to my confusion.  Yes, I was confused and bewildered.  At times, I felt like I was in a video game like MW3 and trying to identify spies and enemy infiltrators.

Drugs are bad, mmmkay?

The staff at Integris are phenomenal.  The ICU is intense and the nurses are exceedingly professional and business-like without losing a personal touch.  The nurses and staff on the floor I was transferred to (7 East) were like angels.  They explained what had happened, what to expect, and the plans for my eventual discharge.  They fully explained the milestones that needed to be reached, they were responsive to my questions and concerns and I have to tell you, they made me feel as though I was in good hands.  And I was.

My wife was a champ; overseeing the madness that had ensued and scheduling folks to come stay with me (I wasn't supposed to be alone) and make sure I didn't fall or anything.  She stayed on top of the medication questions, she developed a plan for after-care, and she is nothing short of phenomenal.  I am blessed beyond measure to have such a wonderful human being in my life.  She has been able to juggle her work, my issues, and keeping everyone on track and she does so gladly.  She is a giving spirit, a kind soul of which you don't meet every day and I'm proud and humbled that she is my wife.

My kids were all there except for my oldest who plans to come out to visit within the next couple months.  It was a revelatory experience and each day brings new insight and a different perspective on life itself.

Of course, I will share those with you too.

Until next time...

Ron "Gorilla" Black