Who knew in the early morning hours of Sunday, October 10, 2010, following a successful single lung transplant at Northeast Ohio’s most celebrated hospital, that I would be so engaged in my life ten years later? I marked last year’s transplant anniversary with a host of family, friends and medical professionals.
After several failed written attempts to reach and to thank my lung donor’s family, I pondered perhaps the most respectful thank you I could offer might be to bow to their seeming collective wishes and remain anonymous. However, as the tenth anniversary moved closer, I became increasingly tearful each time I thought about the donor family, their poignant loss coupled with their willingness to save five individual lives as they offered vital organs for transplant. Multiple lives have been forever changed by their generous single act. Still humbled by their collective decision, this essay is written in their honor.
Once I received my transplant, I promptly began to take twice daily immunosuppressant medications in addition to other meds to aid my body in accepting and learning to live with my new “foreign” lung. The hospital transplant team directed me to avoid all situations in which I knew ahead of time that people who were sick might be in my surroundings. During the last decade, I have often worn a face mask while visiting the gym, grocery store, post office, church, medical and dental offices, hair salons, and other open venues where people tend to gather. As time passed, I became increasingly aware of the need to remain continuously self-protective. I learned not to expect others to be this self-aware.
It became clear it was my responsibility to become self-protective if I expected to remain illness-free. After ten years of living in this, at times, awkward manner, I continue to keep a sturdy cloth mask on a table near my front door. Disposable plastic gloves are also available for service providers to use when working in my home. On occasion, I have forgotten to “mask up” and have used the turtleneck of a sweater that I am wearing to provide protection. I dissuade others from using this emergency on-the-spot solution. It is simply improbable protection. Following over twenty years of working as a chemical dependency counselor, I became increasingly devoted to eating a balanced diet, planning and participating in daily physical exercise, and taking all required meds as scheduled.
One of the biggest struggles I have faced as the COVID-19 pandemic has grown increasingly out of control is to remain reliably calm. My next line of defense has been to monitor my thoughts, whether they are part of twice-daily prayers or simply reactions to life’s predictable interruptions. With phone calls, unwelcome interruptions like drop in visits, or mail, or scheduled physician appointments, I often remind myself to remain calm. Becoming angry or upset about life events over which I have no control depletes my valuable energy and becomes a trigger for losing a precious resource…the ability to think clearly and to take advantage of spontaneous joy.
Recently, as I turned my car into the driveway, I noticed my next-door neighbor had just placed her seven-week-old first born son, Blaze, into his stroller. Quickly, I remembered I hadn’t yet given his mother, Kelly, his baby gift, a hand-knitted white blanket. I parked my car and walked across the lawn to Kelly to take a first sweet peak at Blaze and to invite them into my home to receive the blanket. While Kelly and I visited, I calmly watched her relaxed son sleep and occasionally stretch while I am certain he was gently comforted by and listened to his mother’s voice in the background. Certainly, this was a soft reminder of the value of staying in the moment!
One morning shortly after, I couldn’t sleep any longer, so I decided to rise and return to editing this essay begun earlier in the week. As I walked to the kitchen to reheat my coffee, I began to consider what I had just written. Tears filled my eyes as I relived the time with Blaze and Kelly. I never want to lose the joy I felt of seeing and feeling this spontaneous naturalness that may touch our collective hearts and lives. Babies for some reason, perhaps their innocence, invite a welcome sense of peace.
When feeling lost in life’s scattered demands, I have learned to simply stop whatever I am doing, even if I am in the midst of a project. After I have stopped, my mind, body and spirit calm down and this simple act allows me to call upon God, the Holy Spirit, a Higher Power, Spirit, and another power external to me to show me the way. For me, this figure is naturally Mary, the Virgin Mary. Firmly telling myself to stop what I am doing usually arrests or stops any illogical or impulsive thinking. Occasionally, a change in my living habits is easily activated and is quite simply the positive change I am seeking to begin to move in a fresh healthy direction.
In an effort to create an invitation for creativity and civility in my home, I discourage any type of negativity with those who enter. No space in my personal environment is open to negativity – whether it occurs in thoughts, feelings or behaviors. Sometimes this relaxed and enjoyable home environment develops naturally. Other times, it is created with purpose and effort. My home is a reflection of me. I have learned to develop and to create my home environment in the same manner, I protect my health with careful thought, love, and trust.
As one survives the current pandemic and life, although not returning to the previous “normal” is encouraged to naturally float toward identifying the elements of personal joy. As I consider joy, my first thought is thanks be to God for the consistent excellent hospital care and direction I have received during the last ten years. How grateful I am to be able to easily breathe unassisted. I am supported and guided by health care providers both here in Columbus and in Northeastern Ohio. How fortunate and blessed I am.
Thanks be to God for two family members who live in London and are recent survivors of COVID-19.
Thanks be to God for my two curious grandchildren, nineteen-year-old Alex and his seventeen-year-old sister, Katie. What a joy and privilege to know them and to begin to acquaint them with the Columbus Museum of Art and the Franklin Park Conservatory. I have also enjoyed the privilege of experiencing art, fresh flowers and plants, and Chihuly’s stunning blown glass, through their bright young eyes.
I began writing for publication the year after I receivied my transplant as I wrote and subsequently self-published Humbled by the Gift of Life: Reflections on Receiving a Lung Transplant. Four years later, I was diagnosed with stage 3-C endometrial cancer and received treatment in both Northeast Ohio and locally. I am currently a grateful cancer survivor. Following treatment completion, a second book, Cancer Hope: Discovering Survivor Skills, was made available to the public. I have also served as a contributor to a bi-monthly cancer magazine.
Last, but not least, listening to classical music on my laptop has saved my life during this past year. Whether listening to Saint Saens organ music, Amazing Grace, or Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, I am able to drift away from the present moment to looking out one of the South facing windows in my home and gently smile as I enjoy the natural sunshine on a cold winter’s day.