Transplant – Part 1
“Wake up, Mr. Davitt. Wake up.”
“It’s time to wake up and see how you’re doing?”
Where am I?
My eyes opened and my vision was very blurry. I saw faces I didn’t recognize and was in a place that I had no recollection of how I got there or why. There were a number of people surrounding me and they all were wearing masks. I began to realize I was in a hospital bed and that the faces surrounding me belonged to medical personnel who were taking care of me.
But I was still very confused. I was also nervous and angry (apparently) because I was told – later – that I was cussin’ up a storm and was not very nice to the doctors and nurses who were trying to help me feel better.
A complete success
“Your transplant was a complete success,” a male figure with a mask informed me.
“Transplant?” (I remember asking myself).
“You had a successful single lung transplant and now you need to rest. You did not react very well to the anesthesia.”
And so began my lung transplant journey – August 1, 2020.
The beginning of the end
Actually, I believe it would be safe to say it began when I smoked my first cigarette, 44 years ago, in 1972, in Dublin, Ireland. I was 18 and we were visiting family. Irish cigarettes were “different" my cousin Cormac told me. “A wee bit stronger.” And he gave me my first. I enjoyed it.
That was the beginning of the end.
I didn’t know. Even though my mother, father, sister, grandmother, and uncle who lived with us smoked, I had not. Not from any particular health concern but because I’d been a track runner in high school and I knew it would detract from my “time” (how long it took to run a mile, ½ mile, etc.). When we got back to Brooklyn, I went and bought a pack of Marlboros ($.50) and that became my cigarette of choice for the next 45 years.
Simple tasks became challenging
Jump ahead to 2011. It was the day of my middle son’s graduation from high school. The mood in our home was festive and full of anticipation. But as the day went on, I began to cough – sometimes furiously.
I’d had a “smoker’s cough” on and off for years and I’d noticed I was having grave difficulty doing fairly simple chores I had no problem with before – mowing the grass, shoveling the snow.
Both had been fairly easy tasks even though I was not in my 50’s. But in 2010, I was not able to get rid of the relatively light blanket of snow that had fallen that winter, and the first time I mowed that spring, I became overwhelmingly short of breath (SOB).
How long have you had COPD?
And that afternoon, June 12, 2011 – I was suddenly unable to breathe and was rushed to the Emergency Room at nearby Valley Hospital. I was sedated while a series of tests were performed and when I awoke, the doctor asked me, “How long have you had COPD?”
I answered him honestly – “I didn’t know I did.”
And so from June 2011 until August 2020, I was rushed to the ER on 2 more occasions for coughing and shortness of breath. I got used to 90-day checkups with my newly found pulmonologist. Different medications became my friends.
And although they helped my breathing and I was grateful for the ability to continue living my life, my adjustment to my medical situation included early retirement and a big reduction in social activities. This included seeing family and friends because of the chance of respiratory infection but also because of a lack of energy to do much. My new best friend became my oxygen respirator.
And then August 1, 2020 happened.
How has your experience been navigating the healthcare system as someone with COPD?