The first time I heard the term half life was August 14, 1999. I was sitting in the CCU (Critical Care Unit) of St. Pauls hospital. E was at the top of the heart transplant list and had undergone final testing to confirm his eligibility for the next available heart.
A heart was available and as long as the steroid response was succesful at supressing the auto immune disease that had been destroying his native heart he would receive the new one on what would be his 44th birthday, August 15th.
His cardiologist sat me down alone outside the unit and gave me the results of his testing. The disease was back and he was off the list. There would be no transplant the next day. I was devestated. But, he explained by the evidence of heart transplant half lives these results could be a good thing.
The historical evidence of heart transplant success was described in half lives. In 1999 fifty percent (half) of heart transplant patients make it to ten years. Of the remaining fifty percent, half would survive another five years. After that, another fifty percent would survive another five years… etc… The rule of half lives.. That being said, he told me, it was important for E to hold on to his native heart for every possible moment that he could.. Only at the last possible moment in the best possible scenario and with the most promising donor heart would they perform the surgery.
E held onto his native heart for seven more months. In March, the pathologist told us after examining his old heart post surgery that E had about 48 hours left.. It was the last possible moment and he received a perfect donor heart in a text book surgery. (Thank you donor family and thank you cardiologist)
I went home that August night after my meeting and had my first drink in six weeks. E had told Papa not to let me drink because “if she starts she wont stop”. I had stayed with E in the CCU until ten. When I got home, Papa had already fed and put the kids to sleep.. As I started to tell him about my meeting he poured me a glass of sherry. We sat in the living room and cried.. For the first time since the ordeal had begun in July. No more tears were shed or drinks poured throughout the next seven months. It was a lifetime ago.
Fifteen years and two half lives later E continues to defy the odds and will celebrate his sixtieth birthday this summer. He presided over the island AGM this weekend as the Community Association President. Along with the AGM there was a bake sale (we raised $500), there were crafts for sale and the big ticket raffle prize was awarded to a deserving islander (raffle ticket earnings upward $1400) . The meeting was without controversy and a friendly community atmosphere was obvious to all. As E stood before the crowd as President, cracking jokes and speaking about how happy we are with our decision to live amongst such a fine group of people he got a little emotional. To those sitting in the sunny ampitheatre listening, they took him at his word. He does love living here and we do love and respect our new neighbours. But for me and him, honestly we are thrilled, grateful and frankly a little shocked he is living
anywhere at all
Floating on the top of the ocean outside our window, slightly below the surface was a large round flat deadhead. It passed by our house, looking ever so innocent. Our daughter has barely left the window seat since she got here. She reads there during the day and sleeps there at night. In between times, she gazes out the window to keep a watch for what may float by.
This particular dead head was as dangerous as they come. Like a crocodile, as it lays in wait beneath the surface of the water for its prey, that deadhead will bring certain death to an engine propeller. There was nothing we could do about it as it floated past us out into the channel.
It was a very quiet day. Our daughter cozy on the window seat reading with me working on the newsletter and E filling in his ditch. He laid the water pipe in the ditch with the ends exposed waiting to be connected and then he called it a day. He isn’t feeling well and we think the Bells Palsy is back. He is starting to look like a pirate again.
Our doctor in L retired and E’s pirate look has prompted us to find a new GP on the island. When things are going well one doesn’t really need a GP. But things seem to go south fairly regularly with the two of us so we need a GP easily accessible.. He didn’t want to go to emergency like last year. (emergency)
I called the transplant clinic asking for a recommendation of a GP who maybe has had a transplant patient before. While I waited for them to call me back I started to call around and found a guy in the wee town where we buy our groceries who is taking new patients.
They wanted to set up a get acquainted appointment for E next week but I explained E’s medical history and that he looks like a pirate.. They offered to take him tomorrow.. When the transplant clinic called back later in the day they had a name of a Doctor with transplant experience and by an amazing coincidence.. it’s the same guy that we found.. GP ten minutes from where we keep our boat, experience in transplant patients and will see E tomorrow.. Score!
We are having a great time here on the island. We are getting lots of work done in the cooler weather. We have had great visits with our children and all systems are working well.. But E’s medical situation is always laying beneath the surface, in wait..
like the crocodile
There weren’t a lot of parties or fun at our house in 1999 or 2000 but we tried to make up for it. On the first, third and eight anniversaries of E’s heart transplant we invited anyone who had helped us while he was sick. The family who brought potatoes from their farm, the many who drove our kids to sporting events or fed them while we were at the hospital. The women who slept with me at the hospital during and post surgery, the neighbours who ignored the falling down fence for another year, the co-workers who called, the prayers, the friendship .. the comfort and support.. We invited them all and we partied.
There was a favorite greek restaurant in town. I called the owner and hired one of his best dancers to come and entertain the gang. After E, my 80-year-old mother danced with the belly dancer. My 13 year old son was next. Not many women hire a belly dancer for their husbands first birthday.
A party for all ages and everyone celebrated. We had multi generational beer pong tournaments in the garage, food in the dining room and drinks everywhere. E was so overwhelmed with the love shown.. I remember the following morning after the first, when he had time to open the cards and gifts.. One of our friends had made a donation to The BC Transplant Society and that was the straw on the camels back.. he cried…
Over the years at that house we had three graduation parties for over a hundred, family reunions and a celebration of life.. The house was made for parties and as our neighbours can attest.. There were a lot of them.. Life is too short and you always need to find a reason for a party.
Small Frey showed up this morning and I saw him catch a herring beneath me. His Mom and Dad were also around all day. This afternoon Dad (Walsh) caught one in the same spot. They mostly hang out at the C&R’s but then they swoop down and fish right in front.
With all of the excitement of the herring and dolphins yesterday I forget to mention the return of the humming bird. I would suspect he is just visiting because the Y’s are away, but he is welcome none the less.
We have since celebrated his transplant anniversary twice in Mexico, once in Las Vegas and last year at SoHo.. This year we are content to be together in peace and quiet. The eagles are calling, the sea lions are barking and if we are very lucky the dolphins will swim by. There will be lots of celebrating in our future living on this island but we are thinking we need to find new
reasons to party
I think it is really important to keep track of our learning curve. It is surprising how much we have forgotten already about our experiences in the two years we have been here. I am so glad I started this record and can see how far we have come already.
Part of the reasoning behind keeping this journal is for record keeping, part of it is to keep you all updated on what is going on here and part of it is for therapy. My therapy.. I am trying to stay sane without benefit of happy pills.
I am so honored that you choose to read along and follow our lives here and support us in our attempts at surviving off grid.. We make a lot of mistakes and you have all been great in encouraging us. I know you are all busy and that you take time to read along, is really appreciated.
In 1999 it was suggested I keep a journal. Writing things down seemed to help me focus and put life into perspective.. The days seemed so overwhelming sometimes but to see the stress outlined in words seemed to settle the worries and help me focus on all that we have.
But I was thinking about the value in reproducing the journal entries focusing on E’s illness It seems to me that it is focusing on the negative of our lives.. Do we really want to dwell on it? Is it interesting at all for anyone else? I don’t know.. If it is, you are all welcome to keep reading it. I do think I want to reproduce the journal for the record. But we are back on the island. The Doctor appointments are over. Our life has resumed and it isn’t about illness and stress.
We had a nice visit with everyone at coffee shop this morning. We had a great day working outside. E lit the burn pile and tidied up the mess from our downed trees. I planted the azalea and started to weed in the garden… It will be a big job to get the garden under control. But at least I am in the garden and have a started on the job.
I have moved the entries for E’s illness to the section of the blog listed as Gift of Life. If you hit the link you can follow along any new postings on that topic.. But I think it is more interesting for you, better for my health and our happiness if we return the focus of this
blog to the
good side of life.
You will have to excuse me if this weeks postings are less about septic systems and sea lions and more about second chances and celebration. We prepare to welcome the fourteenth anniversary of E’s heart transplant. The anniversary date comes with a variety of emotions.. Happiness sure but mostly disbelief and gratefulness..
We really still can’t wrap our heads around the reality of what happened and how our lives changed. We have had a lot of time to get used to the idea but it still seems unreal. How we spent 1999 and 2000 are a distant memory and I am so relieved I kept a journal.. So many of the little details would be forgotten if I didn’t have the journals to reread..
Don’t get me wrong we don’t spend our leisure hours reading them over and over, dwelling on it.. But once a year we usually pull them out and read them as if we are reading about strangers who travelled a unique path to happiness.
We are grateful. We always, always remember Someone. Someone important and their family. We know that they are commemorating a different kind of anniversary. One of loss. Fourteen years ago they lost a loved one and their loss gave E life.. That is no small thing. Imagine the unselfishness and power they had to give life when on their saddest day they donated a heart. Its surreal and words can’t describe it adequately. There is no perfect sentence.
Most of us track our lives into chapters.. Ours were the years before marriage. The days before raising kids and after.. We quite understandably changed the track of our lives to those years before transplant and those after transplant.. Before transplant we both worked full-time with three small kids. We ran from work to hockey game to karate class to swim meets. I was stressed beyond belief and E was fit and healthy. The transplant initiated a 12 year period easily described as the Doctors years. I had three surgeries after his big one, my Mom had some issues and we had E’s Dad with us while he faced cancer. I remember a six month period in 2009 when I didn’t go one week without taking someone to an emergency department. But those years are over.
We have a new chapter and it has nothing to do with illness or anyone elses comings and goings.. It is quite selfishly, about us and we call them the island years. We now track our life before moving to the island and after. We have a
new defining moment