Life, Death, and Cherry Lemon Sun Drop

The last ten days has been very strange. It’s a waiting game. It was about then that my dad sent a text message to Helen Keller, John Wayne, Uncle Jesse, and Mamaw that said he is number one on the transplant list for his blood type. You would think we would be happy to hear that news, after all these years of his being sick and now having such tough year. But when I got the news I cried like a baby.

There’s something strange about knowing that in order for your loved one to live, someone else must die. I told My Friend the other day that I feel like a circling vulture. I know what it’s like to lose someone. One of the closest people in my life. I would have done anything to save her. And now, somewhere, there is someone praying that their mom, dad, brother, sister, niece or nephew will live. At the same time I pray my dad can live. Both of our prayers can’t be answered at the same time. My friend told me I was looking at things the wrong way, that if someone were to die it’s noble and unselfish for them to be willing to give life to another. And he’s right. I absolutely know he is. And I’m incredibly thankful for people and their families who give the gift of life. But my heart also grieves for them because I know the loss they face. 

The other reason I was crying is that the only way to get a liver out of someone else and into my dad is a surgery. Not a revelation, right? But when your mom just died in February as a complication of surgery, you look at the risks of anesthesia and cutting and sewing a little differently. I know it’s neurotic but I just keep coming back to it. The last time my dad was admitted for an infection in his belly I wasn’t able to stay with him and I was terrified up until the moment he got back in the car. I want to protect him and control everything around him that could possibly impact his life, and I can’t. In reality I know that I have no control over anything, but when I’m able to hover I feel more secure. I can’t hover in an operating room. 

So what’s a family to do while we wait for a liver? 

We move my dad into his condo. And we have a social-distancing baby shower for Helen Keller. We go on date nights, and we watch Twilight movies, and we go swimming at Uncle Jesse’s house. We (OK I) read books that help me understand why I struggle so much with anger and fear and resentment lately. And other books that make me laugh, or gross me out, but ultimately keep me distracted. Pick up overtime at work to keep my mind busy.  I write letters to my mom, and I find joy in the little things like my kids and iced coffee and Christina Yang. And Other Half figures out how to calm the madness when it gets out of hand. I go to Krispy Kreme when the hot and now sign is on, and I try to figure out how in the world I’m supposed to be as good at getting my dad safely through all of this as my mom would have been. How any of us are supposed to make it through this at all without her. 

I snapped this photo of my dad at the baby shower. He’s holding his favorite drink. Cherry Lemon Sun Drop. I remember going to his first few transplant appointments with him and my mom. They were terrifying. Descriptions of ventilators and central lines and incisions as long as your forearm. After hearing all of this, my mom and I were nearly sick at the prospect of what was coming. My dad was fine. Not a single reaction. Until we met with the nurse, who is the transplant coordinator, and she told him that after transplant he has to permanently give up Sun Drop and any other drink that contains grapefruit juice because it interacts with his anti-rejection medications. That’s when he finally reacted. “Like never?” “Never,” she said. That elicited a deep breath, the only reaction any of us have seen. 

And so now, as I go to work in the mornings I wonder if today will be the day. As I lay down to sleep at night I wonder if the phone will ring in the middle of the night telling me it’s time to go. Before we make any plans I calculate how long it would take me to get back home, and make sure we would be within the 3 hour window of getting my dad to the hospital in time. It’s sort of like waiting on labor to start, or hoping that you’ll get accepted into NP school. You know the time is coming, but you don’t know when, and so you live your life somewhere between taking slow deep breaths and holding your breath. 

It’s exciting and terrifying and hopeful and scary. It’s the very definition of facing the unknown. It’s teaching me things about myself that I didn’t know, and it’s forcing me to live in the moment and not worry so much about things I can’t control. But I think to make everything less intimidating, I’m going to stop thinking of it as waiting for a transplant, and start thinking of it as the last time my dad can have Sun Drop. Apparently they are both equally life changing in his eyes. 

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