A Reflection

I just saw a heart transplant. The transplant of a heart. I just watched a brilliant, pink heart being taken from from one chest and placed into another. I literally witnessed the halting of one life and the rejuvenation of another. Asystole to lub-dub, black to white, man to man, life to death and death to life.

I need time to try and process the wonder, the science, the beauty, the joy and the grief before I can attempt to form coherent sentences but wow, what a day, what an insight, what a privilege.

Five days on and I am still struggling to find the right words. How do you? How do you endeavour to honour the life of a man who you ‘met’ in the most inconceivable circumstances? How do you respect and commemorate the sacrifice I’m sure he never believed he would so selflessly make? How can I appreciate the fact that this man lying open on the operating table, eleven months older than me, woke up the same way I did this morning. Probably had breakfast and brushed his teeth the same way I did. Got dressed and went outside the same way I did. Succumbed to the brutal heat of the fiery North Carolina sun the same way I did. This is where our stories diverge. My journey to the hospital, despite Google maps and a straight forward route, took me an hour and fifteen minutes instead of forty five. A journey filled with cursing and frustration. His probably took minutes and although I’m sure there was a lot of cursing on his journey too, I can bet it wasn’t from him. And now he’s here. And I’m here. Except he has a bullet embedded deep in his brain and four pairs of hands rummaging and traversing through a man-made cavity in his abdomen. Each pair of hands is independent to the next, competing for precious space and serving a different purpose, searching for different treasure- untouched treasure, flawless treasure, treasure so deeply sought after by someone else. And I’m standing here watching, gaping rather, feet glued to the ground. Well, not quite. Although my toes have become one with the blood-splattered linoleum, my heels are air-borne, propelling me closer to the action, up and over the sterile blue sheet that hangs between the patient’s body and head, a division between medicine and humanity. As the anaesthesiologist lifts the sheet momentarily, I catch a glimpse of a head bound so tightly, from the crown right to the bridge of a swollen and blood crusted nose. I find myself wondering whether the bandage is there to protect the wound or us, shielding his hurt and anguish or ours, preventing infection or preventing us from being consumed by the emotion of the sobering reality that lies beneath.

The anaesthesiologist is talking to me but I can’t hear what she is saying. All I can hear are the the snips of scissors and the ticking of the clock on the wall, the laboured breathing of adrenaline-fuelled surgeons and the gentle clatter of their instruments, the hushed whispers and the chorus of questions and commands. However, these sounds are merely background noise. It’s the sound of the machines that resonate the most. Each jolting beep and every perturbing hum reminding me that science is the reason that this body is still operating and it is only a matter of time before there is nothing to be heard but silence.

I can’t look away. My attention is unwavering. My eyes are fixated on the glistening organs and the many hands that embrace and remove them, moving with speed but respect, immediacy as well as compassion. This sensitivity unfortunately does little to ameliorate the fact that I am silently observing the destruction of a community. For precisely twenty five years and one month, these organs have lived together, worked together, suffered together, recovered together. But the landlord has spoken. Their lease here is up. With every clamp of an artery or clipping of a vein another member is banished.  One by one they are taken to their new destination. A destination where they will have to reintegrate into a new and foreign neighbourhood. A destination filled with challenges and strangers, hurdles and setbacks. A destination in which rejection poses a real and daunting threat, but a destination where they can contribute unimaginable assistance and relief to a desperate and struggling community. A destination in which they are the missing piece of the puzzle, the sought after treasure. As I attempt to contemplate the difficult journeys ahead, I notice for the first time the tattoos that sprawl across the man’s chest. Unsurprisingly the gaping hole makes it difficult to decipher what the letters add up to but they are enough to transport me back, not for the first time, from science to reality. I am once again reminded of the life that not too long ago, was the sole reason that these organs were thriving. Although they continue to  pulsate, the disfigured and illegible tattoo is somehow the catalyst to my harrowing realisation that the life is most certainly gone. A life cut too short but a life that will be admired and appreciated beyond measure.

The smell of cauterised vessels stings my nostrils and causes my eyes to brim with fluid. At least that’s what I’m telling myself is the reason behind the salty drops trickling down my cheeks.

Correspondence:
Erica Carthy,

National University of Ireland Galway, Newcastle Road, Galway
E-mail: E.CARTHY1@nuigalway.ie

 

 

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