My weekend started with a call from one of my sisters, “We’re on our way!” She lives in the St. Louis area while I pitch my tent near Dallas. My immediate comment was, “Here?” A visit from her is always a treat, and her voice held a certain buoyancy.
“No. To the hospital.”
My brother-in-law hasn’t had a heartbeat since late February of 2011. No heartbeat. No pulse. Since 2011.
Ten years ago, his heart enlarged to a critical size, and he required hospitalization. He recovered and spent those years in good health. But around Christmas of 2010, it enlarged again.
Most people with damaged hearts have other health issues which cause the heart to deteriorate. In my brother-in-law’s case, he was in great shape except for his heart. It was so profoundly damaged (10% functionality), it actually caused a ventricle to leak. Mind you, he walked into the hospital prior to hearing this diagnosis. My sister now feels a little badly about parking in the back-forty.
This time, the doctors had no recovery plan. He needed a heart transplant.
Not everyone is a candidate for a transplant. If the other organs are damaged through disease or a lifetime of poor decisions, a patient can’t get on the list. The first step is assessing the patient for transplant viability. The second step is switching him to a spare.
In this case, the spare is called an LVAD or left ventricle assist device. I’m not medically prone, so I kept calling it a VLAD, like the impaler, though there is a certain poetry about that error. This device is external with a couple of tubes attached to his heart to pump blood in its place.
No pulse. No heartbeat. Not even with a stethoscope.
Only a slight buzzing from the machine.
He got zapped a few times. Not on the outside like static. On the inside. The thing has a auto-zapper (defibrillator) to regulate the action. He asked them to tone down the sensitivity a bit, so he’d quit twitching in anticipation like Pavlov’s dog.
People who aren’t transplant candidates can live fairly normal lives with this device. My brother-in-law recovered from this surgery and went on to mow the lawn (a riding mower), cook, clean, and keep busy in any way he could to avoid dwelling on his situation while he waited for a compatible donor. My sister learned how to service his machine, and he wore a backpack with his heart pump for nearly eighteen months. When he went out in public, people looked at him like he was a suicide bomber strapped for paradise. Mobility has a price.
So I got the call from my sister. He had a new heart on ice somewhere. Could’ve been hovering overhead in a chopper. Maybe the donor was still on life support.
Bless his heart.
There are two surgical teams. One removes. One installs. For the families at each end, the emotions are raw, bittersweet. At the removal end: loss, grief, hope that the recipient appreciates the gift. At the installation end: hope, fear, gratitude for a stranger’s sacrifice.
We prepared for a long recovery while they planned a funeral.
From here on, this post gets more personal and delves into my faith. If you’ve heard it before and aren’t interested, this is a good place to cut. I would’ve done the same thing at one time. If you skip to the third paragraph down, you can read how his surgery (ies) went.
I’m a prayer. I’m a non-denominational Christian who tries to live as Jesus taught, and I routinely fail miserably. I don’t usually discuss it here because many of you don’t care. People come here either for my writing or my ebook formatting series. Based on my sales, mostly the latter. But it is relevant to the rest of this story if you decide to press on.
So I contacted the intimates in my life and asked them to be with us in prayer. Along with the others, one dear friend responded and spiritually held my hand during the wait. She knows my family well.
My brother-in-law’s eleven hour surgery was uncomplicated. Odd word to use for a heart transplant. First they examine the donor heart and make sure it’s still viable, then–the point of commitment–they detach the LVAD. It’s now forty-eight hours later, and he’s doing great. Per routine, they waited a few days to close his chest. Because he’s been on blood thinners, they keep the chest open to ensure his bleeding stops first. He’s in surgery as I type. They expect to wake him tomorrow and then immediately get his butt out of bed and walking.
I can’t wait to place my fingers around his wrist and feel the thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
After his transplant, I sent updates on his condition to everyone, and my one dear friend rejoiced with me. Then she texted that she had been to a funeral that morning. No. It wasn’t the donor. It was for a woman and her two children. The mother had killed both her kids and then herself.
I’m not one for idle sentiment, but the disparity of her news left me in a wake of sadness. I don’t know these people, but I could’ve. Maybe I do know them, and their pot is down the street on simmer.
The police investigator on site said, “I have a picture of someone who loved her children very much. I know that’s difficult for all of us…. (he choked up here) Difficult for all of us to understand.”
And if the facts of this case change in the coming days, it’s still a too-familiar scenario.
We fight to live while others fight to die.
One wipes out an audience at a movie premiere, while another preys on Waheguru worshippers at the local Sikh temple. Pick a city. Pick a day. Even animals don’t treat each other this way.
This is why I believe in evil. It takes our weaknesses and uses it to destroy.
Good v.s. evil. It’s the elemental force in play. I feel the tension twang my own bones. But I know the full force of evil is restrained, and it only has power for a season.
Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.
Some people think that those with faith in God, Jesus, must be blind or simply stupid. I’ve been accused of worse, on lesser grounds, and occasionally deserve it. I’ve made my peace. Meanwhile, I’m off to hug my family.
p.p.s. We now return to our regular programming.