A New Day

I remembered what J.T. had taught me: No matter how badly I felt, I had to put on a face of strength and will. Whenever anyone came into my room – doctor, nurse, tech, even those who cleaned my room, they got a dose of positive vibe. I realized I had to project more than need – they knew my need from my labs. I still had plenty of will to live. I had to let them know it. I had to get them on board with me. It seemed important that they should want to see me live; that they should want to save my life. I had to become their favorite patient – no easy task. I had to make them like me – to make them look forward to visiting my room. What could I do? I dedicated myself to making sure that everyone who entered my room left it with a smile.

The doctors and nurses of my transplant team radiated intelligence. How could I connect with these brainiacs? I greeted them all with a sincere “Good day.” I asked them personal questions: Did they have any kids, did they like the movies, what was their favorite music. Surprisingly, none of them listened to music regularly, and none had time for movies. “What do you do?” I asked. “This,” they replied. I didn’t know what else to do, so I worked on my voice until I was able to sing. I sang to everyone. Beatles songs, golden oldies, gospel. I’d get them to sing with me. When I thought it appropriate, I’d offer to pray for them, or their family members. It surprised me, how they responded. Because I was so weak, all these things required great effort. Singing and praying. Trying to get a laugh out of these stoic and dedicated clinicians. Before long, I realized I was genuinely helping them have a better day. They began requesting songs. I had started this whole thing to get their attention, but now, my attention was on them. They shared their prayer needs, and what had started as a selfish endeavor became an honest concern for those who cared for me. They became less detached, more human, until finally, the transplant surgeon – the actual person who would handle my liver, came to visit me. He started off by saying, “I’ve heard you can sing. Would you sing something for me?” This guy made me nervous. He looked to be in his late seventies, early eighties, his face full of wrinkles. He had no readable humor about him – a doctor carved out of stone. I asked him what I could sing for him. “Summer time,” he said. I knew the first verse. Hopefully, that would be enough. I began to sing. I could hardly believe what I saw next. He teared up. This doctor, with decades of well-practiced detachment behind him, actually shed a tear. He motioned for me to stop singing. He looked at his other doctors and said, “We need to keep this man singing.” Now, I teared up. I wiped my eyes. From that moment on, I fully believed God would show mercy to me in the form of a new liver. It was a humbling experience. I felt nothing celebratory inside, only the gravity of mercy, and the mercy of God knows no bounds.

A few days later, February 28, 2014, at three o’clock in the morning, the hospital called my wife at the transplant house. Two hours later, a doctor woke me. She said, “Get ready. Today’s the day.” A moment later, my wife called. She was on her way. My two sons were on their way too, driving the hundred miles to the Transplant Center. In the early afternoon, transport arrived to take me to surgery. I was surrounded by hospital people. My wife held onto my hand. Though we were still in the clutches of deep winter, the sun shone in through a giant window near the elevator. I asked them to wheel me closer to the window, to have a look outside. The landscape was covered in snow, which made the sun all the brighter. At the operating room door, my wife kissed me, and embraced me as best she could with me on the stretcher. We’d been together twenty years now. I prayed for twenty more. Next I knew she was kissing me again, laughing, with tears on her face. She said, “You have a new liver.”

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