The Vow of Life

Campbell Wallace
Campbell Wallace

A few weeks ago, I returned to the transplant unit from my check up. It is a great feeling to know my body functions are excellent. When the consultant lowers the dose of the medications, we become aware the prognosis is good. There is a strict regime and upwards of twenty differing meds a day. In fact, the anti rejection and other drugs are a life long and essential legacy of the transplant. The fact is without the daily intake, the rejection of my organs is not an ‘if’ it is a ‘when’ and once the body begins the rejection process, it is like a boulder rolling down a hill. If the transplant team are not on the case within hours, the outcome, in the long-term is often fatal.

The process of rejection is not kind; it begin’s with a rise in body temperature, nausea and uncontrollable sickness. Full blown flu like symptoms follow, and the body will eventually enter into a coma. The implication is if we do not keep up with the med’s and stick to diet routines, problems are waiting to manifest. Regular blood tests and check-ups are essential to keep ahead of the changes in body functions. And as already written, I keep close to the timetable for daily medication and visits to the transplant team are never postponed. If there is any doubt about my health, the twenty-four-hour help line is here 365 days a year.

The rule is; listen to the experts, follow their plan and ‘feel’ your body. I am acutely aware, of how my body feels, the rise and fall in temperature and general aspects of my well-being. Any doubt; I ask, and by the way, I do not mean look the symptoms on the internet. If there is an issue, it will be considered by my aftercare team. There are times for concern, for example – Last month I was in France and the day was incredibly hot, by mid afternoon, there was a feeling of weakness and nausea. It would have been easy to push past the threshold and continue with the day. As I sat in the shade: My thoughts returned to days when the heat would have made no difference. I needed to remind myself, although for ninety-eight percent of the time I feel healthy. There are times to ‘hold back’ and review the situation. On this day there was no way I was going to push the limit. Carol and my friends left me to my own devices, a litre of water and a relaxing afternoon, all returned to normal. I experienced a warning and no way would I ignore the discomfort. It is uncharted territory, and I was not going to push the limits.

It is essential to follow the guidelines and take the medication. Yes, there are days when the obligation becomes tedious, although my excellent memory soon realigns the slight frustration. Ten or fifteen seconds back into the time when my old lungs could not exchange the CO2 for oxygen is enough to see the light of day. Remember, once the blood is saturated with CO2, we suffocate, the feeling is beyond explanation. My goodness, the memory of the heart beating twice as fast as normal to help with the respiratory exchange. Inability to rest because my lungs were saturated and few respites from the symptoms, the reality of situation immediately returns to acute awareness.

During my last major check up, I realised the magnitude of the transplant process and the essential after care. The sadness of the news two of my fellow transplant patients had entered their final sleep. And one was being looked after by the intensive care team because his body was rejecting the organs; it is a difficult moment. It ‘s hard when people you have grown to know and enter into an exclusive relationship with, return to sickness. The news hardened my resolve to write this essay.

During a conversation with my consultant, I’m amazed, or is it dismayed to discover; one of the reasons for relapse is a failure to keep up with the medication regime. Not only this, there are heart and lung recipients who decide to smoke again. And, some patients return to excessive alcohol abuse. A sane person’s mind enters into shut down mode, thinking about the madness of the self-neglect. What must the transplant patient who neglects his gift be thinking about? (Incidentally, this is no reference to the patients mentioned above).

I am not a moralist; people can do as they choose with their bodies. Smoke, drink or become a drug addict, the trio is part of the society we live within. Fortunately, most who people drink do so on a social level, and smoking tobacco is on the decline. Drug abuse is not something I have great knowledge of, although from a quick search on the internet; the outcome of addiction is often fatal. Misuse of all three, seems to cause major issues with health and family troubles. This observation is as far as my comments reach. The important factor is most people who abuse their lives, do so with their own body and organs.

The recipient of a donors organ is obligated to a different set of moral rules. As an ambassador of the donor registry, I am tasked to ask people to consider entering onto the register. The few who abuse their gift of life, trouble potential donors and me. I would ask you how you would feel if you have not smoked and the recipient returns to tobacco? Or a transplant patient drinks to excess? Both are (to my mind) a shameful lack of respect for the donor and their family.

In the same way, the transplant patient, who fails to follow the aftercare regime disrespects their donor. There is not one day, not a one; when I do not give thanks to my donor and his family. The gift they bequeathed to me is my life. And I will do all which is needed to honour my donor, by caring for my gift of life. It is not possible to consider this in any other way. During the last few years, I have considered many aspects of transplant and the donor system in my country. It is fair to comment the legality, procedure and aftercare are as good as any the world over. We cannot enforce a patient (he will always be a patient – requiring meds and check-ups) to follow the system. Although, we can make them think carefully about the responsibility and obligation to ALL of the people involved in the procedure. The moment the gift of life is neglected becomes the moment every one of the people involved is let down.

You do not receive a ‘Second Chance’ of living to decide to neglect the gift and get away with abusing the new beginning. We must remember, the health and continuation of the transplant system are assured by the acts of each recipient. We must never be seen to abuse our gift or ignore the donors family. Every day we live is a day known, seen and enjoyed because of our surgery. The day you think or say: ’I cannot be bothered’ or ‘I’ll have the extra drink’ or ‘One cigarette will not matter’ is the day to be reminded of the wait in the pre-op room and the promises which spin through one’s mind. There can be few patients who do not pray: ‘See me through this Lord.’ The seconds before the anaesthetic takes it effect, the thought of those you may never see again enters the mind.

The very few who abuse the donor’s gift, should return to those moments and renew the marriage vow of life.

‘Live Life Now’
Campbell Wallace