After 25 days in the hospital for her double lung transplant, Anna was discharged! I don’t say, “Anna went home” because home is in CO and she can’t go home until she has fully recovered. She went to our apartment in Durham. It’s our cozy ‘home’ here. People in the Duke Lung Transplant Program refer to home as their Durham home and home-home as the place where they lived before coming here. People come from all over the world to receive a life saving lung transplant at Duke University Hospital. One of Anna’s transplant buddies is from Israel!
This journey, while a tremendous gift, has not been easy. Anna battles feeling discouraged. At 28, she wants to live a “normal” life. She wants to be like most 28 year olds: healthy, finding meaningful work, living on her own, dating, getting married, having children, enjoying time with friends…While she is grateful for this chance to live, at times it’s hard to keep her perspective on the good.
A reality for humans is having sorrow and celebration all mixed together as we travel through life. It’s healthy for us to allow ourselves to sit in the sad space at times. It’s part of grieving our losses. The things we don’t have in the moment are real and it’s important to acknowledge that. It is also important to remember the good. I find it helpful to keep the two in my mind at the same time rather than all one or the other. As I grieve a loss, I visualize the good, too. Neither one discounts the other, they are simply allowed to be in the same sphere of acknowledgement. It helps to bring balance to sorrow and celebration. 🙂
At this moment, Anna is peacefully resting. Over the past 24 hours that has not been the case. She has been feeling bloated, filled with lots of fluid and the usual post surgery/pain med back up in the poop arena. She stopped taking pain meds except for Tylenol a day and a half ago. She rode some nasty waves of all over feeling icky to finding some place of calm in her mind, even if she didn’t really feel it in her body. She used all relaxation techniques: massage, guided imagery, relaxation breathing… They were helpful at times, but at others she just couldn’t take it. Unfortunately there was no relief to be found when she hit the wall. It was rough! I was able to walk away last night and hand the baton over to her dad who had the overnight shift with her. He got two hours of sleep. It really helps to have at least two of us here so we can take turns resting and implementing self care. Sadly, Anna doesn’t have that luxury.
Beyond the most recent crisis, Anna was cleared for thin liquids a few days ago. She has zero restrictions regarding eating and drinking. Her first request was a Starbuck’s Passion Iced Tea Lemonade. She savored it! Of course, the bloating and horrible feeling removed any desire to eat or drink for a few days. Just before resting she enjoyed apple juice and some almonds. A sign that she is moving in the right direction.
I think they are removing two of her chest tubes tomorrow so she will be down to two. She started with six. The chest tubes add to her discomfort but lately she said the transplant trauma and chest tubes were not her problem. She was moved out of the ICU and thankfully into a room just like the ICU rooms. There are two places a lung transplant patient can end up. One is about seven years old, spacious, light, about as enjoyable as a hospital room can be. The other is old, tiny, and depressing. What a gift it was when she learned she would be moving to the new floor. Lots of celebration!!! An interesting note. In the ICU Anna was in room 7 on 7 West. Her new room is 7 on 7 East. She got her call that lungs were available at 7p on October 7. We love all the sevens!
Just wanted to keep those of you who are following Anna’s progress through these blog posts informed if you are wondering about how she’s doing. 🙂
The wee hours of October 8 marked the beginning of Anna’s eight hour surgery to replace her first set of gently used lungs with the precious lungs of another family’s lost loved one. For Anna, it was exciting and terrifying all mixed together. She is still in the ICU healing and getting better in different ways every day. It’s a bit of a roller coaster trying to balance the medications they are giving her for pain, keeping fluid off the lungs while also keeping her blood pressure stable. The bottom line is, she’s doing well. Anna told me last night that this transplant is way better than the last one. 🙂
My mental health tidbit for this post is, it’s so important to let our feelings have a healthy outlet. This is an emotionally and physically exhausting adventure for all concerned. The most challenging job is Anna’s. While on the ventilator she had to calm herself down so she wouldn’t be constantly fighting the breathing tube. She has hallucinations. She knows it. So she talks herself down from whatever the hallucinations might be telling her or simply reminds herself, “Yeah, this isn’t real. Random people are not hanging out in the corner of my room singing to me.” 😊
A few nights ago I noticed myself getting really snippy with my husband and he totally did not deserve it! The next morning I took time for myself doing yoga, spending sweet time with God, and soaking in a bit of peace and sun outside. I felt the rise of tears but they disappeared. I started texting a friend and the tears started to roll down my cheeks. Yay! I needed this. I cried and cried. My friend called me and I cried with her for a bit. It felt so good just to let all the built up emotions out. I had spent the last six days being strong, holding it together, staying positive. That’s an important part of this process: the ability to contain when necessary but also the ability to let the emotions out in a safe space. I felt teary most of the morning. It was hard to shut down the faucet but eventually it ran dry. By the afternoon I was feeling grounded and clear again. I don’t feel so exhausted either. A good cry goes a long way!
Waiting is becoming a very common theme in my posts. I wonder what you are waiting for? I think we are all waiting for something. Sometimes we’re waiting for big things, sometimes we’re waiting for small things. It can be hard to be patient in the waiting. We have options. We can be irritated, grouchy, miserable, intolerant, and so many other icky feeling emotions. Sometimes it feels good to go to the icky feeling place. Sometimes it doesn’t. We can also choose to find peace and contentment in waiting. I think of it as a release of control that I don’t have anyway. It’s an action that can be hard to do, to let go, but when I do I feel so much lighter and relaxed. I can take deeper breaths. I sleep better. I am much less irritable. It’s more enjoyable to be around me, too!
Anna is getting lots of practice waiting as she is still waiting for her gently used set of lungs. She must wait for just the right set, not any lungs will do. Her body is already on to this “lungs from another body” deal. So the new lungs will have to be very different from her current set. This will help trick her body into leaving the new lungs alone and not seeing them as a threat. Our immune systems are so awesome at fighting bad intruders but they don’t know the difference between bacteria that’s bad and life-saving lungs that came from another person’s body. So Anna waits. Her wait is worse than mine for so many reasons. I spent three weeks with her and then returned home. I’ll go back in a few weeks. But she must stay in North Carolina waiting every day for a call where she will hear, “Anna, we’ve got lungs for you!”
I’m back in Durham, NC with my daughter, Anna. She has been listed for a double lung transplant. That means she is in the national registry of patients waiting for donor lungs. The first time she was listed 6 years ago, we thought the call would literally be in minutes after being listed. The wait was 19 days. When thinking in seconds, that seemed like an excruciatingly long time. This time around, we know not to hold our breath. We have been prepared by the Drs that this wait will likely be longer. Anna’s body has figured out some details about her current lungs that make it more likely to spot the second set more quickly if they have similar antibodies to the first set. So we have buckled in and are ready for the wait.
I love knowing, being aware of what is going on or likely to happen. So much of Anna’s journey has been filled with the opposite and I have to work super hard to just be in the moment. Honestly, I don’t really know what’s going to happen with her second transplant journey but I like to fool myself into thinking I know something. I do know the area, literally, and can drive with more ease as we go to appointments, classes and pre-transplant rehab. The classes help educate the patients and caregivers so we know what’s going on and what to do about all things transplant. For the most part they are refreshers since this isn’t my first rodeo. But there’s a lot of new information and classes they didn’t have 6 years ago. I am thankful to learn and relearn.
I feel more patient this time around. I like that feeling. On the flip side I also feel more dread. I don’t really know why but I do. Transplant has all kinds of nasty worse case possibilities from loss of fingers to death. I feel the weight of that more this time. It’s hard to hold my daughter loosely; remembering she is not mine and I do not have control over how her life goes. I was reminded of this in our Caregivers’ Support Group. It felt good to let myself connect with my fears and my sadness. Sometimes I can get wrapped up in tasks that I forget about the fragility of this journey.