Monday, July 30, 2007

A Reprieve

"Were you the one who called the ambulance last week when I was so sick?" she asked, as I prepared her meds and took out my stethoscope and blood pressure cuff.

"Yes, it was me. You sure didn't argue, that's for sure." I continued to rummage through my things and arrange the tools of my trade.

"I guess I could have died, huh?" She looks at me sort of dreamily.

"It was pretty likely, but we weren't about to let that happen, were we?" I respond, looking up from my tasks.

"I dunno. I barely remember what happened."

"You had thrown up before I arrived. Then, as I took your blood pressure, you grabbed the bucket and got down on your hands and knees on the floor and vomited over and over again. Do you remember that?"

"Yeah, I guess so. The people at the hospital were so nice, especially once the transplant team had me on their floor. I hope that liver comes soon. I'm getting pretty sick."

"You still wear your beeper day and night, right?" I ask.

"Oh, yeah. I wouldn't trade that thing for all the methadone in the world."

"Good. Now, you have a low-grade temp today. What should we do?" I put away the thermometer and other supplies.

"I'll call a cab and go to the doctor's office to get checked out. I really don't want to go to the hospital again if I don't have to."

"Promise to go?"

"Yes, I promise."

"I don't want them to have to scrape you off that floor again if I can help it." I rise to leave.

"Thanks alot. I really appreciate it."

"Hey, you're doing the hard work. I just stop by and check in." We shake hands.

"See you Wednesday, and get to the doctor's office! And no Tylenol! Your liver can't handle it."

"Yeah. See you then. I'll go, don't worry. Thanks."

Last Wednesday I started my day with a bang, sending this poor soul off to the ER, dehydrated, febrile, end-stage cirrhosis working its horrible magic of visceral implosion on multiple organ systems. A new lease on life seems to have been granted, or at least a reprieve of sorts. This patient---and thousands (or millions) like her---walks the thin line between life and death, waiting for a life-saving organ transplant as millions of viable organs are buried beneath the earth or consumed in the fires of crematoria. What a morbid waiting game indeed.

For now, another brush fire has been stomped out as the cirrhotic fire in her liver rages on. It is truly a race with time, and even the hoped-for outcome of a fresh transplanted liver cannot deliver the promised revitalization of health without a large degree of uncertainty and risk. I have seen what havoc organ rejection and infection can wreak, and if life waiting for a transplant seems rough, the other side of the surgery is certainly no picnic.

Still, I could leave that house today secure in the fact that one more sunrise has arrived for this kind person, and yet another opportunity presented for continued life, however challenging. Yet another instance to think to one's self, "there but for the grace of God go I."
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