From the archives …
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I visited my eye doctor for a vision exam. I was thinking that my transplant surgeon’s prediction was true – that my eye sight might change after transplant. The optometrist confirmed that thought with the words, “Your sight has improved a lot”.
When I was being evaluated for consideration of being placed on the transplant waiting list, there was nothing held back from me. I was told that I would die without a transplant. And I was told that I could die in the process of receiving that transplant. Certainly the benefits were clearly defined – but so, too, the risks. I remember the surgeon saying to me that a liver transplant “is the biggest operation that we can do”. So while the transplant was a path that had to be taken to live, and I was ready for anything to happen; balancing my enthusiasm was the awareness that the first steps in that path had no guarantees of safety.
We received The Call at about 11:45 PM on a Friday night. There was an organ donor with a liver that was a match for me. While Sandra was getting ready to go, I got my bag out to pack. It was then the first “if” came into my mind – “if I’m going to need anything, it won’t be for a while…” I did pack some things, but with little interest. I looked around our bedroom burning the images in my mind. Everything in its place; our bed, the most comfortable one ever, the couch-for-two facing the TV and overlooking the patio, pool, and newly landscaped back yard – the best view of all.
I walked up the hallway leading to the kitchen – Sandra had conceded that wall as my collector’s space. I looked at the signed pictures, baseballs and golf balls, the picture of Sandra and me taken with THE Stanley Cup. The music is there, too, with the prize being a hand signed letter written in response to fan mail sent in 1967 from a young trumpet player named David from the jazz great Al Hirt. This hallway represented a lot of what interests me. I wondered if my kids or grand-kids would see what I do in any of it.
Sandra said, “Are you ready?” The memory camera in my mind again turned on – mental photos of our fuzzy little poodle kids, Snickers and BJ, the family pictures, a silent panorama of our home, and I said, “Yeah, let’s go.”
We were busy even as Sandra drove to the hospital. We were both on our phones calling family and friends. But as we crossed Tampa Bay, I was gripped by the view. I looked back to St. Petersburg with Tropicana Field to the west. I don’t care what they say, that is a great place to see a ball game. The skyline sure had changed a lot in the 20 some years since my first trip across the bay heading the other way – so, too, had my life.
My family came to see us – my father, sister, and daughters – I talked to my son on the phone. Eye contact was a priority with those in the room with us; I noted the sound of his strong voice. We had fun. There was a lot of talk of relief that this time was finally here. There was no talk that tomorrow might not be, but I kept looking at my special people like it may not.
The time came to say “bye for now”. Optimism was unspoken. I was worried about Tanya getting back to Orlando – I told her to get going – Sandra would call when things were done. I told Kimmi that she didn’t need to hang around – she hates hospitals. I did tell them both and Matt how much I loved them and how proud I was to be their dad. I told Matt how proud I was to be a grand-dad and was looking forward to being one to Landon and Brody (I hadn’t yet met Brody, who was born as I was becoming very sick). I told my father and sister that they might as well go get dinner – it would be a while, the nurse said, and we’d get a heads up.
The “while” lasted about 3 more minutes and the heads up came when the OR tech arrived with the stretcher, and said, “We’re ready for you, Mr. Gerber.” There was a flutter of panic, I looked at Sandra, and she at me, and again in was, “Yeah, let’s go.” That’s when the slo-mo effects kicked in. With Sandra by my side they wheeled me to the operating room. My nurse for the day came out of another room and we fist bumped – I saw a number of thumbs up signs and smiles. My father and sister caught up with us just outside of the elevators. Nothing really to say – just images of their faces created by the colors of smiles, tears, and faith.
There was no way I was taking my eyes off Sandra – they let her stay with me as the final preps for surgery were completed. Her portrait was one of strength and love, though somewhat blurred as in a water-color. That’s the last sight of that life. And I drifted off too…
Things began to focus – there were people all around. It was not the operating room – it was somewhere else. I didn’t see all the tubes I expected. Someone noticed that I was awake. “Are we done? Am I OK?” No one seemed to be able to talk. I did see a lot a smiles and heads nodding. That’s the first view of my second life.
My ability to see has indeed improved since my transplant. I still need corrective lenses. But the sights that define my life are surely far clearer and detailed then ever before. Hi-Def may be nice – but no where near alive and in color.