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Getting the call

At 5:30 this morning our landline rang. Having been up already for several hours engaged in my normal itching and scratching rituals, I was surprised by the vigor my husband bounded out of bed with, it was if he was expecting the call. It was the transplant coordinator. They only call at 5:30am on a Saturday for one reason.

“Hi, Elizabeth? I’m calling to let you know there is a potential liver for you…” This is how I come to find myself at the Royal Free Hospital this morning. No stop at A&E, no wheel chairs; I just walked myself into the ward in my comfiest yoga clothes with suitcase in hand (coincidentally, I find myself in the bed exactly opposite from the one I rested in during my emergency TIPS procedure in 2009).

I’m once again in the waiting place while the potential donor liver is assessed. If it’s a go, I will be taken to theatre imminently for the 6-12 hour transplant surgery. If its not a go, I will go home and get on with life as I know it.

The potential liver is what is known as a DBD liver, a live liver of a 76 year old, brain dead woman of my size and blood type. These are the only details I will ever know. In this situation the way the surgeons assess the condition of the liver is by seeing it, and this happens in the last moments before the surgery.

I overhear two other post-transplant patients discussing food and the quality of meat products their husbands are able to purchase online versus in various supermarkets, and it dawns on me that their chat has more to do with the conversations I’ve been having with the transplant team over the past several hours than I care to admit. The quality of the the donor organ is largely based on a visual assessment, not unlike going to the butcher or fish monger.

It is an odd thought, to take a major organ from someone nearly twice your age in order to sustain your own life. This liver has already been through the arc of life with its original owner, and is now preparing to be repurposed for the use of another. In some ways it isn’t so different from what happens daily at mealtime when one being eats the flesh of another. Both of these acts take away life from one source to sustain life in another. A main difference is that the potential organ donor isn’t losing their life expressly for me; for all intents and purposes they are already dead and have lived a full life. In contrast, most animals raised for food have a horrible life to begin with and die quite young. To compound this they are eaten by someone who doesn’t know or care about the life they led before the point of consumption.

But I digress. It has been a long night and will be a long day whether the transplant is a go, or not. Thirst and hunger are kicking in, and I’ve just been informed there are multiple potential transplants being worked up, which may mean timings shift dramatically. Everything is subject to change, like life. And just when something feels like forever…

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