re-birthday

ashleyTwo years ago today, my girlfriend underwent a double-lung transplant.1, 2

I wasn’t around for it. I didn’t even know it was happening at the time. In fact, I didn’t even know it was possible.

It’s hard for me to imagine…her lying there on a table with lots of fantastically bright light overhead and the beep of the heart monitor and the gasps of the respirator and low murmurs of surgeons and metal-on-metal scrapes and the meaty sound of internal organs being moved and an effluvial, omnipresent hiss that always seems to accompany these scenes. I look at her scars sometimes and I try to put together how they opened her up, dug out the lungs she was born with, put in a new hale pair – soft and pink, not like the viscous, shriveled, over-taxed lungs they’d just taken out.

Sometimes when we kiss I think about the scars I can’t see, tracheal and bronchial. I picture them as best I can, red in the darkness of her throat, jagged thin squiggles of a life in the balance.

I’m not really sure why I do this. Not sure why I fixate upon it. I think it’s because I wasn’t there.

And maybe because I almost lost her, even before I had her.

I try also to imagine her immediately after her transplant, paralyzed on a bed, a feeding tube coming out of her belly. She wouldn’t have been able to talk or laugh, but…would she have been able to smile?

I can’t imagine her without a smile.

She told me how for a while she’d lost her laugh.
I am grateful she found it again.

I envision her walking the hospital hallways, convalescing more quickly than anyone would have imagined. She gets slowly stronger, working on her atrophied muscles as much as restoring her lung function. Everything is over-lit and there are sounds unidentifiable by anyone who hasn’t been there. I see her family around her, their happiness with this gift of life still a little overshadowed by an unspoken concern and the disbelief that she’s well, that she can breathe, that she might just be okay. Because it’s been a really long time since she was any of those things.

I try to be there with her, walking around the streets of Pittsburg when she’s well enough to do so. I see her carrying her newborn nephew through the museum.

But I wasn’t there when she got the call that her body was rejecting her new lungs. And I wasn’t there when they made it okay again.

Someday I’ll get the chance to shake her doctors’ hands. Someday I’ll find every single person who had something to do with keeping her alive, every doctor, surgeon, nurse and aide. Someday I will walk around with her and put a more solidified background to my imaginings.

But I will never have been there.

Now, though, two years later, I am here.

More importantly, so is she. And, like most of us I think, she has sometimes questioned whether she deserved this continuation of life. She’s wondered whether she’s owned up to the gift she’s been given. She’s felt that she’s squandered it, that someone else should have been chosen.

And this is why I’m here.
Because I’ve been there.

No, I’ve never had a transplant. Hell, I still have my tonsils and my appendix.

But I’ve questioned the continuation of my life so frequently that I know the answer.

And the answer is that it’s not my question to answer, or at least not entirely.

And so, Ashley, I have an answer for you:

Yes, you’re worth it.

Love you, babe.
Happy Re-birthday.


  1. Still unsure of the hyphen placement here. Double-lung transplant seems correct grammatically, but double lung-transplant seems correct operationally.a Any advice is welcome.
    1. Pardon the pun.
  2. The result her having cystic fibrosis.
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