Monday, December 12, 2005

Wonderfully Different Days

Folks -
Sometimes my life is so different it seems like all the craziness of last year happened to somebody else. It was last week a year ago - Pearl Harbor Day - December 7, 2004 ''a date that will live in infamy'' in our house - that I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Nancy and I had gone to Beth Israel in NYC for an early appointment with Dr. David Clain, who drew blood from me that was to be frozen and shipped to Paris so that experts there could try to figure out what rare type of hepatitis was beating me up - turning my liver into chopped liver, bloating me with fluid buildup and painting my skin and the whites of my eyes jaundice yellow. (My blood never made it to Paris - and Nancy and I haven't made it back yet, but we will - not frozen).

Dr. Clain had run through the warnings signs we'd heard before - if I seem incoherent, if my handwriting gets illegible - it's a sign of my body breaking down and I need to get to the hospital immediately. For Nancy and I, the joke was familiar: How would she know for sure - I'm big on being incoherent and archeologists couldn't decipher my handwriting (a journalistic defense - If I can't even read my notes, no judge will be able to!).

Well, my body gave unmistakeable signs it was time to get me to the ER - STAT! After dinner, with the kids out of the room, thankful - I brought up blood and also had tell-tale tarry stools. Nancy called our neighbor, Ellen, who smoothly whisked the kids to her house to play before the ambulance arrived.

All things considered, I didn't feel so bad. I had even convinced Nancy that she should transfer the regurgitate into a take-away container so that we could bring the ''evidence'' to the hospital for examination.

We can laugh about it now, or at least I can. Nancy transported the vile vial and, of course, no one wanted anything to do with it. The ambulance people thought she was the sick one for carrying it around.

The town's EMS volunteers rushed me (Nancy aboard) to Overlook Hospital, where doctors saved my life that night. I remember constantly chatting with one of the ambulance attendants and somehow we learned that our kids were in the same first grade class. The crew seemed obsessed with how tall I was, saying I barely fit in the ambulance, even though I'm only 6'-1'' - making me wonder how they transport really tall people.

All I remember of Overlook was a doctor feeding a long scope down my throat that felt extremely rough - like the worst sore throat you've ever had. They were looking for the cause of the bleeding. What i didn't know is that they saved my life that night after the doctor had told Nancy, my sister and my sister-in-law that my body was breaking down and that ''this is how we loose people with liver disease.''

Miraculously, they stabilized me and a bidding war of sorts broke out as to whether I was going to NYU (where I had been accepted recently into the transplant pool) or to UMDNJ in Newark, where we were trying to get into the pool, which had a shorter waiting list. In the end NYU won the day.

All I know of it was Nancy telling me that I was heading to NYU and heading out in the evening on a gurney, thinking how beautiful the sky and stars looked as they rolled me into an ambulance for the sirens-blaring trip to Manhattan.
The drivers and crew didn't know the best way, so I had them call Nancy, who was racing behind us - and she directed them via cellphone in one hell of a wild ride. By early evening, I was in the transplant unit, where I would stay until leaving my new liver on Dec 30.

Fast forward to a year later...
At the hour that was fading away in the Overlook ER, I was now on live CNBC television giving a commentary on the oil market for ''Wake Up Call'' viewers.

At the hour that I was hurtling down the Turnpike in a lane-swerving ambulance, grooving to the siren, I was inside a packed school auditorium, watching Alex and all his fellow second-graders signing their holiday songs. Somewhere in the crowd - I looked for him but didn't find him - was my hero EMT, John - unless he was out saving someone else that night.

We're doing all the holiday things with special joy this year. Tasha had her dance performance for her YMCA dance and tumbling class (sometimes very hard to tell the difference!) on Sunday afternoon. She was adorable, acting out the Night Before Christmas with her troupe. Last year, I must have looked like a scary freakazoid in the crowd as the pictures (taken by dear friend Char, who was missed this year!) will attest. I look like I am from a different planet, or at least am a different species than the rest of my crew.

We rushed from the Y to the local senior citizens center where Alex's Cub Scout pack was doing its holiday sing-a-long and decorating trees. A wonderful time. In last year's madness, Alex missed the holiday sing.

But in one of those wonderful moments - like so many that made Nancy and I weep with joy and count our blessings so often on her daily hospital visits - the Scouts came by our house and sang carols on the lawn for Alex, Tasha and the family. Alex was so excited, he rushed to put on his uniform to join in, only to find that this was a special command performance. Just part of an amazing time that will stay with us forever - and this year we're all around to enjoy it together.

In transplant news - NY Times reports of two dialysis patients - an odd couple of men with nothing in common, who met during Brooklyn treatments - ended up getting sister kidneys from the same donor. The donor was in Colorado - but the Type A kidneys weren't needed in that donor region and made it to NY to the unusual ''kidney brothers'' who were hospital roommates and couldn't even agree on what news channel to watch.

Just heard today from Diane - a friend and great supporter - who has a relative who recently had a successful transplant. As she notes in a Christmas card - another great reason to sign up as a donor.


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