April 15, 2015

Breathe Easy

Post transplant day #491.  Breathing easy.

Today, April 15th, is a momentous day, and will always be so.  In the national brain, not only is it the ever-grim Tax Day, but it is also the much more grim anniversary of the Boston bombings.  In one week, Dzhokar Tsarnaev will be sentenced, most likely to death.  In the national mind, this is justice.  (As a side note, I find it exquisitely ironic that his brother, Tamerlan, seemingly the mastermind behind the bombings, was killed not by police bullets, but because his own brother RAN OVER HIM in an attempt to escape.  Not once, but TWICE.  Thanks, bro.)

But in my brain, April 15th will forever be the anniversary of one of my dear friends and cysters, Ellie Alexandra Levy​, getting her second double-lung transplant.  It was the beginning of a period of time in which, after extensive recovery, Ellie finally breathed easily, without assistance, without oxygen, without coughing.  And I can tell you from experience, it's those first weeks free of all that, able to take deep breaths and laugh with abandon, that feel like the greatest mitzvah our donor could do us.  Extended life is wonderful, but just finally being able to draw breath without effort is in some qualitative way the more precious gift.

In the CF community, when asked what it's like, we sometimes challenge the questioner to breathe through a straw for several minutes, until they can't take it anymore.  That's like the restriction we experience daily and forever -- until a day like today.  Until a hospital says yes, a donor's family says yes, a recipient says yes please.  All the struggle to breathe and stay alive gathers up into a single moment in a pre-op bay, like a firework waiting to explode, until the word comes back that the lungs are good.  Then a beautiful chrysanthemum of fire blooms, sending nurses and doctors scuttling every which way, and the chrysanthemum expands and expands over time through surgery, ICU, stepdown, recovery, and finally -- as the chrysanthemum fades from the night sky leaving it as clean as it was before -- a life regained with effortless respiration.

Today, as I sit here sipping coffee and taking deep and regular breaths, my chrysanthemum long since seen and applauded, confident that my exercise will be harder on my legs than lungs, and once again able to fully enjoy my life, I am reminded that Breathe Easy is not just a send-off salutation for the dead.  It is a wish for the best possible outcomes, as simply and sincerely said as Happy New Year to the living, whether respirationally challenged or not.  For Ellie, and Heather​ and Jerry​ and Katie​ and Piper​ and April​ and Michael​ and Eryne and Jen​ and Denise​ and all of us pre and post, living or no, on April 15th my day-long prayer is: Breathe Easy.

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