This is what I'd like to do: I'd like to just present the issue and have everyone I know, well or otherwise, vote yes or no. Just make up my mind. Choose for me. You guys can do that, right? Make just this one decision for me. No biggie. Easy. Well, you know, except for the part where my life depends on it. I know, I know, not so easy anymore. Tell me about it.
I have pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension secondary to scleroderma. If you're reading this and you don't know what that means, I have to assume you have access to google. So there's no cure for this stuff. I'm terminal. In the past 2 years, I've gone through the evaluation process at both Vanderbilt University and Cleveland Clinic to be listed for a double lung transplant. Both times I've been rejected. Neither were willing and/or able to take on the risk of a patient with my disease coupled with the fact that I have an esophagus that doesn't work. Since January I've been working to adjust to and accept the fact that I'm out of options. There's no fixing it or putting it off. The time I have left, is the time I have left. Period.
Except two months ago I met with my pulmonologist at Vanderbilt for a regular checkup and he told me maybe that's not quite the case. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has begun doing some transplants for patients like me. My doctor gave me some information and said to go home, think about it and let him know what I want to do. Obviously, that's not been an easy decision for me. Two months have already passed and I'm no closer to deciding. I know it sounds crazy. If I have a chance to live longer, why in the world wouldn't I take it? Why am I not running to Pittsburgh?
It's just not that easy. There are so many catches to this it's crazy. First of all, the evaluation process alone for this is the most intensive week of hell you can possibly imagine. I'm willingly signing up for something I swore 9 months ago I would never do again. Blood draws, IVs, scans, xrays, ultrasounds, freezing cold temps, etc. AND you want me to pay you $25,000 to let you put a tube up my nose and down my throat while I'm awake?? All that to tell me that MAYBE I can be listed for a transplant. No promise of how long I'd wait for lungs. No promise that I would survive the surgery. No promise of how long I would live afterward.
We're talking about one of the most painful, intense surgery recoveries possible. Assuming I live through the surgery, I'd wake up on a ventilator with chest tubes, IVs in my neck, a catheter, an incision that spans from armpit to armpit and a feeding tube. No eating food for like 3 months? Whaaaa?
Let's say I put away the fear of pain and just think about what I'd be gaining. Here's the truth: The average life of transplanted lungs is 3-5 years. About 80% of recipients live 1 year, with most of that first year being rehab. Right at 50% of patients live 3 years after transplant. Only 50%. That's not a lot for only 3 years. And with one year being recovery and rehab, what will the quality of life be like?
Then there's the financial cost. A couple hundred thousand for the surgery. The constant cost of drugs, doctor visits, travel to Pittsburgh & other medical supplies needed for the rest of my life. Yes, I have Medicare but it's not free and it doesn't pay for everything. Not even close. I have the most generous parents in the world, but there's a limit to their resources too. The weight of the financial stress doesn't even compare to the emotional stress to consider. I'm quite familiar with the building of hope. And the crashing as well. If this only affected me, I could make this decision. But it doesn't. It includes and affects every person that loves me. Not to brag but I have a heck of a lot of people who love me. I deserve none of it, but I have it.
I think about all of that. And I think, yeah Beth, just let go. It's so much. It's too much. BUT what if I could breathe again? Just breathe freely. What price, financial or emotional, do I put on that?
How much of this is bravery for daring to hope and how much is actually my courage failing me? Is it refusal to give up or a fear of accepting the end? Is the pay off worth the sacrifice? Being sick isn't fair but what about my responsibility to what's fair both emotionally and financially for my friends and family?
I don't expect anyone to have the answers for this. This is just what's happening in my head. A little glimpse into how this is all going down for me. I really don't know what I'm doing. I'll holla.