Labor Day weekend means many things. It celebrates the achievements of the American worker while also marking the end of summer vacation and the start of a new school year. And to me, it’s the anniversary of my double-lung transplant.
Three years ago on Labor Day weekend, I received the call for new lungs. I’d just arrived at our seasonal campsite and settled in with a good book and oxygen in our family’s camper. Within an hour, my phone rang, and the person on the other end of the line asked how soon could I get to the hospital.
This was 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, before a vaccine was available. Pandemic protocols at the hospital allowed only one visitor a day for two hours. Beyond that, I was on my own without family to comfort me or advocate on my behalf.
While the exact date of my double-lung transplant surgery won’t land on Labor Day weekend every year, the holiday prompts a multitude of emotions for me. Marking the end of summer is enough to bum anyone out, but despite the fun of barbecues and outdoor activities, my mind is laden with traumatic memories of 2020. The stress of the pandemic alone still affects most of us with chronic illness. My transplant experience adds to that.
Transplant “lungaversaries,” as they’re called in the lung transplant community, are such a mixture of emotions. Replaying that day in my mind is unavoidable. There’s the uncertainty of waiting to hear if the lungs were viable and if the surgery would actually take place. Processing that someone had just lost their life for this procedure to happen. Wondering who they were. Thinking about what their family must be going through as I’m being wheeled into an operating room — their family with the utmost grief; our family with the utmost hope. Balancing the fear, sorrow, and guilt with the hope of new life and easy breathing.
The memories of how little I could do during that holiday weekend in 2020 are drastically different from the improvement of my life with every Labor Day since. While it’s important to remember and to reflect, it’s also important not to dwell on it and live there in your mind. I reflect on it so that I’ll continue to live with gratitude and honor my donor and the ultimate gift of a stranger giving me more time. I also remember to remind myself how far I’ve come, how much I’ve endured and survived, and how precious every single breath is.
I choose to be fully present and embrace the beautiful life I’m blessed to have right now. I put my energy into focusing on the positive outcome of surgery and the improved quality of life I’m experiencing as a result.
The awe-inspiring beauty of someone choosing to be an organ donor is where I center my thoughts. It’s possibly the most beautiful act one can choose in this lifetime. So I do all I can to stay healthy. I participate in all the outdoor activities. I’m present. I laugh, I hug, I eat. (Boy, do I eat!) And I choose to live fully, both for myself and my donor.
How do you honor your donor and celebrate your transplant “lungaversary”? Please share in the comments below.
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