This was the message on my desk calendar on December 15th, 2005, the day of Terry’s transplant. I tore it off and kept it (and later scanned it) because it seemed so appropriate: it was, after all, a day of putting on a brave face, of repeating reassuring mantras which I didn’t really believe in (“It’ll be fine! It’s really quite a straightforward operation, you know? This is one of the best transplant units in the world! It’ll be fine!” ) and of being scared witless.
It was the day we got our lives back, and although I know he’d just shrug and say it was nothing, that he just did what anyone would have done, it was a day that wouldn’t have happened without the bravery and complete selflessness of Terry’s brother John, who was his kidney donor.
I expect John probably felt at least a little bit afraid too, as they wheeled him into surgery that morning. If he did, though, he was most definitely the only one who knew it: I know he was the only person in the room who didn’t cry when the time came.
Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.
I, of course, was not brave that day. Not at all. In fact, the only thing that saved me was the fact that I was surrounded by family: my parents, Terry’s mum, his sister Lila – even his brother, George, who flew in from Athens on a surprise visit, so he could be there on the day. Together, we all set up camp in the hospital reception area (Unlike in the movies, there was no waiting room outside the operating theatre, so I was unable to pace dramatically up and down in front of the double doors, and had to content myself with frequent trips up to the ICU, where we’d been told both Terry and John would be delivered after the operation…) and waited it out. The transplant co-ordinator told us it would be a long wait, and that we should just go home: in fact, she even suggested at one point that we go shopping, our out to lunch, as if this was a pleasant day out, instead of almost 10 hours worth of staring at my own feet and wondering if my life was about to change for better, or for worse. God, I hated that transplant coordinator.
It was the longest 10 hours ever.
I remember the time passing so slowly I wondered if my watch had stopped.
I remember countless trips to the hospital shop, staring unseeingly at the rows of magazines and Get Well Soon cards, and feeling like they were artefacts from another life.
I remember the team of workmen who spent the afternoon erecting a giant Christmas tree in the hospital foyer, and being unable to believe that, for some people, it was Christmas.
I remember the small scuff on the toe of my boot, that I’d pretty much memorised by the time the wait was over. If I close my eyes, I can still see it.
I remember a random woman in the hospital corridor mistaking my dad for Sean Connery. That had absolutely nothing to do with the transplant, by the way, but it was pretty cool for my dad, no?
I remember going to the bathroom at some point, and encountering a woman standing at the washbasin, crying broken-heartedly. I wondered if, in a few hours time, that woman would be me.
I remember that John got out of surgery first, groggy but elated, and telling everyone who’d listen that they should totally donate a kidney to someone, because it was awesome, and, in fact, he’d donate the other one if he could! Those were some strong meds, huh?
Finally, I remember being told by a sympathetic nurse, who’d come down to reception on her lunch break to find us, that Terry was out of surgery. The walk to ICU. The nervous wait to be allowed to see him; the transplant coordinator babbling on about what a success the operation had been, almost as if she’d done it all herself. And then the walk through the ward to Terry’s bedside, where he opened his eyes, and started humming the Eastenders theme tune: er, that’s another story, for another day.
It was over. It was finally over. And yet, it was only just beginning, too.
* * *
After the transplant, I promised myself that things would be different from that point on, and that I would never allow myself to forget those two years of waiting, or the stress of sitting in that hospital reception waiting for news. I told myself I would never again get stressed or upset over silly, inconsequential things, and I would always remember how lucky I was just to be here, to have Terry back to full health, and to have our lives back. I didn’t do too well at that. I still worry obsessively about things that aren’t really very important. I still don’t deal well with stress. I still have a tendency to see the glass as being half full, when it’s so obviously overflowing.
I think that, on this fifth anniversary of T-Day, I’m going to start trying harder with that promise to myself. I may not succeed with it all the time, or even most of the time, knowing me. But I’m definitely going to try.