JUST BEFORE MY DOUBLE LUNG TRANSPLANT, I was ingesting 10 liters of oxygen, 24/7, from a machine so loud that we had to stick it in the garage and run 50 feet of tubing inside to the dining room table, where I sat most of the time. I sat because I was unable to walk five paces without becoming winded. I had come to depend on the chairs we had placed strategically throughout the house that provided rest stops whenever I journeyed to a distant room on the first floor. Life had become all about managing my oxygen supply so that I could get through the day.
I had devolved into someone with the dependency of a five year-old, needing help from my wife with everything. Everything. Taking a shower, making meals, putting on my socks.
I would sit for hours, watching movies on my computer while tapping out what in retrospect feels like SOS signals to friends. I had dived deep into the moment in order to avoid the present and, above all, the future, which most likely consisted of a slow death caused by sluggishly suffocating within my own body, while being poisoned by the CO2 that my lungs could no longer expel. That is what idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) does.
I reminded myself every day that life could be worse. I was sure there must be many people in my position who did not have the wonderments that I enjoyed, like an extraordinary wife and support structure of family and friends, and great health insurance that was making my many trips to the hospital a financial possibility. I was blessed to have a job I could still do, teaching online, which I found healing and purposeful. And I reminded myself that an average day for a child in one of the hundreds of war zones in the world was worse than anything I was experiencing.
Still, everything is contextual. You can’t help but compare your present to your past, and my past had been been glorious. Hard charging, life loving, traveling the world, making speeches about technology and the future, enjoying life to the max. So, dying came hard. And out of nowhere. It seemed that one day I was fine and the next I couldn’t breathe.
I had avoided the urgency of my situation until one day, when I heard the garbage truck rumble up to our house. I panicked. I had just mowed the lawn and feared that I wouldn’t get the pile of lawn clippings I had amassed out to the curb in time. I hurriedly stuffed the grass into a trash bag, and sprinted out to the street. A few feet in front of the garbage truck, I passed out. When I awoke, I was sprawled out on the ground looking up at the truck driver. His face was filled with honest concern as he leaned over me, asking how he could help.
How stupid, to panic about one’s trash. Yet, these are things that are important when one is not fully conscious of one’s life.