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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Purring Heart

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Today, Tuesday, November 23, 2010, is the one year anniversary of the day I received my heart transplant at The Ohio State University Ross Heart Hospital. For the history of this whole process, see the "Related Posts" at the bottom of this post. The photo is of a birthday card my bridge partner, James Griffith sent me to commemorate the event. On the inside, he wrote: "We have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving." He is so right.

It's been an amazing journey. A year ago I couldn't walk twenty feet without stopping to let my old, enlarged heart calm down enough that I could continue walking. Like all animals, I tried to cover my illness. Walking from the parking lot to a bridge tournament, for example, whenever I had to pause I'd pretend to examine my bridge convention card as if checking something written thereon, and then, apparently satisfied, walk on for another twenty feet until another pretended confusion caused me to check the card yet again. Today I'm back to the rigorous workout program I've had most of my adult life: stretching, 30 pushups, 30 sit-ups, 30 minutes on the exercycle, and 45 minutes lifting weights on the Universal Gym Machine. My only current health problems have to do with being older. This summer my right knee explained to me that we were done jogging. It was quite firm about this.

Dr. William Abraham
I have so many people to thank for keeping me alive. First is Dr. William Abraham, director of the division of cardiovascular medicine at The Ohio State University Medical Center, and all his splendid helpers. For ten years he was the cardiologist who carefully watched each change in my deteriorating heart and applied the right medical treatment to keep old Doug going. Next are all the wonderful doctors and nurses and other workers at Ross Heart Hospital who by performing the heart transplant (Dr. Ben Sun and his entire surgical team) and running the Heart Transplant Program made this miracle happen. The post-op care has been particularly impressive, for which I thank all involved, especially Drs. Ayesha Hasan and Veronica Franco, nurses Emily Jarvis and Erin Bumgardner, and Sandi Parsons (who controls the Heart Transplant front office, and who responds so efficiently to my various problems when I call her three or four times a month). Everyone has been terrific, and I'm so grateful for the patience and skill they've brought to the "Douglas Whaley Stays With Us" project. On top of being experts at their jobs, they're all great human beings and fun to know.

Now come kudos to an army of family and friends. My son Clayton and his wife Maria, my sister Mary Beth Colpitts, the members of my chosen family here in Columbus, my many friends both in the United States and around the world . . . I am beholden to you all beyond description. To think of the many services done for me—and done so selflessly—chokes me up. It's a wonder to be loved like that.

Most importantly on this day, I must thank my donor, Andrew, and his extraordinary family. Andrew's life was cut short just as it was beginning (he was only 27), and the grief that brings to all who knew him must swell mightily at this sad anniversary. I've become friends with Barbara and Byron, his mother and stepfather, and I hope they take what comfort they can from the knowledge that Andrew's tragic death, and the family's decision to donate his organs, allowed the four people who received five of those organs to snatch life away from the dark abyss. To all those who loved Andrew, my heart—his heart—is with you.

All of us are architects of our own lives. Happily, joyfully, in the last year I've added a new wing onto the building, and, while it's not done, I'm proud of how it looks so far. The whole experience has changed me in many ways. Knowing I was dying, the only plans I was making in November of last year were funereal (a list of people to be contacted with news of my demise, what to do with the body, what to do with the property, where the will was kept, etc.). I didn't buy new clothing in 2009 (a waste of money), and I cancelled a summer visit to Las Vegas for 2010 with my nephew Aaron, knowing it wouldn't happen though we'd been looking forward to it for years. Suddenly comes this surprise operation, and amazingly I had a future life unwrapping before me like an present placed unexpectedly in my lap. How can I describe how a new heart changes you? How it makes you rethink the idea of yourself? I now take an incredible pleasure just in rising from bed each morning. In January of 2010, looking at my pitiful wardrobe in a new light, I promptly spent too much money purchasing new clothes, lots of them! And this past August, Aaron (who had just turned 21) and I went to Las Vegas (see "Mary Beth and the Gay Teddy Bear," September 25, 2010), where I taught him how to play casino games—and, I must add, things were going well until he suddenly . . . impetuously . . . stupidly . . . against all avuncular instruction . . . doubled-down at Blackjack on 12 (!), with me sitting next to him (!), instantly turning himself into my "former nephew." Last Thanksgiving I was in the hospital eating a meal I'm pretty sure had turkey in it somewhere. This Thanksgiving I will be with my chosen family, overeating real turkey as part of our traditional holiday orgy.

Mama Explores Hydrology
Dr. Stanley Martin of OSU's Infectious Diseases Department cleared me last April for cat ownership, and I subsequently acquired two cats, both rescued from the wild: Mama and Barney (see "Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010). Mama, here first, was very upset when Barney arrived, but the two of them are now great friends, playing and sleeping together. Barney, still stupid as a chicken, is making progress. He now knows his name and, after too-painful-to-watch battles, has mastered the cat doors. Mama, smart as a Jesuit, has become fascinated by the bathtub and how water swirls around it when the tap is turned on. Whenever I enter the bathroom she hops onto the edge of the tub and mews loudly, a demand to get the water flowing. They are a joy to come home to.

I've also plunged into a legal crusade, spreading word of the necessity of original promissory note production in mortgage foreclosures, about which I've lectured in four states and conducted numerous interviews (see "The Sexy Promissory Note," August 17, 2010). I've always thought, and continue to feel, that following the law is what staves off anarchy. The dean at the law school has talked me into teaching a six-hour course in the spring of 2012—yikes!

I've jumped back into other activities: theater (directing a play in July), playing bridge, working on my various books (both my legal tomes and my novels—I'm off to a writer's workshop in Florida in January), and, to my great surprise, I'm even dating again. Who knew that was possible?

Immediately after the transplant, I assumed that I'd have many dreams about my new heart, and I worried there would be nightmares concerning supposed complications. But, thankfully, my only nightmares were my usual dull ones: control-freak-loses-control: I can't get to a destination on time, or am not prepared for class, or can't find the classroom, etc. Just once, this past summer, did I dream about a heart malfunction. In this dream I was talking to a man about some mundane matter when I realized my heart was making an odd noise. Trying not to look concerned, I analyzed what's going on and—much to my surprise and consternation—discovered that my heart was purring! The purr was quite loud, and I wondered if the man I'm talking with can hear it, but no, he droned on, unaware. Apparently I'm startled enough by this bizarre phenomenon that it wakes me up, at which point I realize that Mama is lying on my chest, purring happily just because she's as near to me as she can possibly get.

That's a nice metaphor for how I feel on my first "heart day." I trust my heart will purr through many more to come.
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Related Posts:

“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
"About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010
"My Heart Belonged to Andrew," February 17, 2010
"Parakeets and Me," February 5, 2010
“Bears,” February 23, 2010
"Another Letter to Andrew's Parents," March 10, 2010
"The Dogs In My Life," April 18, 2011
"A Toast to Andrew," May 2, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Milking Cows," June 8, 2010
"The First time I Nearly Died," August 3, 2010
"Rehabilitating Doug," June 12, 2010
"1999-2001: A Dramatic Story, " December 15, 2010
"Naming My Heart," March 24, 2011
"My Parents and Dummy," May 13, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
"Zoo Stories," August 30, 2011
"Mama Cat Saves My Life." October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
"Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

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