“Please. You gotta see this."
The panic in my voice startles me, but the nurse keeps working. I am a piece of her work. She claimed me as such an hour ago when she checked my wristband and declared, “Okay. You are my transplant.”
My iPhone is pointed at her as she moves around my hospital bed. She glances at the baby picture of my six-month-old girl—huge eyes, cartoon-red cheeks, stark-raving bald. My favorite photo. The nurse tightens her lips into a polite smile, but her eyes are so uninvolved I know she hasn’t seen it.
She is right to resist. People will dump their lives on you if you let them, all the while acting as if they are doing you a favor. It’s called sharing, and I’m not beyond it. The weight of my phone is a brick at the end of my extended arm; still, I hold it out to the nurse. I need her to really see my daughter. A drop of sweat rolls from under my arm, down my torso, and tickles my ribcage like the creeping of a fly.
Over her shoulder: “We need to have you ready in twenty minutes.”
The heart-transplant process starts randomly enough, with an unfortunate accident that kills someone’s brain but spares the heart. Everything from that point on is careful and constant coordination. All the parts are moving, even the stopped ones like the disembodied heart—frozen and drugged into paralysis, then rushed to where it can be of use. It is best transplanted less than two hours after removal, the duration of my daughter’s afternoon nap. Cells begin to die after this amount of time; decomposition happens by the second, even as the heart is being packed in sterile ice. So in the preoperatory stage, there’s not a lot of time for the sharing and liking of images.
Even so, I tell the nurse, “You really gotta see this.”
She unhooks one of my plastic IV bags, nearly sucked dry and collapsing into itself, prunelike. Plasma is being added to quickly thicken my blood for surgery; it needs to hit a sweet spot of viscosity, somewhere between water and honey. At family dinners, my mother used to thicken her gravy by stirring in cornstarch. She then poured it from a porcelain dish she called a gravy boat. My dad used the phrase gravy train as a way of calling people lazy if they rode it. My mom and dad are speeding in her car, trying to get here before I’m wheeled down the hall. They are too old to be rushing like that to an event like this.
The standoff continues with the nurse. My arm aches. My phone goes dark, so I refresh it. The nurse continues working in an ellipse around me, just out of my reach, as if I will grab her if she gets too close.
From OH, BABY! True Stories About Conception, Adoption, Surrogacy, Pregnancy, Labor, and Love.
To read the rest of this piece, purchase the book.
Terrance Flynn is currently working on a memoir entitled “Dying to Meet You.” He was awarded the 2014 Thomas A. Wilhelmus... read more