There could be no greater tragedy than a young life cut short…
Late one Saturday October afternoon nearly fourteen years ago, from behind the stark and sterile walls of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, I was asked to do something that is the most generous thing I would ever do in my life…
ER doctors and specialists move around me in hushed tones. The neurosurgeon who had been treating him for the past 48 hours gently ushers a woman into the room. She’s quietly spoken yet respectful – a kind woman I’m sure but one I didn’t know from the dinner lady – was here to ask if I would allow her to take my then husband’s organs. Not her personally (obviously she wasn’t a body snatcher), but the organisation she worked for, The Red Cross. She invites me to sit down and look over the paperwork she’s holding – which for all I know could have been Chinese takeout menus. I had not the stomach, nor the mindset to digest one single thing at that point. Every word the doctors said would refuse to register. It didn’t seem real. Not a moment of it.
Yet here I sat – a folder in front of me – requiring me to sign him away…
Just around the corner from where we sat, laid upon a gurney in the ICU unit…seconds, minutes and hours of monotonous machines blip, blip, blipping through the silence, as they worked to keep his life suspended – was the one she was after. I looked over at the woman – a small-framed blonde, with glasses, nice enough – I wouldn’t want to have to do what she’s doing. There are very few viable donors and of those, there are even less who are able to donate every part of them. But him, he would be the superstar of human donation.
By this point I had not slept or eaten for forty-eight hours. I had not left his side – except when fear forced me to shit out the entire contents of my body. My energy levels and brain function both depleted to the point of oblivion due to the wait and fear of each hour ticking over but not bringing with it one single ounce of new hope.
She needed my answer. I asked for a moment and she ever so gently obliged. ‘Of course, of course, please take all the time you need…’
The doctors, the Red Cross, they all need to know something I don’t want to admit. Are you ready to say goodbye…? Ready? Let go? Fuck no, I’m not ready and I never will be.
There he was. One healthy, fit, 32-year-old man. Very little visible trauma to the body. No history of illness, or previous hospitalisation. Non-smoker. Social drinker. No diabetes or ailments. A ten out of 10 when it comes to viable candidates, one would have to assume. And he was. Bloody perfect.
I don’t want to be the one answering this question. I don’t want to be the one making this decision. But….
Turn the tables. Maybe I’m in the ICU ward with someone I love deeply, clutching to life but with one difference – the hope of survival – needing, waiting for the generosity of someone just like me (or moreover, just like him) would I want me to do it? In heartbeat, fuck YES I would.
There was no thinking. I mean she gave me a bit of time, perhaps an hour – most of that weekend I’ve tried to block out or at least banish to the very depths of my conscious mind where I needn’t go – but no, I didn’t need to think it over in the sense of whether I’d do it or not because we’d already had that conversation. A couple of years before the accident that destroyed my soul, we’d lost a close friend of ours very suddenly and that had forced a number of things – organ donation, life insurance and final burial wishes – to all be discussed at length. None of us ever wants to talk about shit like that, mostly because you never want it to happen to you but, sometimes in the cruelest twist the hands of fate grip your throat and it does.
Fuck me was I done with having to put on a brave face by then but I knew the Red Cross lady was waiting…
I did not want to say goodbye. I did not want to lose a single piece of him. I did not want to leave him behind forever on that hospital gurney. I wanted to take him home with me. I wanted our family, our life to be just as it had been – perfect.
But that choice was not mine…
Ten days later a letter arrived in the post.
‘I wish to extend our condolences to you and your family on the sudden death of your husband and would like to acknowledge your generosity in considering organ donation at such a difficult time. As you may know, transplantation is often the only answer for people with end-stage organ failure or disease. It’s through the generosity of people like you and your husband that others are given an opportunity for an improved quality of life, and for some, life itself.
As a result of his donation, five people have immediately benefited from organ transplantation. One person has been able to receive a liver transplant and is recovering well. Another person has received a life saving heart transplant and is making progress. The recipient of a double lung transplant is recovering well. A person with diabetes and renal failure has been able to receive a combined pancreas and kidney transplant no longer requires injections or dialysis. The other kidney was transplanted into a recipient who has been dialysed for two years. His spleen will be used for research into the immune system which will benefit many people in the future…’
Nothing can ever prepare you for the life that befalls grief. Nothing will ever completely heal the pain of losing someone you have loved half your life. But if there is any comfort to come from the greatest loss a human can ever suffer…it’s this.
Five people. F I V E. He saved and helped improve not just five others’ lives but all those people’s mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Every one of their friends who got to keep their loved one. All the suffering that would engulf our lives might become just that teeny little bit less knowing there are people still alive today – all because of him. He had always been a generous bloke in life but after his was so tragically taken, there’s maybe a slither of comfort – for me and my family – that pieces of him continue to help others live theirs free from pain, free from fear and free from loss.
In 2006 there were, on average, 200 donors across Australia. These days the figure sits at close to three times as many, yet there’s still only 69% of people who actually register to be a donor. That means the decision is still left up to your loved ones to make for you. This week is Donate Life Week and while none of us ever wants to contemplate that horrific position I was in fourteen years ago, for anyone you love, for the thousands upon thousands of lives who can be helped…please register to be a donor. Do it now.
Love n’ hugs, Lady Mama Gxox