Funny Thing Happened to Me
on the Way to a Transplant

Linda Nottestad
Second Wind St. Louis
May, 2007

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The popular definition of tragedy is heavy drama in which everyone is killed in the last act, comedy being light drama in which everyone is married in the last act.”

There is a fine line between comedy and tragedy. When a loved one is struggling with every breath, life takes a tragic turn. My husband, Ken, was told he would not live long enough to get a transplant after being on the list for 11 months. Wow, that kind of news is the epitome of tragedy. Ken started planning his funeral by contacting friends to ask if they would serve as pall bearers. He picked the hymns he wanted sung at our church. He dictated a list of all the repair people (plumber, electrician, etc.) I would need to maintain our house after he passed away. Through all of this bad news he kept going to pulmonary rehab as if the doctors had not given him a death sentence.

One of our children had been estranged from us for several years, and she called during this difficult two-week period to tell him she was coming to visit the next weekend. This buoyed his spirits considerably. She was flying into St. Louis on Friday evening, June 11th. She called from the Dallas/Fort Worth airport to tell us her plane was delayed due to bad weather. She decided it would be best to spend the night at a hotel near Lambert Airport since she would arrive in St. Louis very late. She said she would see us on Saturday, June 12th.

Ken and I got ready for bed. The telephone rang at 11:00 p.m. This was two weeks after “the death sentence”. It was Barnes Hospital telling us they had a set of lungs, and we should come to the hospital within an hour or so. Is this a dream? No, it’s for real.
I called our youngest daughter, who lived close by, and she raced over to go with us to the hospital. I don’t remember driving down Interstate 44, but, I guess I did. Before long I saw Barnes Hospital in the distance. It looked so beautiful; its lights beckoned us.
I regained by senses when we cruised down Kingshighway. I noticed a shirtless, young man staggering along the sidewalk. He was definitely under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I was mildly alarmed because we live in a quiet suburb, and an intoxicated pedestrian would be picked up by the police before he took two steps in our little community.
Soon we reached the Barnes parking lot, and found a handicap space near the entrance to the rehab center. Guess who also arrived at the parking lot—yes, the inebriated young man. By now he was yelling and pounding on the locked doors of rehab. My daughter and I were ready to hyperventilate. My vivid imagination could already see the headlines in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper—“Mother, Daughter and Almost Transplant Recipient Killed by Lunatic at Barnes Hospital”.

We hurriedly shoved Ken into his wheelchair. We probably left skid marks in our rush to get to the front door of the hospital, and safety. Mr. Big Threat also moved to the front door at the same time, and was engaged in a confrontation with Barnes Security. We did a wheelchair wheelie, and kept right on moving to the elevators. The elevator door closed, and we let out a sigh of relief. Safety at last!

The staff members settled Ken into a bed, and the fun began. We only grabbed three items to take with us to the hospital—his father’s rosary, a vial of holy water from Lourdes, and a Hope beanie baby given to Ken by our grandson. These were all arranged on his hospital bed tray. We looked like a family of voodoo worshippers.

One of the nurses asked Ken to walk to a weight scale across the room, and she removed his oxygen canula. This poor man was so sick he couldn’t walk two steps without oxygen. Were they trying to kill him before they gave him new lungs?

There are some anxious hours between arriving at the hospital for a transplant, and actually having the transplant surgery. I filled some time by looking through the phone book to figure out which airport hotel our daughter might have selected for her overnight stay. God must have been guiding me since the first hotel I called had a reservation for her. I left a message telling her to come as quickly as possible to Barnes Hospital. She is a cardiologist, and her medical expertise would be valuable to us. She arrived around 3:00 a.m., and Ken and she had a wonderful reunion before he went into the surgery suite.
At some point during the night Dr. Patterson met with me in a conference room. He told me Ken’s surgery would be a bigger risk than usual. Normally they did not transplant people who are as sick as Ken. He also said that the Barnes team had been unable to harvest the donor organs because of stormy weather. They were dependent on doctors in the Atlanta area to make the decision about the suitability of the lungs. This added another risk factor. I told Dr. Patterson we had no other option, and we would accept the outcome whatever it might be.

Around 4:00 a.m. the nurses started to connect the large lines into Ken’s body. We knew then the surgery was a go. One of the nurses had on very tight scrub pants. Since Ken comes from a long line of men who appreciate feminine beauty, he noticed her immediately. Our children and I looked at each other, and we knew at that moment that he was going to make it through the surgery. It is now eight years later, and he is still trying to find the name of that beautiful surgical nurse!

As Mark Twain [Samuel Clemens] wrote, “There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.”