Excerpt: Transplanted – My Cystic Fibrosis Double-Lung Transplant Story, by Allison Watson

An excerpt of Allison Watson's medical memoir, Transplanted: My Cystic Fibrosis Double-Lung Transplant Story.


Allison Watson, stargazing in Forillon National Park, Quebec, 2018. (Amy Watson)

I opened my eyes and everything was dark. I knew I was alone, in a hospital bed, but I wasn’t sure on which wing or floor. I was pretty sure I was still in the Toronto General Hospital (TGH) but had no idea how much time had passed since I had last seen my family. When I tried to call out for a nurse, I found I couldn’t speak due to a tube lodged in my throat. My arms felt as if they were weighed down with lead, so I couldn’t wave for attention either. As I looked for a call bell to summon a nurse, I realized that I couldn’t focus on anything: my vision was blurry and the world was spinning a little. My glasses were nowhere to be found. I could see people moving in the hallway, but they seemed to be spinning too. No one was coming into my room.The dead silence was so unusual. No machines were beeping, no people were talking, none of the usual hospital noises. the lead feeling in my arms, I tried to wave in someone from the people milling about in the hallway, but no one was coming to check on me. They were all moving in jerky motions while I kept waving. I quickly exhausted myself and lay motionless, wondering what was happening.

I started to panic as I was suddenly positive the blurred vision and spinning world meant that I had carbon dioxide poisoning. I needed to tell someone what was wrong. My assumption wasn’t such a stretch, as the last thing I remembered was being told that my carbon dioxide levels were high. I was sure I was either still in that hazy, poisoned world or that it was happening again. My panic mounted while I continued to be unable to get anyone into the room to help me. The people I kept seeing in the hallway were ignoring me. And why did the unit have a cardboard cut-out of a smiling, mustachioed man in a sombrero selling tacos?

Eventually, someone solidified in the doorway to tell me that I needed to wait for my nurse to return from her break. I tried to communicate to him through hand gestures that I was being poisoned, but he didn’t understand my frantic waving. I must have somehow conveyed my panic, as he reluctantly stepped into the room. He brought in a paper and pencil and gave it to me so I could write down what I was trying to say. I grabbed them eagerly but discovered that my hands wouldn’t respond to the motions I tried to make. Instead, they were shaking uncontrollably and my eyes couldn’t focus enough on the paper to see what I was attempting to write. In my frustration, I wrote a bunch of squiggly lines and handed the paper back to the man.

He then summoned someone else into the room to try to decipher my scrawl, but this woman was just as befuddled as he was. After many, many tries, I managed to write “co2,” and they seemed to get the point that I thought my levels were high. The woman hung a bag of something on my iv pole and I felt a bit better. (For all I know, it was just stronger pain or sleep medication.) The man then asked if he could pray over me, to which I didn’t respond as I was still confused, though certain I was poisoned. He prayed and then left the room. I soon fell back asleep.

When I woke up again, lights were on and there was a nurse sitting behind the glass panel in front of my room. She noticed I was awake and came into the room, apologized for the other man’s behaviour and that I had wakened alone. I gestured to my throat and the equipment in the room by way of asking why it was there and what had happened.

She responded, “Need a suction?”

I had no idea what she meant, but I must’ve nodded as she suddenly began shoving a tube into my lungs. It felt like I was choking and made me want to cough but when I tried, it was impossible. I didn’t have the energy to move the muscles required to cough. As quickly as it had started, the suctioning was over and the tube was gone. I could breathe easier, but I still had no idea what had just happened.

All the nurse told me was that it was still early and I needed to try to go back to sleep. The next time I wakened, a different nurse told me that physiotherapy would be in later that day to get me up. I gestured to convey all my questions, so she brought me a pen and paper to write again. I tried to write down my multitude of questions such as, “Where am I?” and,

“Do I have carbon dioxide poisoning?” but my hands were still too shaky and my eyes still couldn’t focus. Somehow, the nurse realized that I was panicking and told me I was experiencing side effects from the medication. I wasn’t sure what medication she was referring to but was happy to know, at last, that I wasn’t being poisoned.

About the fourth time I woke up, I finally managed to communicate to the nurse that I had no idea what had happened. Where was I? Did I have a lung transplant? Was it good news? I don’t remember much from those days, but I do remember her staring at me and saying, “Oh honey, yes, it’s good news, very good news. You had your lung transplant four days ago.”

Transplanted: My Cystic Fibrosis Double-Lung Transplant Story

Allison Watson

Published by: Nimbus Publishing

*Transplant will hit the bookshops April, 2019.

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