As a quiet onlooker from the corner of the sterile hospital room, my eyes fix upon the status of my frail father. Draped in his pistachio green hospital gown, he is engaged in the fight of his life to recover from a single lung transplant.
It feels like too much to take in. I can’t form words.
As he arrhythmically inhales and exhales, I feel the irony of my own warm breath trapping itself inside the surgical mask I am wearing.
67 years old, and he has never faced surgery before. Not even a stitch.
But when a false diagnosis of asthma many years ago turned out to be a degenerative lung disease called pulmonary fibrosis, his only hope for life became a lung transplant.
So here I sit in Room 1009, hoping and fervently praying for my Dad.
I begin making connections between the journey towards a lung transplant with that of an infant adoption. The circumstances are seemingly so different.
Yet, the more hours I am here, the more I’m realizing how much my parents and I now have in common.
Take the back story, for example. Like adoption, the transplant process is months, if not YEARS, in the making before anything actually “happens.” There’s information to gather. Fears to conquer. Endless paperwork and appointments to complete. Difficult decisions to make. A checklist of tasks to complete.
You finally make the list. It’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
Now what’s difficult is, in both situations, this list isn’t first come, first serve. Each family has traveled different roads to reach this point, but they all convene here on this list. Some will stay here for just a brief time. Others will experience the endlessness of the wait. All in line, though, want the very thing you desire.
They all must be ready. Everything could change in the blink of an eye the day they receive “THE” call.
"THE" call is so unlike any most people have ever experienced. “THE” call seems to stop time.
It comes out of nowhere, often when you’ve given up hope that it will ever come.
It is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.
It is “THE” moment for which you’ve been waiting, praying, and planning. For me, it most recently came the afternoon of November 9th, 2012, when I was told I had been chosen to be the parents of a one-day old baby boy. For my parents, it came at 2:45am on October 26th, 2013, when they were told they had been chosen for a lung transplant that very day.
God sovereignly matches each lung to a particular patient, just as He picks the right family for each adopted child.
During “THE” call, you’re presented with a few basic details about another family you have never met. You listen to what drugs have been involved, what potential risks there might be. Something, or someone, from the body of another is suddenly being offered for you to adopt as your own.
Will you accept?
As your brain quickly processes the facts of the situation, reality sinks in:
In order for you to receive this new life, another must face deep grief.
There is another family. Another person suffering. In the case of a transplant, a donor family. A birth family, in the case of adoption. Regardless of either situation, this family is facing deep heartache. And what’s crazy is that their mourning will soon turn into your rejoicing. Their loss will transform into your gain. Can there be anything more humbling to those who receive?
Suddenly, in God’s grand design, your stories intersect at just the precise moment. And redemption will be accomplished among the ruins.
Once you receive “THE” call, life will surely never be the same again. Ready or not, here you go.
Sometimes when you get “THE” call for a transplant, you will rush to the hospital and come right up onto the very minute of surgery, only to be sent home. Something about the lung wasn’t going to pass inspection. It’s called a “dry run.”
In fact, the gentleman recovering in the hospital room next to my dad has had two disappointing “dry runs” before he was matched with just the right lungs.
My heart breaks at how the same is true in adoption. A family gets “THE” call, they establish a connection with a loving birthmother, they go through all the motions of preparing for placement of the child, only to find out the birthmother has changed her mind and decided to parent. I know a sweet family grieving this day due to their own “dry run” with the failed adoption of an african american baby girl. For this family, it was only a few days before the baby was going to be lovingly placed in their arms. I’ve never faced a miscarriage, but I’d imagine this grief would feel much the same.
When you face a "dry run," you are put back onto the list.
Somehow, amidst all the possible twists and turns, when the Lord appoints the day and the time, the moment of placement will arrive. In both cases, “placement” is the act in which the beloved is placed in his/her/its loving new home, whether it’s a new lung or a new baby. For my dad, it was just hours following “THE” call when he would find himself undergoing a six hour-long surgery. For Marc and I, it came nine days following “THE” call, the day a beautiful six pound baby boy was placed in our arms. In both cases following placement, friends and family flock to provide help through meals, visits, and gifts.
In both situations, it’s normal to wonder at placement,
Will this “take”? Will we “bond”?
Will this person/organ from outside of me suddenly feel apart of me?
Placement is an amazing event, but it is not without its share of struggles and worries.
Placement ushers you into a new stage of life. You accustom yourself to new sensations and struggles. Everything about life suddenly needs adjusting. You will endure sleepless nights and tiring, tough days. Whether you are wearing the hospital gown or busy changing diapers, you begin slooooowly easing yourself into your new normal. You find yourself united to a new community as well, one with shared experiences to your own.
You are overwhelmed with gratefulness. You want to say something to the other family. Most often it starts with a letter of introduction and gratitude. (But, honestly, just how do you say “I’m so sorry for your loss” and “Your loss has given me everything” in the same breath? It’s terrible.) But you do the best you can and take to the pen, attempting to write some of the most carefully crafted sentences your heart has ever had to create.
It’s up to the donor/birth family to respond to your words. Will there be an ongoing relationship? What further details about the situation will they choose to reveal? Some transplant families have an “open adoption” relationship with their donor family, much like my Caroline has with her family of origin. Others are more closed, providing privacy and protection to the donor family, much like my Jameson’s relationship to his birth family. There isn’t one “right” way to do it, and both families must carefully navigate this newfound relationship. Or not have one at all.
Of course the worry is that the transplant (or adoption) will fail and end in rejection. Each seem to have complications and unexpected turns of their own. Even successful transplants forever carry with them the risk of rejection, much like adoption. An adoptive family can do everything right, and still face rejection from their chid in the end. There are no guarantees, but believers hold fast to the hope that God graciously gives us the endurance to face whatever trials will come our way.
Most people think of adoptions and transplants more like a one-time event, a “once and done.” Because in both scenerios, something (or someone) so close to one person’s heart is taken out of them and then placed so close to your own. But in actuality, they both are a lifelong journey. They are a commitment from which you can never back out. You should see the daily list of timed medications my dad will be taking following his surgery for the rest of his life. You would not believe how drastically the simplest things in life will be forced to change for my parents forever. Now, as a transplant patient, he must report every runny nose and be on alert for any sign of infection.
But these two things bring joy unspeakable. Life and breath. The road ahead is certainly not without its own set of worries and obstacles, but those who have experienced these things wouldn’t be who they are without them. These rather unconnected things-- a transplanted lung and an adopted baby-- came with someone else's name on them, but now they are yours. Now they have your own name upon them.
Though they do not share your DNA, they become just as much a part of you as your own flesh and blood.
And it's here in this hospital room, as my dad faces a setback here and a small victory there, I snap back into the present and notice something’s missing.
The seemingly endless coughing fits. They’re gone. Prior to surgery, he couldn’t say as much as a sentence without going into coughing from the lack of oxygen he was receiving.
And now, all is quiet. His chest is still.
Can it really be? The breaths he waited for SO LONG to inhale? I feel my eyes well up with tears, here in room 1009, remembering how far the Lord has brought my dad. I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. He has brought redemption from the ruins yet again.
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” Psalm 150:6