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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened Looking Out From The Top Of The World

©2014, Gordon Kirkland

The last time I published something on this blog was March 5, 2012, two and a half years ago. A couple months before, my second novel, The Plight Before Christmas had hit number one on the Amazon Kindle Parenting & Family Humor Bestsellers list. I was on top of the world. A lot of you have forgotten about it. Some of you probably thought I had just packed it in and quit. A few of you probably thought I had died.

I almost did.

Shortly after publishing the blog right below this one, I left for a vacation in the Barbados. I wasn’t feeling all that great. I knew that it would probably be the last time that I would travel while still walking on the crutches clipped to my arms that I had used for eighteen of the twenty-two years since I became a paraplegic in an automobile accident. I knew I would be dusting off my wheelchair in the not too distant future.

On the way home, at 38,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, I collapsed in an airline lavatory. The flight attendant was obviously concerned when I fell backwards through the door and landed at her feet. 

She continued pouring cups of coffee for her first-class passengers.

When we landed at home I went straight to the hospital, thinking that the few nerve connections that allowed me to continue “walking” on the crutches had finally eroded. In the small, overcrowded regional hospital, rooms were at a premium. I was put into a space not much bigger than a janitor’s closet in a corner of the emergency department. I lay there for 3 days.

A young doctor came to me one morning and said that he had noticed something unusual on a blood test, and wanted my permission to do more tests. Well, I wasn’t doing anything else at the moment, so what the heck.

Over the next two days, enough blood was drawn to feed a family of vampires for a month or two. I had a CT scan, multiple x-rays, and an ultrasound. In case you’re wondering, I wasn’t pregnant. I felt injected, inspected, and rejected.

A few days later a specialist came into my room, and without so much as a howdy-do, said. “Mr. Kirkland, you’re in deep shit.”

He went on to explain that I was at end-stage of liver failure due to cirrhosis. I told him I couldn’t have cirrhosis because I wasn’t an alcoholic. I was certain of that because alcoholics went to meetings, and I didn’t like going to meetings. The doctor went on to explain that what I had was something called Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis that had caused the cirrhosis, or in laymen’s terms, I was in deep shit.

He went on to explain that the only thing that could keep me alive was a liver transplant, but that I wasn’t a good candidate for getting one. I had a rare blood type (less than 5% of the population.) Fewer than 20% of the population register as organ donors, and less than 1% of them die in such a way that the organs can be used. At 6’4” the liver would have to come from a donor of similar build (less than 3% of the population.) Mathematically, the likelihood of a match becoming available in time was somewhere between microscopic and nonexistent. 

Over the next year my condition worsened dramatically. Liver failure causes a build-up of ammonia in your system, which in turn causes your brain to turn into mush.

I never wrote another word.

By the end of May 2013, I was hospitalized and at times did not even recognize my wife. Let me tell you something, when a man has been married for 40 years, it is not all that healthy to look at your wife and ask who she was. By August, I had been moved into palliative care, and was being told to prepare to die.

On the morning of September 18th, 2013, I was being examined by the doctor in charge of the local long term care and hospice facility. My life expectancy could be counted in days. Suddenly,the phone rang. The transplant team at Vancouver General Hospital had found a liver for me. I was transferred there later that day, and the surgery started at 6:00 the next morning.

I woke up later that day in the intensive care unit. A nurse asked me if the doctor had given me a Mercedes Benz of a Lexus. My immediate thought was, “Man, this Canadian healthcare system is even better than I thought. I just got a new liver, and they’re giving me a car, too!”

It turned out she was asking me which car company’s logo looked like the incision that had been cut into my abdomen. It turned out that I got the Lexus cut. If I take my shirt off I look like a billboard for an over-priced Toyota. I’m just glad the doctor didn’t give me a Dodge Ram.

So I am back. I won’t say I am back to normal. Normal is not a word that anyone ever used to describe me. I’ve been writing again for a few months, working on a book about the experience of walking up to Death’s door, but not quite ringing the doorbell, as well as a sequel to my novel Crossbow that I have been promising my readers for several years. Next month I will be releasing a Kindle short story called Duke’s Christmas featuring the characters from Crossbow.

I’ve also decided to start writing short humorous essays again. My syndicated column ran in newspapers from 1994 to 2007, but I’m not going to go through the joys of trying to deal with newspaper editors again. Transplant surgery was bad enough thank you. So I will post the essays here as regularly as I can.

I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

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Gordon Kirkland At Large

Writings and Wramblings from the Wandering and Wondering Mind of Gordon Kirkland