We walked across the glass enclosed bridge from the transplant ward up to the operating room. Or rather we ran, his mother and I, behind the bed that wheeled him to his future. Hours earlier she’d heard the slow whipping of the helicopter blades churning up the dark air, bringing a freshly harvested liver across the city for her beloved son. And then she phoned me.
Is it wrong to celebrate death? It’s not like I opened the champagne. But as I looked at him, so painfully thin in his hospital gown, whittled down to the size of a stick man, I thanked whatever mistake, whatever tragedy had happened, even knowing that somewhere, someone was in abject misery. They’d lost their father, or son, or daughter or mother, we’ll never know… whilst we were finally given the chance to hope. He’ll come out to a new reality, one where he can build a career, one where he can travel the world, one where he can dare to imagine becoming a father. Maybe it won’t be with me but as long as he lives, right now I really don’t care.
We said we were there for him, but of course we were really there for us. We needed to wear our comedy masks. We needed to see that he wasn’t afraid. And so if he did feel it, he chose to hide it and we were all cheerful, because of course, of course, he was coming back. But he’d signed the forms… those ones that excuse the doctors if he dies.
You have to do that you know. It’s like you have to forgive them in advance, just in case it happens.
‘How do you feel?’ said the doctor.
‘Like I’ve been given an amazing gift.’ he said smiling.
And we smiled with him, happy. And the ice cracked painfully in our chests. I touched his fingers studying them carefully. It felt like I hadn’t looked enough to remember.
‘I’ll see you on the other side.’ he whispered. ‘Whether thats later or you know, after you die.’
We’ve talked about it. We imagine that in another time or space, we’ll land in the same place, spat out of the chute and we’ll say
‘Wow what an incredible ride. Lets go again.’ As if life is a crazy log flume. And so we fist bumped because it can mean both “Awesome” and “Hey, it’s been great.”
And then they took him away.
12 hours operating time is a long time to wait.
During this time, we consider involving those who also need to do something to pass the time. Tick tock. We ask for help even if we don’t want it. We eat even if we’re not hungry. And I smoke, even though I gave up years ago.
We know that he officially stops living during this time. That they have to keep him alive until the new liver kicks in. We are not allowed to be scared of that because it’s ‘normal’. But it’s not like they’ll call us if something goes wrong. They’ll be pretty busy I imagine, trying to keep him alive.
It’s a waiting game in the desert of nothingness. Because the next piece of news we’ll have is either that he’s out in intensive care… or that he just didn’t stand a chance.