Friday, October 29, 2010


Today I’m two years old. I’m far from being a baby though; much to the contrary, I’m on my fourth round of “two years” anniversaries.

My first round of two years was when I was a baby. The one labeled “terrible twos,” but which I would prefer to describe as the carefree, full of wonderment, naïve years. I don’t think any of us remember much from back then.

My second “two years” was twenty-four years ago, on December 16th, 1986. On that very day, a sniper entered a mall in Tulsa and shot Frosty the Snowman. Thankfully, Frosty only had to be bandaged before getting inflated again and resuming his post in front of the store. By then, I no longer believed in Frosty the Snowman like I did when I was two, but I was naïve enough to have two children after having a liver transplant; naïve enough to think I could live very well with a sick, second liver. I must say, that liver was good to me for fourteen years.

My third “two years” was ten years ago, on October 28th, 2000. On that day, Lance Armstrong received the Prince of Asturias Award from the Spanish Government. I admire Lance. I feel we have a kindred spirit. We’ve both been through the ringer and have come out the other end better and stronger. I became a spin instructor at my gym. Like the previous liver, I believed my health was great. And it was for ten years. I was naïve enough to think I would never need another organ.

Today, October 29th, 2010, I’m on my fourth “two years.” Finally, a liver and a kidney that are healthy and work well. On this day, a short but poignant segment of the news caught my attention. They grew a liver in a petri dish. It wasn’t a human liver, but nevertheless a liver. You would think that the word naïve would have disappeared from my vocabulary by now. I’m happy to report it hasn’t. I’m naïve enough to believe that one day, we won’t need any donors for organs. Patients will buy them from the organ bank where they’ll be grown.

I now realize that naïveté has nothing to do with getting older. It’s simply a wonderful opportunity to shove all else in your life aside so you can engage in something exciting and unusual.

On this, my fourth two-year anniversary, I’d like to raise my glass and salute all the naïve people of this world. May you never loose that “certain je ne sais quoi,” we call naïveté. We need it in our lives and our thoughts. For those of you who haven’t tried it yet, go ahead, jump in with both feet and let yourselves be happily surprised. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010


               In July of 2008 three months prior to my third liver/kidney transplant, my husband, our two boys and I spent three weeks in my hometown, Munich, Germany. Why am I telling you this? Because I’d like to describe to you the amazing holiday of a dying person.

            Before we left our apartment for the vast park called English Gardens around noon, I stuck my head into the toilet bowl and vomited. Ugh! Great breakfast that was, I said to myself. A quick clean up, and then I joined my two boys and my husband waiting at the elevator.

We parked our rented Audi next to the art museum. Spectators stood at the bridge to the right, at the entrance of the park. We joined them, and watched as very determined surfers rode the itsy bitsy, single, natural wave below the bridge where we stood. I was amazed at the way each person patiently waited his or her turn in an orderly fashion, just to enjoy less than a minute of gliding on the water. Anything that distracted me from pain and extreme weakness was just fine.

Soon I couldn’t stand anymore. We slowly, very slowly made our way to the center of the park. Lately, I operated in slow motion. My body functioned on a back up generator powered by my family’s sense of humor. I had forgotten how funny my three men were. My belly ached either from sharp pain shooting through my body or from laughter. Either way, the walk to the riverbank at the center of the park was one big laugh fest.

We found a spot between the sunbathers. My husband laid out a blanket. I sat down literally between a rock and a hard place: in this case, the rock was the grass and the hard place my buttock. Neither had any cushioning. I weighed 100lbs or less. With the help of the extra sweater I carried with me on this scorching day, I somehow managed to get comfortable. 

It was hot, just what I needed for my freezing limbs. I sat on my sweater, my heart filled with joy as I watched my giggling sons tease each other. Who was going to grab the swinging rope first, and land in the chilly waters of the river with the rest of the daredevils? I couldn’t help but smile at my husband standing at a distance in his swim trunks, filming our boys.

Everybody had worked up an appetite after an hour of fun, except for me. Food had lost much of its appeal. We walked over to the Chinese Tower where the beer garden is. I never understood why there’s a Chinese tower at this Bavarian beer garden and had never bothered to ask.

We sat at a long table with strangers. I devoured an entire smoked fish. If the day so far had been magical, the fish made it perfect. Fish had become the last savory food left in my diet. The sicker I became, the grosser food was. Meat and vegetables in particular tasted like tasteless, sweet cotton. If there’s one thing I know about illness though, it’s the importance of keeping up your strength. I mostly force-fed myself, which is why my head had ended up in the toilet bowl in the morning. So what; as long as I keep eating something, I thought. Eventually, beer would be the only “food” I would be able to keep down. For now though, the fish tasted delicious.

“Schatz, can you walk back to the car?” My concerned husband asked. “I think so,” I said, in the squeakiest voice ever. I didn’t recognize my own speech. My normal tone had risen an octave and had gotten stuck there. “Because I can put you on my shoulders and carry you to the car if you want,” he continued. This was the only hint to the fact that I was unwell.
How lucky am I to have such a great husband! I thought, close to tears. Lately, everything made me cry. If I dropped a spoon on the floor I could break out in tears. This wasn’t my normal state. It was end-stage liver rejection taking over.

I made it back to the car with my very patient family. Two kilometers had taken almost an hour. But who was counting? The weather was beautiful, the trees glistened in the sun; nature was at its best and my boys and husband were hilarious.

Back at the apartment, I plopped onto the couch and felt my mind drift. The boys had their video games and my husband his books. A peaceful atmosphere hung in the air. On this day, and every day of our holiday, my dying liver never came up. Like Waldo, it was there somewhere, hidden among our family outings, showing glimpses of himself but never intruding.

This holiday, my dying holiday, turned out to be the most enchanting of family vacations. I look back and smile at the thrilling time we spent together, despite my green skin, yellow eyes, emaciated body, and pain. I had decided long ago, no matter how bad I felt, sickness would never own me. 

Friday, October 15, 2010


Dear Michael,

I’ve heard in the news that you’ve been diagnosed with throat cancer. I’m very sorry to hear this and wish you all the best. Michael, I’m rooting for you but more importantly you go ahead and root for yourself.

The doctor in the news said something of the nature, “Your perspectives look good because you’ve got the right frame of mind.”

Way to go Michael, that’s a great start to beat this thing. After all, it has become a commonly accepted notion that all illnesses require constructive emotional self-persuasion if you want a shot at health.
We all carry on a conversation in our minds. We are our best friend and our worst enemy. When you’re sick, though, it’s time to give the demons we so willingly fight in our thoughts a rest. Michael, you’re presently in a situation, which demands reeling in your thoughts, and focusing them on your physical wellbeing.

Let me give you another tip Michael. The right frame of mind is all fine and well. But you’ve got to take it a step further.

It’s called one hundred percent certainty that you’ll make it through this affliction. You must believe with all your heart, soul and mind that you’ll beat it. Get proactive within yourself. Let this one hundred percent certainty spew into every particle, which makes up your DNA. Don’t just say you’re going to beat it. As every motivational speaker will tell you, know it, feel it, embrace it, own it. Feed this one hundred percent certainty to your fiber, your muscles, your pores, your bones and your throat.

That bares the question how do you do this? How do you know you’ve absorbed this one hundred percent certainty? Well, Michael, you’re probably ahead of the game. You already know that life is beautiful and that you’re beautiful. If you live by these inalienable truths, you’ve just increased your chances of success. Then there’s also the business of letting go.

Let me tell you a little story Michael.

My girlfriend recently spoke of her uncle. His doctors had told him to go home and put his affairs in order, because he had terminal cancer and had a month to live. So he put his affairs in order, and then did something he had always wanted to do. He flew to Argentina and learned to dance Tango for the last month of his life…last two months of his life…last three months of his life? No…wait…last years of his life and still counting.

This story has such an effortless ring to it. Deadly diagnosis; write a will; pack up for the time of your life and, in the process, cure cancer. I’m almost inclined to think cancer can be cured through any satisfying activity. In fact, if that were the case, Michael, you would already be healthy. You can afford your favorite activity because, well, you can afford just about anything. 

Perhaps there’s a lesson for all of us to learn, and that is, money is not the answer to everything. It certainly isn’t a cancer cure. 
Still, Michael, I like the idea of letting go. Your demons might not involve stress about paying your mortgage, but there is surely some kind of stress you need to shed. All in all Michael, I agree with the doctor in the news who commented on your chances.

Take it from an old pro, if you have that one hundred percent conviction, if you focus on your body in the most positive way possible, if you let go of your stresses, Michael, I predict a success much bigger than an Oscar.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


The word ADDICTION started out as purely “a state of physiological or psychological dependency on a psychoactive substance, which crosses the blood-brain barrier and thus temporarily alters the chemical milieu of the brain.” (Whew! Thanks Wikipedia).

Recently, though, the meaning of the word has been broadened, and so has its connotation. Doctors have discovered that you could be addicted to sex, gambling, video games, and in fact just about anything. In other words, no longer is something you put in your body triggering the craving, but rather your doing it yourself.

For far too long addiction has gotten a bad rap. When you hear the word, alarm bells go off. Nothing good ever precedes it: cocaine addiction, heroin addiction, meth addiction, etc.

Therefore, right here and now, I’m going to rehabilitate ADDICTION.

Friday, October 1, 2010


When I was in my twenties, I often traveled to Israel to visit with friends. It was a four-hour flight from Munich, where I lived. You had to be at the airport at least three hours in advance, because EL AL and any other airline to Israel left from a special terminal with special requirements. In those days it was only the flights to Israel; today we all know what those special requirements are because we go through them every time we fly pretty much anywhere.

I got on the El Al flight, found my seat somewhere in the middle of the plane by a window, and began to read. We were mid-air when a drop of blood fell on the page.

Normally, my nosebleeds were not just a few drops and that’s it. My nosebleeds consisted of flowing blood, and blood clots the size of golf balls clogging my throat and making me gag, forcing me to hold my head over the sink and just let the blood flow. This would be a problem on the plane.

Hopefully, this one won’t be that bad, I thought, discretely asking the stewardess for more tissues after exhausting my supply.
“Here,” the stewardess said, handing me two or three napkins. Noticing what I needed them for she said, “Your nose is bleeding. I’ll get you some ice.”
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.