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.