Dedicated to my good friend Josh Halberg, two-time liver recipient

I have had this thought a few times in the past eight weeks –

Man, if I knew this was what transplant was about, I would have said no thanks.

You go into surgery all excited, full of wonder and joy. And you come out choked on an intubation tube down your throat, uncomfortable as hell, not being able to say the things your thinking. Then your surgeon strides in, big smile on his face, to order the tube removed, and all you have for him is your middle finger. So you give it to him, out there, up close and personal. What does he do? He takes a picture of you because he likes your orneriness. Sheesh.

Then you’re taken out of ICU where you’ve been in morphined-out bliss, and put in a bed that has a magical pea under the 20 mattresses that compose the bed. You’re the Princess and the Pea is pressed into the very middle of your back and you can’t move enough on your own to get off the damn Pea. The Pea presses all night. And while you beg for relief from pain, they parcel out tiny dribs and drabs of narcotics – for fear of getting you addicted. Oh god forbid, I should be addicted! How about rehab later, guys?

While in that bed, your legs, from thighs to toes, swell enormously. You look like Elephant Wo-Man. But I’m not entirely sure of that because, thank goodness, I can’t see my legs in a mirror. So you get out of bed (and some CNAs know how to help you out of bed – one hand firmly in your armpit and their other hand grasping your hand) and you trundle, waddle, lurch and lean down the hallways. Up and down, down and back, not daring to sit in one of the comfy chairs because you might not be able to get up again.

Finally, you get help getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. And as the aide closes the door, he or she points to the red cord and says, “just pull on that if you need help.” I discovered three separate times that the cord is something for you to exercise your arm with. No one comes. No one cares. Well, that’s not exactly true. Once, the secretary from the main desk came down, opened the door and asked if anyone had come to help me. No, I said truculently and very pissed off. She was mad, too, at the bumbling fools who didn’t come to help me. Finally! Someone on my side! (She was dressed in a go-to-meeting suit and heels, so she didn’t help either.)

But then, you get released from the hospital after just a 7-day stay, and you discover that your surgeon has a sense of humor besides being incredibly smart and talented as a physician. You look at the gigantic scar on your belly in the shape of a Mercedes-Benz logo and think, Wow, I finally got myself a tat! You are assigned a brand-new transplant coordinator and she’s cute and funny and smart, too. And they are going to take very good care of you. For a long time.

After the hospital stay, you go to a place where there are three sets of stairs for you to ascend and then descend to reach your “recovery” apartment. You stay there two or three more weeks and then fly home with your best friend making you laugh till you nearly pee your pants. And think, maybe this was worth it.

By then, you’re feeling a tad better every single day. You can walk to the nearest Starbucks. That’s good, you think. Then you walk too far one day, and you think you’re going to die. But you don’t. And all the time, this little liver bud has been growing inside you to fill the size you and you alone need. You wake up after a rough night, but realize right away you feel just a little bit better than you did yesterday. And it keeps on going. New liver, good. Very, very good.

Thank you to my donor, whoever you were. Thank you to your family for honoring your wishes to pass life on. I got it, and I’m going to do as good a job as I can with it, I promise you. I have a new birthday and a new life, thanks to your kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity. It’s all good. This new life and liver together is good.