During the first three and a half months of 2010, I never lifted a snow shovel, scraped a windshield or tossed salt on the driveway. I spent the first 106 days of the year in the University of Wisconsin Hospitals Transplant Clinic. I had been in desperate need of a new liver. I got a good one, followed by an extended period of physical therapy. Now, nearly six years later I’m doing fine.
In a number of ways, having a transplant reminded me of my army training in 1966, when the Viet Nam war was at its peak. 1) I didn’t want to do it. 2) it worried a lot of people. 3) it was grueling and dangerous. 4) I was glad to get home when it was finished.
I learned a lot from both of these experiences. I learned about determination to live, the strength gained from the support of family and friends, and the professionalism of the people who are, at least temporarily, have your life in their hands. It was troublesome to hear a drill sergeant shout, “You men better pay attention, because you are going to Viet Nam.” It turned out I didn’t, but at the time, they had me convinced.
It was also troublesome to have attorneys come to my hospital room to review my last will and testament, just before going into transplant surgery. Both scenarios had the potential for an unhappy ending.
While these two experiences are much different, they were similar from an emotional standpoint. The hospital experience went as well as could be expected, even better. The basic training went as well as could be expected, perhaps a little worse.
From being in the hospital I learned that with the best doctors, the best friends, and a positive attitude one can survive a life-threatening illness.
From basic training I learned that, despite a less than positive attitude, will power can get you through, and…I learned how to back up a trailer.
Originally published as “Comparing Two Tough Times,” 11/06/2015