(Ottawa, Saturday, September 5, 1998, B6) I read the story about Dr. David Grimes (“The doctor as patient, August 31), with mixed emotion. At times I cried in joy that Dr. Grimes received his lung transplant. I also cried in sorrow. My father, an equally accomplished and well-loved father and grandfather, suffered an excruciating death less than two weeks ago. He died prematurely at the age of 64, from the same incurable disease, pulmonary fibrosis. He had no time for a lung transplant.
In January, my father began a futile struggle to breath. By July, relaying on oxygen tanks, courage and hope, my father was given a year to live. Like Dr. Grimes, medications didn’t help my father much. A full lung transplant was the carrot dangled before us – our hopes repeatedly dashed by the sheer aggressiveness of this disease.
As time became the enemy, repeated offers to donate my own lung were declined by medicine as an alternative that would not be considered ‘viable’. This is a euphemism I will never understand when any man is staring down the grim reality of death. Most of the doctors, respirologists, nurses, and specialists, were confused by this immunological enigma called ‘fibrosis.’ All of us were fooled by my father’s strength in the face of his own mortality. He died two weeks after being admitted into hospital, bed ridden, suffering quietly, and always smiling strength to those by his side.
No one in our family had a medical degree. It was therefore difficult for us to understand medical practices that followed a “we will try anything at this point” objective, during such a tremendously emotional ordeal. We still have so many unanswered questions.
Why do some fortunate people get transplants and others do not? Why didn’t the doctors push the application for a transplant so that my father could get one in time? Why does Canada have the worst organ donor rate for developed countries (14.1 organ donors per million vs. Spain’s 26.8 donors per million according to the Citizen on July 5). Must each of us obtain a medical degree to be able to demand a proper level of health care in Ontario? Shall we succumb to cynicism and insinuate that it is primarily who you know in the medical establishment that is the ultimate cure?
Watching a strong, active, vibrant man suffer was the worst aspect of this horrible, ravaging disease.
I adored my daddy. A pilot, civil engineer, public servant, carpenter, painter, and genealogist: he is always my hero, my rock of Gibraltar. He lived life to the fullest, always building things, including homes for Habitat for Humanity, families, relationships, confidence, devotion and love. He was always a giver, never a taker.
My father, as well as Dr. Grimes and thousand like them, know the true suffering that results from an inability to breath. It is to endure a long, painful, fully conscious slide into fear, frustration and a knowing death. The oxygen mask gradually feels like the albatross around the mariner’s neck, reminding each victim of their own impending demise. Eventually, it is only large doses of morphine that allow the patient to take larger inhalations, as the diaphragm relaxes, and any semblance of normalcy is sacrificed simply to relieve suffering. My father never again enjoyed the big deep relaxing sighs that he once experienced without a second thought. The panic attacks ceased when he was comatose – then the ‘chain-stoking’ began. There is no greater horror.
Like Dr. Grimes, my dad contributed his heart and soul to his professions, his community, his family, and society. He had much more love, kindness, and comfort to share with all of us. He could have lived to fulfil all his dreams…had there only been a lung.
I am grateful to Dr. Grimes who continues to bring attention to the precious nature of life, and the need for every Canadian to commit themselves to donating their organs. Donating so that someone else can live, is a selfless act of love that produces no greater reward – for there is no greater gift. The demand is high, the supply limited.
My father taught me that true generosity is always a sacrifice of some kind, with no expectation of reward. Those who loved him and respected him, do likewise, sharing in his legacy. Like my daddy says: “Pass it on.”