This is not my story. But it is a story, nonetheless.
Almost 2 years ago, I joined my current company. As part of the onboarding process, I was teamed with an “office mate”, a dude named CSD, to show me around, answer generic questions, be my go-to person about life at the office. He worked in Ops, was a manager and was chosen because he is “youngish, funny, outspoken, opinionated like you, Vanilla. Pretty sure you guys will really get along.” CSD quickly became my friend & my ally. Ops and Finance sometimes struggle to collaborate, so it was great having someone to keep me connected to the “real” world from up top in my ivory finance tower. CSD is super smart, efficient and pig-headed like me, but goes about office politics very differently from me. I value his opinion, and would often seek it out. We chatted almost every day.
About 9 months ago, CSD started missing work with semi-regular frequency, and working from home. I missed my buddy – who could I rant to, when I needed to say the things that I couldn’t, as a manager, say in front of my team? Why was CSD not in the office when I needed him? I didn’t pry, bc CSD has excellent work ethic, so his absences could only mean health issues, and that was none of my business. About 6 months ago, the frequency became almost weekly. I worried. But coworker-friends are different from non-coworker friends: privacy & boundaries are a thing. CSD eventually asked for my advice on how to broach a health update with senior management, because of my talent for writing: revealing enough to address their worries without over-sharing. That’s how I found out that CSD was up against a big-time health issue, not a small-time hypochondriac issue.
It’s no secret that the Qc healthcare system has not been good to my family (Exhibit A: my mom. Exhibit B: my youth, how I was branded a cripple before I turned 12. Exhibit C: my difficulty finding a GP). So when CSD’s health issues proved to be complicated to diagnose, I mourned, anticipating another life derailed by Fate and our bureaucratic, incompetent, healthcare system. It seemed so unfair: CSD was young, took care of himself, ate healthily, exercised regularly. Pretty sure he recycled.
Last week, CSD underwent a successful liver transplant, necessary to save his life. Chatting with him via Messenger, 24 hours after surgery:
Holy shit I’m kicking some ass and taking names! Vanilla, I’ve set 3 hospital records already. What did I tell you about that attitude, lol? I woke up today and demanded the ventilator be removed. I was eating solids and walking less than 24hours after the op. (Side note: that alone BLOWS MY MIND. In each of my surgeries requiring a general anesthetic, I was puking my guts out for almost 2-3 days, so violently did my body reject those drugs.) How? Well, I’m a bit of an animal. I hate hospitals. And I have a tenacious attitude to get the fuck out. I gave myself a goal: I get a new tv and PS4 pro if I can get released for home. Then in 6months a 2week vacation down south, and in 1year a 2week trip to Greece with the fam.
Here’s my philosophy: I don’t know what’s in front of me but I know I have to jump off the deep end and just keep swimming. Can’t turn around, just keep moving no matter how fast the current. (*)
I sat with a goofy, teary smile plastered on my face for an hour after getting the news his surgery was successful. My relief was so profound. I realized that for all these months, I’d assumed that his would not be a happy ending. That’s a pretty fucked up attitude to have. Maybe my friend is not wrong when she suggests I have room for improvement in my optimistic outlook on life. I marvel at CSD’s messages immediately post-op. That would not be my attitude. I am not sure I am even capable of that attitude (**). I do know that no matter what life throws at me, no matter how deep my despair, I have this seemingly endless capacity to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when I can’t see my way forward – that is what makes this battle with my shadow so exhausting, but is also, as my therapist reminds me, what stops me from being suicidal, so “count your blessings Vanilla!”
Still, I can draw certain parallels btn CSD’s approach to life, and my own. We both believe in investing in one’s health on a regular, preventive basis. His habit of regular exercise and mostly healthy diet is a huge factor in his supersonic recovery. Most of my therapy sessions are not covered by my insurance, because mental health is still taboo, and psychologists do not enrich Big Pharma and the economy, so insurance companies do not typically cover more than a handful of therapy sessions. I calculate that between my previous 20month therapy stint, and my current one, I’ve paid $10K out of pocket. This funk might be a bad one, but those $10K have given me a toolbox to help me put the breaks on this funk’s attempt to spiral into something much worse. Then I wonder if maybe we both are kidding ourselves: if Fate really wanted to fuck shit up, there is nothing anyone could do to prevent it.
I’m so happy Fate decided not to fuck shit up this time. And I’m so so happy that CSD’s story has a happy ending.
This is the Facebook post CSD made public yesterday, which I share with y’all to raise awareness of both the medical condition and the organizations in our province and country that work to bridge the gaps in our healthcare system, and because I can’t possibly do a better job than he at conveying his inspiring attitude.
As many of you may not be aware today is the one week anniversary since I was the recipient of an orthotopic liver transplant. This emergency and life saving operation was required due to a very rare genetic blood disorder known as Budd-Chiari Syndrome and without it, I would have been lucky to have made it to my birthday next month.
Because things have been going quite well and (fingers crossed) I’m on my way to a successful recovery, today I finally felt comfortable to publicly start sharing a few photos of my story as well as take this opportunity to draw some much needed attention to highlight a few of the many, many amazing people and organizations that make life saving transplantation in Canada possible.
Firstly, I want to share my thanks to the selfless and incredible work of the nursing and support staff from the ICU and transplantation units at the MUHC Royal Victoria Hospital. Without them none of this would have been possible and I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the incredible quality of care. They, along with the doctors, have been the highlight of this whole experience. We are very fortunate in this country to have these men and women dedicated to our healthcare and make no mistake, they need our support. So especially if you’re a resident of Quebec, please take the time to become informed on the funding current situation. Our nurses and doctors deserve better.
Side note – I will be writing about my experiences in an upcoming op-ed in the coming weeks as I’ve had the chance to hear many, many of their stories. And, after spending a number of weeks deeply imbedded in the public healthcare environment, I’ve become a very strong advocate for a patient-specific healthcare system in this country.
Finally, I would like to draw attention to a number of the organizations that raise awareness, funding and provide support for transplantation in Canada. Please consider donating. Without them, many of our fellow Canadians would not be with us today.
The Canadian Transplant Association (CTA), is a registered charitable organization founded to enrich and celebrate life while promoting organ and tissue donation across Canada.
The Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) is devoted to providing support for research and education into the causes, diagnoses, prevention and treatment of all liver disease.
CORD is Canada’s national network for organizations representing all those with rare disorders. CORD works with governments, researchers, clinicians and industry to promote research, diagnosis, treatment and services for all rare disorders in Canada.
Thanks, and look forward to sharing more of my story as I continue down the path towards better health and a full recovery.
Disclaimer: I requested, and received, CSD’s full permission to share his story on my blog. This is one of those rare times where I write about a coworker on my blog – mainly because this story is far bigger than the restrictive label “coworker”.
(*) CSD would like it to be known that he was high off morphine when he wrote that. While he stands by the content, he wishes to clarify that his normal writing style is mildly less grandiose.
(**) CSD also would like to point out that he played an 18-hole round of golf after getting the phone call that he’d been matched to a liver, and was to show up to the hospital the next morning for the transplant operation. I am definitely not capable of that attitude.