Sunday, April 1, 2012
Good evening my dear Brothers and Sisters!
I hope you are all well today, this first day of our Easter Holy Week. And, of course, what a week it has been! Forgive me if I ramble a bit, but I have a lot to get out on digital paper today so this may take awhile. As of my last post I, and all of you, have lived more than a lifetime of change in merely a week.
The recap from a storyteller's perspective: As many of you know, I was admitted to ICU two Mondays ago on the 19th after a rough night at home that left me unable to walk, hold down my food, or see straight. I was lifted into the car by Amanda's big hoss of a brother and we rushed into Dallas. By the time they checked me into Baylor I couldn't even see straight to sign my own intake forms, and I began to crash further, almost going unconscious. They said my blood pressure was 70/30 and my blood level had gone done to a critical stage. They hastily started a central line in my neck and got me from ER into ICU immediately. There I received six units (in addition to three from Saturday), a huge bag of plasma, all kinds of other bags of things and stuff, and began my three day stay there.
That first night in ICU was an awesome night of firsts: First time to see the Three Priests, a great group of Irish Catholic tenors, on PBS. They sang some classic Catholic hits which was very soothing to me that long, lonely night. It was a first time to stay in an ICU unit (not my first ICU, which is kinda odd I guess) where patients are just separated by curtains. This was strange for three reasons: First, I should say God bless them each. I'm just trying to keep things light here, but I feel for each of these poor souls. To my immediate left was an older man who somehow spent all day waking up from a procedure, moaning gutturally non-stop all day and night as many generations of his family came and wept over him. Turns out, this guy blew a gasket and bled out from too much drinking, and had to have a simple banding procedure to stop the bleed. Man, I guess I went through that the first time at twenty five, but it is a scary thing anytime it happens. Now I sound like a jerk... I just had to cling on to these little nuggets of humor to kept me human and focused! One old woman across from me was very scared, ornery, stubborn, booger-pickin', and I loved her. I wanted to act like her, but I couldn't let my guard down, not for a moment. She had a small blood clot in her leg and very vocally refused to understand why her rural hometown doctor couldn't do this for her! When the nurses tipped her bed up to better work on her, she anxiously asked, "I ain't gonna see nothin' I don't wanna, am I?" They didn't respond. Then they tilted her bed-back up and she made eye contact with me, letting out a very disappointed "Huh." Finally, there was a old country coot caddy-corner to me, next to her, who just laid there silently staring. He really had that death look, although I found out later he was fine and was probably going home soon. Everytime I barely glanced over that direction I was caught... he was maintaining direct eye contact with me the whole day and night, burning holes into my soul each time I dared look!
Two days more of this and losing all remaining traces of modesty in ways I won't even go into here (another first), I was spent. After an endoscope to unsuccessfully locate the source of internal bleeding, they did a CT scan and found a massive hematoma somewhere in my lower back/ass part region. It had painfully crippled my left leg and much of my abdominal range. The saving grace here was something unexpected, and contrasted very distinctly from my Scott and White experience. I'll put a disclaimer here by saying that Amanda found this quite hilarious as well, as it had gone far past the point of absurdity: Each successive nurse I had was crazy hot. Like, supermodel hot. Each one became taller as well, finally topping out at about 6' 2". Only creepy if you really take the time to picture me in a robe and hospital bed. So, creepy is the correct image to be certain. But I have to say it helped keep me calm and alive? Enough of that talk!
So, up to a private room finally on Wednesday afternoon after levels had somewhat stabilized. My Mom and Amanda alternated couch and hotel bed duty the whole week as I lay in that uncomfortable hospital bed waiting for the next thing, whatever that would be. I had reached that peace I spoke of in my previous post, and was focused and clean of mind and spirit. There was a little bit of time still for some laughter, moments of joy, and great late night, long overdue talks with mom over on the fold-out bed. No reason to sleep, as it was just impossible at this point. Hadn't slept since Amy Holloway's birthday weekend on Feb. 24th (admitted to Scott & White on 27th) so why even try to bother with this precious time? We both finally determined that as my Dad had been sick for years before finally going with God last year the morning after Christmas, it all made sense now: He was unable to help me then in that broken mind and body, but could finally help even more from a position of power now. Those nights in ICU I felt his presence more than ever through the dark and loneliness. I knew someone was watching over me (besides that old dude). The sense of safety and respite was certainly real.
Finally, Friday the 23rd came and I (opposite of) woke up to a message from two dear friends... my old pals Brad Pippins and Marcos Campos had each independently received an intuition to "be here" that day for some reason, and were already on their way up before I could even shake the non-sleep from my eyes. This in addition to Amanda, my Mom, and our dear friends Amy Holloway and Chris Engle, who had set up camp in a hotel on ICU Monday for the duration.
As I write this, Amanda just jumped into the pool fully clothed after a much-needed cocktail. It's been a really tough day, but I'll get to that at the end of the post. And don't worry, my cocktail is and must remain, water. God's drank.
Brad arrived at around 12:30 and we immediately launched into a great, much-needed man talk for several hours. Out of the blue,
two Italians burst into the room, frantic and fully composed at the same instant. One tall and dark, the other short and sturdy, I might have thought these guys were high-class toughs save for their enlightened eyes. The tall one (Dr. Testa) addressed us immediately and with haste:
"Okay, let me guess... YOU must be Mr. Buchta! We have received a liver for you. I feel that it is a healthy and good liver. It comes from a forty-two year old man in good shape. Will you accept this liver today?
"Uhhh.... What can you tell me about the donor?"
"I just did. It is a higher risk liver because of one positive test (turned out to be nothing), but this may be your last chance."
"How do you feel about my chances?"
"I feel good about it otherwise I would not be here. Your answer is yes?"
"Yes! Of course. I mean... what time do we start?"
"2:30pm now... okay we start you 6:30pm"
The other (Dr. Oceloti) nodded and they both immediately rushed out of the room. I looked at Brad. He at me. Wordless. Then I guess the levee broke. I had about a half a minute to bawl like a baby, so I did it right there with one of the best men and oldest friends I'll ever know. Brad, thanks. My sweet nursing assistant, Alicia, (reminded me of Alfre Woodard at her kindest and most spiritual) came in and hugged me and cried a bit. Amanda and Mom were out of the room for a needed lunch and had somehow left their phones behind. Alicia went to find them in the lobby and managed to bring them back to me... stone faced and emotionless, she merely said there was news and they should come immediately. Then joy and more tears and hugs all around for all of one full minute. Then a rotating cast of forty or so players non-stop over the next four hours to start prepping the pig. Remember that Zen warrior's readiness I spoke of last posting? This is where you use it.
My army of family and friends was able to go down with me until the last few moments, evidenced in the team photo many of you saw this week on the FB. Then a friendly young anesthesiologist (Dr. Mike, simply enough) took me down through several back tunnels, cold hallways, places that seemed like old storage areas for lost hospital stuff, etc, talking calmly to me about the procedure the whole time. I felt as if I was many levels underground, going into the underworld far below life and death, where only dreams and spirits rule. Into a freezing cold white room, the brightest room I've ever seen. A spirited, happy older British doctor shows up and explains more about the next hour or so, but reassures that soon I will begin sleeping, so not to worry. I was freezing, so they covered me up in three warm thin blankets, which I guessed would be quite moot within a matter of seconds. Okay, we're giving you the medicine, soon you'll sleep, just try to start counting down from one hundred...
Alright. So why is Marcos (Cha-Cha) looking into my face now? I'm quite certain that as well-intentioned as he may be, he is in no way qualified or trained to perform a surgery of this magnitude. I made it through surgery in only six hours after having been told that due to complications it may be more like twelve to fourteen. To be frank now, and we found out only after surgery, my final MELD score was 36. They transplant higher, but that usually means a comatose patient. My liver had essentially shut down and my kidneys were going quckly. With fluid, my body weight was now 236. I apparently had about 48 hours or so left, but of course they weren't going to tell me that while I was waiting in high spirits and good humor! About as close a shave as you can get without drawing blood, I suppose...
I awoke and immediately sensed something new and wonderful and foreign. They always told me that I've probably never known what "normal" feels like. All of a sudden, I did. Granted I was on some pretty hardcore drugs coming down out of surgery and was already in a weakened state. I was lucid on Marcos first but apparently the whole team had been in already... first Amanda and her mother Jerry, then my Mom with Brad, then Amy and Chris, later, rinse, repeat. I am told this happened: I told Amanda, "My new liver is THIRSTY! My Qi is really low!" and that I knew we would have to wear silly hats afterwards and I was just sort of confused as to why they had to be so dumb-looking, but I thought it was funny, so no big deal. Mom and Brad entered and asked what I needed.
"Bring me some Holy Water!"
(Mom had packed a full Catholic pack of stuff, as any good Catholic mother would. Brad ran back up to room to get it.)
Brad: What do I do?
Pat 2.0: Put it on me, man! Just put it on me!
(Brad hastily throws some blessed water on me.)
Pat 2.0: Ahhhh! Yeah. Yeah, that's it. Oyeah.
Then Marcos (Cha-Cha) held vigil over me for two nights, waiting and praying in silence, as if to guard from any evil spirits coming to take my still-uncentered soul away into the blackness of evening. He's a late-night guy. Cha-Cha had torn a calf muscle a few weeks back and was wheelchair bound. In a strange way, I felt God did this for a reason, too... no chairs in my teeny private ICU recovery room. Not really supposed to be any overnight visitors, but guests can stay as long as they want as long as they don't sleep! So Cha-Cha found the loophole by winding up in a wheelchair. He could stay. Sorry, Marcos! I think that torn calf happened for a reason... It's okay. Cha-Cha is a very spiritual guy, and is my personal Austin Zen Master and Teacher. Has been for years. When I was awake (or lucid, rather) he guided me through breathing exercises and meditations designed to calm my physical self around the pain and shock of having two thick rubber tubes running into one nostril and down into my stomach. Unsettling and constant pain... a warrior's focus was still required, and I'm not too prideful to say the extra help at this point was needed desperately.
After two long and fitful nights in ICU, I was admitted to a private room. I could tell this new house member was already working overtime to get the house in order, and was happy to be home. I tried my best to keep up, promising real food at some point soon, sleep, (These were still elusive goals) and even put together a "Welcome Home" playlist on my IPhone to make sure he felt at ease. I have never tried to sleep with music on my headphones, but in ICU, it suddenly makes a lot of sense!
My new friend was certainly where he wanted to be, so I inquired further. I found out a few more details from good Dr. Mike... not much, but enough to tell me something. He said that it was a great looking liver, and that he had taken it out himself just moments before they put in into me. They were able to remove the gift from the blessed saint just as they removed my old guy, and replace immediately afterward, fresh as a farm egg.
I knew this was a healthy liver when I was finally wheeled up to my private room after two nights in ICU. I then chose to get up from my carrier bed in the hallway and walk into my room bed, an apparent first for a transplant patient. Inspired, I got up later that night to stretch and and stand for a moment, and next found myself against the wall trying to do several "wall push-ups". I still have yet to live this dumb, egotistical decision down.
The news spread fast, and the next morning my doctor came in to chew my ass out. My dear Dr. Guo, was was actually having a hard time masking his joy at my successful procurement and surgery, gave me a stern two cents. He basically said that I need to respect this, and remember that I just had one of the most major and invasive surgeries a person will ever go through, and that there's no reason to think I couldn't still split open my new "Mercedes" cut (You get it if you think about the logo. You do.) I decided not to eviscerate myself, respect the life that had been entrusted to me at the greatest price any man could give, and once again remind myself to remove my Ego from the equation. Humility. A warrior's order of mind. It's never "done". It takes constant sharpening and practice. I decided to take my stupid pain pills, shut up, and do what physical therapy required of me. Okay, plus a little more working out just because it felt so good and my new guy wanted it like a vampire wants blood. Like a vampire wants blood... or, me on the previous Monday.
The rest of the week I celebrated small victories each day as I got better and better and my illness seemed to be vanishing altogether. I went from 236 to 209 lbs. in a matter of days, fluid exiting my body quicker than a wall street banker freaking on an honest moment of self-awareness.
It's now 11:08 at night. I have to finish this today. I must.
We were finally let loose on Friday night and sent home to Amanda's folks' old farmstead after two full uninterrupted weeks in the Baylor Roberts building. My first fresh air in as long. Let me reiterate here how humbled and grateful I am for the experience. I feel no remorse or mean spirit about my life's journey. I do not feel I was cheated or given a raw deal. Quite the opposite. I've been at this since I was six years old, for God's sake. I feel i was given a true gift in the fact that I was able to, and continue to see life through a different perspective that is a blessing to me and others.
This is not about me in fact at all. I have come to realize over the last month that this is a gift for all to receive. I am fortunate to be a vessel for the message, but that is my only role here. This is for us all. I say this without ego or self. I also know that this means nothing if I do not give it all back now and devote my life to God. And I already have been given inspiration and guidance in this twofold mission:
1. I will write a book to help others receive this message of hope and faith that I have been given. Spiritual but non-dogmatic, I pray I can reach beyond prejudices, fears, and darkness to truly help people. It will be light, funny, mythologically-based, hopefully not too boring or long like today's post, and sincere. I already have been working on a concise outline while laid up, and I may have a very powerful ally in an Austin friend that is amazingly qualified to help mentor me in this pursuit. You know him and love him as much as I do, it's... more on this later.
2. I have an almost immediate and easy plan to implement that will make it much easier for doctors to do their work and for people like me to get what they need. All my career experience inside and outside of work has led me to this moment. I am in a privileged position to really make this work better than ever. Many of my dear friends old and new have reposted about this quite recently and I am grateful. This, I can and will do and have already started planning the first phases. More on this very soon as I am just assembling my team of talent. A small group of top cooks in the kitchen, each who do just one thing and do it very well.
Finally today, I must tell you all that my beloved sidekick of 17 years, my old hound dog Booker T. Jones Buchta, passed away peacefully this morning beside me. I knew he was in more pain these last few months, but was truly alarmed to learn of his quicker downturn this week as I still lie in confinement in the hospital. When I got home Friday, he perked a bit, but was basically unable to move much at all anymore on his own. He walked a bit saturday but just couldn't see anymore, missing his water dish and falling over. This morning I lay next to him on a small divan on the porch and began to write this. I'm still on an oxygen tank, so it's still tough for me to move around well without dropping pretty quickly. But, this too in time. I put my stinky foot next to his nose so he knew I was there. I played some music next to his ear and he lay, panting with eyes wide open, fixing on some distant point. I had prayed somewhat selfishly the night before that God make the decision, or at least reveal to me what I should do when the time came. Again, God was gracious and it never went that far. Booker T took one long last breath as Cat Steven's "If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out" played him through.
It was perfect, in fact, to me. I think he was waiting for me... he knew how sick I was and was waiting to complete his mission. In a way, I like to think he knew he had to give his life as well as my host to keep the universal balance in order. He died today, on Palm Sunday. It means something to me this way, if it only has to mean it for me. If it was any other time or way it may have not been the same.
My good nephews dug a hole down in the pasture at the old pet cemetery and we brought him down. I stood as long as I could and blessed him wit that same holy water. I recited Psalm 23, the Our Father, and a Hail Mary and they covered him up as I played "Two of Us" by the Beatles. Beautiful and perfect under the old oaks and cool afternoon breeze.
Perfect and Beautiful. There is no light without dark, no life without death, no joy without pain. This post is for my donor, Booker T. and for Joe Ginnane, a great Wacoan who, about my age, died a sudden and premature death from illness this week. I never knew Joe personally, as he was a few years older, but we went to the same Catholic schools. He was beloved by his many friends and did great work a a faculty member of MCC theater. Rest in peace to them all.
Good night to you all with love! Truly, we are in Holy Week.
11:59 PM from Windy Hills Farm