Tucked under the signature of my Florida driver’s license are two words in blood-red that indicate that I am an organ donor.
This means that if I were in a fatal crash, my kidneys, liver, lungs, corneas—even my heart could be harvested for transplantation. Harvested and transplanted, two very agricultural-sounding terms for the brutal evisceration that must transpire before another human being can benefit from these vital organs.
Eleanor Vincent describes the impact of such a supreme gift from a mother’s point of view in her poignant memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story. When her 19-year-old daughter is left in a coma induced by a crushing fall from a horse, Eleanor struggles to make a heart-rending decision. What should be the fate of Maya’s healthy organs? Especially her heart. In the end, Maya’s heart is given to middle-aged Chilean businessman and father of two young children. Along this bumpy ride to full acceptance, Maya’s mother, whose husband no longer played a role in her daughter’s life, begins to think of Fernando, the heart recipient, as her daughter’s adopted father, “a kind of benign benefactor.”
Without telling anyone . . . I appoint Fernando the titular head of my family—a family that has shattered on the physical plane but one that I reconstitute in the ghost realm of my imagination. Seeing Maya’s continuing life through transplantation offers me a spiritual replacement for the searing physical absence of my daughter. She is dead, yes, but not entirely. Fernando experiences her vitality. As the home of Maya’s heart, he becomes a father figure for my daughter. As long as I see it this way, I don’t have to conduct the tug of war between my pain and his healing all alone. (216)
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Like author Eleanor Vincent, surgeon and writer Richard Selzer describes the sense of comfort the emphatic, but soothing, lub-dup, lub-dup conveyed to the ear of the fictional Hannah, who made an equally heart-wrenching decision to donate her husband Sam‘s heart so that its recipient Henry Pope can live. As she lowers her ear to Henry’s chest, she senses her husband’s presence:
She could have stayed there forever, bathed in the sound and touch of that heart. Thus she lay, until her ear and the chest of the man had fused into a single bridge of flesh across which marched, one after the other, in cadence, the parade of that mighty heart. (27)
Clearly, organ donation of a loved one is dear, costly in both physical and emotional terms.
The designation “organ donor” has been on my driver’s license for a long time. I am not young, like Maya, or even in early middle-age, like Sam, So, I ponder, if donation became an option, would medical people even want my organs? Would my husband sign the papers to authorize such a donation? Now he says “Okay” to the kidneys, lungs, and corneas and possibly other tissues. But No! to my heart.
Your heart belongs to me, he says.
The case, apparently, is closed.
Do you know someone who has participated in organ donation either as a donor or as a recipient? Have you? Other thoughts?
I’m celebrating my blog-i-versary. One year ago yesterday my first blog post was published. Thank you, thank you for making this first year so rewarding and memorable!