Somehow, almost beyond my belief, a whole year has passed since I had my heart transplant. Today is my new heart’s first birthday.
It’s been a long year, and writing that feels like a major understatement. One of the things that helps me cope during times of incredible stress is the healing power of music. After my heart transplant last November, I realised I was going to need a powerful playlist to get me through the upcoming year: the first and what is commonly known as most difficult year after transplant.
Thus, my list of the top ten post-transplant songs is as follows and each title is a link to a YouTube video.
I first heard this song while watching season two, episode one of Scrubs and in homage to that, I have chosen the corresponding YouTube video. I love how Colin Hay keeps following John Dorian around and no one else seems to notice this patient with a guitar. There have been so many times during this whole journey of heart failure and transplantation that I’ve found myself overwhelmed with worry over the possibilities of the future and the possibility of not having a future. I’ve lain awake at night so many times, and this song captures those feelings completely.
During my heart failure I watched my independence ebb away like the outgoing tide. First it meant having to go to school part time, then it meant no school at all. Eventually it came to mean smaller and smaller ways of existing to accommodate my lack of vitality and energy. I loved this song even then because I dreamed of a day when I would have more independence and the opportunity to live my life as I wanted to live it. I’m the first to admit the my heart transplant hasn’t cured everything and things have turned out differently than I ever could have imagined, but I do finally have my chance to pursue independence.
When I think about all my body has endured, and the fact that I now have organs from two different people keeping me alive, it isn’t difficult for me to identify with the mysticism in the song. I am still around, and my simple existence sometimes feels like I am “bending spoons” and “pushing an elephant up the stairs.” I am continually struck with wonder by the idea and practice of life from someone’s death through transplantation. Listening to “The Great Beyond” reminds me of all the things in my life I do not understand and is a constant reminder that powers greater than mine are at work in the world.
“Oh, this is the start or something good, don’t you agree? I haven’t felt like this in so many moons, do you know what I mean? And we can build through this destruction as we are standing on our feet.” I love this song. What a perfect metaphor for transplantation, building through destruction and the start of something good. I know when I gained awareness again after the surgery, I felt different. I made a mix cd for a friend of mine who was post-transplant and included this song. It’s clearly a love song, but for me, it’s a love song for my heart. All I really want is my new heart and for it to follow through for me. I love DeGraw’s lyrics “The words you say to me are unlike anything that ‘s ever been said. Oh, and what you do to me is unlike anything that’s ever been” because it reminds me of how I feel when I can hear my new heart beating and all of the things I can do because of it.
Maybe I’m naive, or maybe I’m just an incurable optimist, but the times when I am all out of hope are few and far between. What I love about Kay’s song is that while he maintains an unshakable sense of optimism and perseverance, he also freely acknowledges that some days are harder than others. Some days you want to laugh, some days you want to sing, some days you want to cry and never get out of bed. That’s the way life is. It requires persistence, grit, and most importantly, hope. I’ve gone through many emotions and states of being in the past year and I love Kay’s song because listening to it makes me feel normal and encourages me look on the bright side and keep fighting.
“I’ve got the memory, always inside of me. But I can’t go back, back to how it was. I believe you now, I’ve come too far. No I can’t go back, back to how it was … this is home.” It sounds weird, but at some point during my hospital stay after my heart transplant, I realised I felt complete. A finished puzzle. Like somehow with two organs that didn’t originally belong to me, I am whole. I am finally at home in my body. Which is why I love Switchfoot’s song, because it captures a feeling that I can’t fully explain. My old heart was mine, but it never felt as good as my new one does. I’ve seen the contrast between my life then and my life now and I never want to go back.
Something I hate with a passion is when people tell me I am such a strong person because of everything I’ve been through. For me it has never been about strength, it has been about my overwhelming sense of perseverance and my love of life. I like the lyrics “life’s too short to be afraid, step inside the sun” because life is about taking risks. I didn’t hear this song until after I had my transplant and when I did I felt like a weight was being lifted off my shoulders. Suddenly it was okay to admit that my life was a mess and that I wasn’t as strong as people thought I was. All of that didn’t really matter, because in spite of it I would still be myself and “sing my song.” Once I realised being myself was okay, the song became a kind of personal anthem.
I had this song in my music library for years, but it didn’t mean anything to me until I stumbled upon it in May. That was back when this whole mess with the cytomegalovirus (CMV) began and I was feeling out of control and afraid. It’s simplistic, but I love the chorus, “If I just breathe, that’ll fill the space between; I know everything is all right. Breathe, every little piece of me, you’ll see, everything is all right.” There are so many times when I need to remind myself to just relax and breathe. Doing that helps me to let go of stress, and all of the situations I can’t do anything about. I generally believe that given time, everything will be all right. Whatever that looks like.
As I wrote before, it’s been a long year. There have been many times when I’ve been just trying to make it through the day, hoping the next one would be better. The best explanation for why this song makes my list can be found in my post Pushing Through For Summertime.
I freely acknowledge that my old heart served me well. When I had my liver transplant back in 1988, there was talk about performing a heart transplant too. My liver doctor at the time advised that we wait on the heart and just do the liver. His advice gave me another twenty-one years with my old heart, and a lot of living in that time. But my old heart always had problems, and I had to make sacrifices because of it. I loved Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” before the heart transplant, but afterwards it took on a whole new meaning for me. Suddenly my old heart was like the ex-boyfriend Clarkson sings about so emphatically. My old heart and I started out friends, but since it’s been gone, I can literally breathe for the first time. And with my new heart, I’m moving on because I know what I want and I finally have the opportunity to achieve it. My new heart makes that possible.
Simply said, no matter how hard this past year has been, ever since it was placed in my chest I have been in love with my new heart. This past year I’ve enjoyed such pleasures as having a normal electrocardiogram, exercising without getting short of breath, having warm hands and feet, and being able to have a greater sense of independence than I did before. Not to mention a sense of freedom from impending death. My new heart has given me a new chance at life, and for that I will be forever grateful to it, my donor, and my donor’s family for making the decision to donate.