A Gift from the Dead

Meagan - Missoula, Montana
Entered on March 23, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe in organ donation. Not just for the obvious reason that it saves peoples lives, but for the privilege of being part of a act of endurance and equality.

The death certificate is signed by a physician at the time brain death is determined. Yet I, as an ICU nurse, may not take that patient to the operating room for another 48 hours. In that time an organ donor facilitator arrives. There are endless calls made searching for a matching donor, papers faxed and copied, coordinating surgical teams, planes arriving, operating room availability, blood tests, sputum tests, urine tests, x-rays over and over, all looking for a reason that the organs are unsuitable, but all the while hoping and believing that at least one organ if not all can be placed in someone else’s body.

I am there to titrate medications, ensure stable vital signs, monitor the ventilator, move the patient to one side of the bed so that her husband can lie next to her one last time. The body is warm, the heart beats on, but she is no longer there. Such a dichotomy — death after life or life after death — depends on who you are. When is a person really dead? A co-worker of mine says death happens when a person’s ears lay flat against their head. I don’t know.

I do know it is an honor like no other to be there at the end of a life, to give someone their last bath. I am humbled by the grief and love at death, yet know hope for the someone who will receive this gift. All boundaries disappear, no matter age, gender, religion, politics or geography. To feel the physical ache of human suffering knits us together on one level. The families who may not have anything in common and otherwise would never meet have the opportunity to come together because one human gave to another.

It is believing in these collisions of lives and work for the briefest moments that bring me joy and cause me to skip a breath. I’ll return from delivering a body that will offer itself up for another to pick up the trash, discard the equipment from the now empty hospital room. I’ll watch the sun come up through the window, sigh in exhaustion and think of my own family and the tenuous lives we truly lead. I’ll sleep a few hours and when I wake, not only do I believe, but I know that someone somewhere has a new heart.