In early 2000, while I was waiting, or should I say living, at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto for a heart and kidney to become available for transplantation, I was asked many times whether I had any concerns about having someone else’s heart inside my body. At first it didn’t seem like it was something that would bother me but the longer I waited, and as the time grew closer, I began to wonder more and more about this issue. People talked about the tissues in the donor organs having cellular memory and had been told stories they had heard from others who had received organ transplants; that the transplant recipients took on attributes of the original donor. These attributes were not typical to the recipient’s normal character and so were readily distinguishable as coming from an outside source – or inside source as the case may be. At that point in time, it wasn’t something that I was going to be able to answer and so resigned myself to waiting for the actual experience to unfold.
The whole topic reminded me of the movie Body Parts (1991). A thriller in which a criminal psychologist, Bill Crushank played by Jeff Fahey, loses his arm in a car accident to have it replaced by a limb from a serial killer on death row. Bill soon discovers that the arm is possessed by a force that he cannot control and mayhem ensues throughout the rest of the movie. Although my donor heart would be an internal organ versus a limb, I had a pretty good idea that it wasn’t gonna roll anything like that. But it was food for thought nevertheless.
When the big day came, the day I was told that a matching heart was available, it was bittersweet. Why? I was also told that the heart would not be accompanied by the kidney that I so desperately needed.”I encourage you to take this heart,” urged the doctor, “I know you’d like to get both organs now but the kidney is not available. Please don’t pass on this opportunity thinking that a better one will come. Time is running out. Since your heart was enlarged, you need a larger heart to fill the cavity left by your old heart. This is the one, a big one that is in very good condition.” Now you would think that this would be a no-brainer decision but I desperately wanted that kidney. Your heart, it does one thing – it beats – of course, sending needed oxygen-laden blood to the rest of your body is important too, but the kidney… it’s insufficiency meant ongoing multiple food and beverage restrictions, hours upon hours of dialysis treatments, and needles the size of Manhattan, pain, pain, and pain in the ass! I’d do just about anything to get rid of that nightmare. Yet, this day, it wasn’t meant to be so. Movin’ on…
I woke up to find myself in the recovery area with multiple tubes coming out of my body: the ones coming out of my nose carried some kind of disgusting green bile; a bigger one down my throat was for breathing; and two smaller tubes located near my diagram beneath my pectoral muscles were for drainage. First off, I was glad to still be alive! Can’t really say that I was in a lot of pain in the early going because I believe they had me drugged up pretty well. By the time I was fully cognizant of my surroundings, I realized I was in a critical care unit replete with my own nurse. While she and others scurried about taking care of business, I lay in the bed watching an amazing psychedelic show. No, there was no television or video screen available. Faces, bodies, and groups of people
passed by my vision like ghosts, specters from another dimension. Was I dreaming? No. Strangely enough, my eyes were wide open. As a waking vision, random people wouldn’t seem like a strange phenomenon to anyone, but what was strange was that some of them had multiple heads, and these heads were moving and morphing into larger ones, and different ones, and more heads… It’s like I was caught up in some bad acid trip or Pink Floyd animation. Still, it felt to me as though I should know who these people were, but I did not. More faces were morphing, rising, and falling in front of my eyes. It’s almost as if they were trying to tell me to pay attention to what was going on. Deep inside, intuitively, I felt as though the message being broadcast was, “These are all friends of your heart donor; these are his hopes, dreams, as well as his fears that you must exorcise now so that they don’t come to haunt you later.” With that realization came peace. “Bring it on!”, I internally dialogued with the entities,”Show me whatever you want! I am not afraid”
Of course I dare not tell my nurse or any doctors what I was seeing. I already knew what their reply would be: ”You’re on some pretty strong painkillers and hallucinations can be a side effect.” I could not deny the possibility that these might have been hallucinations but at the time, they were very real. I was also connected to these entities in some instinctual way, and that verity could not be explained away as hallucination. Truth is, while it was all happening, I was conscious enough to ask myself,”Is this a dream? Am I hallucinating?”, and the answer was unequivocally, no. So you tell me? If you’re in a dream, and you ask yourself, “Am I dreaming?”, or perhaps become aware that you’re in a dream, do you not wake up? Well, I did not, and the show played on, and on, as long as it needed to. So where did those visions come from? Were they memories or experiences buried deep inside the cells of the donor heart? Who is to say? My feeling is that whether cellular or energetic, these memories or discorporeal forms were attributable to the heart donor and not to myself. That message was loud and clear.
Now enough of the esoteric examples. Let’s get on to the real nitty-gritty like chocolate and soda pop. All my life I’ve never been much of a chocolate fanatic nor a Coke drinker but ever since receiving the donor heart, I was irresistibly drawn to these products. Could these desires have come from my heart’s previous owner? There was no way of really knowing; however, I surmise this to be true. You see, all those months waiting on the 16th floor of the Mount Sinai Hospital I made many friends of the doctors and nurses, but mostly the housekeeping staff. The doctors and nurses had to toe the party line, but the housekeeping staff you could have fun with. One of the gents that I saw almost daily was roommates with a guy that worked for MORE – Multi-Organ Retrieval and Exchange program. These are the folks that match donors with recipients. Through the grapevine I had heard that the unlucky fellow – my donor – was a young, strapping, college-football-player type from Montréal. To begin with, it’s rare to receive an organ from outside of one’s own province – so thank God for that. Secondly, the doctor’s description of the donor being from out-of-province, big, and the heart being large enough to fill my chest cavity, was the second vote in that favor. It makes total sense to me that a young football player would be into chocolate and Coca-Cola – doesn’t it? Seems like a good fit to me. Case solved – indubitably! Sherlock Holmes eat your heart out.
All cellular memory aside, that which was someone else’s heart, is now my heart. I look at it like this: when they wheeled me into the operating room, I had a heart in my chest, albeit weak and insufficient there was a heart there nevertheless; when I woke up in the recovery room, I had a heart in my chest just the same. Outwardly, what had changed? Yes, this new heart beat much more rhythmically and strongly but when I glance down at my torso it looks roughly the same as it did before – minus the scars. When I walk, I don’t think it’s someone else’s heart beating in my chest. When I sleep, I don’t think it’s someone else’s heart beating in my chest. And when I love, I don’t think it’s someone else’s heart beating in my chest. I push the love through my heart centre the same as I had before, perhaps even more so. Now, I just get to do it for a while longer.
In memory of my heart donor. God Bless.