On Christmas day 2017 my granny said to me: "Well Ellie, you'll be very pleased to know that I think of you practically no differently to before." 'Practically?' Gee whizz, Happy Christmas Granny. Haha!
In her defence, when the word 'transplant' was first casually thrown at me, my first response was an enormous, resounding NO THANKS! I'd never known a transplant recipient, but I certainly couldn't imagine them to be lively, energetic people, who travelled to Africa every year, ran everyday, had babies, and lived into old, old age. And although I'd never given it much thought, I suppose I couldn't really imagine them to be quite, well, normal. I know that's awful to say, I know! But I'm allowed to say it now ;) So no thanks love, I'll keep my own liver if it's all the same to you. Except little did I know that wouldn't really be an option, in just one week's time actually.
The shift in mindset for me was extreme. From casually-not-all-that-casually asking nurses to remove the word 'transplant' from the whiteboard above my hospital bed and absolutely not accepting that was the outcome. To, just 24 hours later, being at the top of the donor list, wishing and hoping for an organ to become available, and very very quickly.
Getting Your Head Around It
I'm aware that for most organ donor recipients, a transplant is the BEST thing. They are waiting for months, years sometimes, for that call. They have time to ask questions, to do research, to meet other transplantees, join forums. But for me, it was one of the worst things imaginable - not that I'd ever imagined it. It was only when my body became so wholly sick enough that my brain would accept what had to happen, that not being quite normal was better than not being. A very different experience to being prepared, knowledgable and ready. How would you handle it? Probably better than me to be fair.
I now take immense pride from people saying to me "You had a liver transplant just a year ago? No way!" and a big part of the reason I'm happy to appear on the BBC and such like is so I can show people how totally normal you really can be afterwards, and just how much life can be saved if you choose to sign up to the organ donation register.
However, although I feel very normal, I didn't need my granny's reminder to know that lots of people might not feel the same. Maybe even the former, uneducated me. And so my favourite questions to be asked are ones like "how does it feel having somebody else's liver inside you?" because it's such an honest question, one that reveals preconceptions of organ donation and gives us the opportunity to discuss it, in a really fun and open way. And it's interesting isn't it?! That would definitely be a question I'd have asked pre-transplant, along with if I can feel it, and how long will it last. And if your tastes or personality changes! I love discussing that one with other transplantees. I suppose these are the discussions that normalise it, which in turn normalise us, which in turn normalise transplants, which in turn, you guessed it, normalises organ donation - yeehaw! So...please ask away :)
So, how does it feel to have somebody else's liver inside me?
Very very humbling.
Physically I feel nothing, and apart from the initial wound and then some pain from the scar tissue, I never did feel anything. Mentally I don't consciously think of it all the time but when I do it's feelings of gratitude and a respect for my mortality.
I do notice sometimes when I'm watching TV or going to sleep my hand will be resting on my scar, comforting my liver. And if I'm ever made to jump, my hand will move there too, to keep it safe. And it can be a little scary, my scar reminds me that at any moment I could start rejecting my donor organ, and I don't want to think about what that means, although we can all imagine. But hey, when I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, there's no reason to waste time imagining that...and actually that's it! That's how it feels to have somebody else's insides inside me, it feels like a reminder that every day is a huge huge bonus.