“I think the next step is a liver transplant”! Hearing these catastrophic words was inconceivable. I was in shock!
Travelling home in silence, my head was in turmoil; and spinning. Disbelief. Not me. So many question marks. And then practical realities. My stomach lurched – Sawley, our seven-week-old labrador retriever guide dog puppy had arrived only three days before my hospital consultation. We had expected her to be with us for 15 months to bring her on as a working dog. After many discussions we decided to keep Sawley. Apart from deranged blood results and slight oedema I felt well, besides, Sawley had the companionship of Patch, our nine-year- old border collie rescue dog. And I had the pleasure of them both.
Walking them focused me and gave me laughter and comfort whilst Paul was at work. All was reasonably good, other than the constant cloud of anxiety as to what the future held.
But gradually my health deteriorated. Ascites was ever present. The loss of physical wellbeing was a slow process a gradual degradation ebbing away at my life as I knew it, so much so that I missed Sawley’s first independent run.
I ceased practicing Tai chi and singing in my choir became impossible. On the occasions I had to go out, I carefully chose my outfit to disguise the ascites, but I had little energy to do so anyway. The feeling of loss of all that I enjoyed became a familiar emotion of despondency.
The end of the Christmas holidays signalled Paul’s return to work, we’d had to make plans to accommodate my increasing lack of mobility. We secured a dog-walker for Patch and with a heavy heart recognised we had to release Sawley.
The day arrived when we had to say goodbye to Sawley, who was now five months old. I hid in the conservatory with Patch. I could not bear to see Sawley leave our house with a stranger, her new puppy raiser. Feeling like a failure and overwhelmed with sadness, I could hear Paul talking about Sawley’s cute puppy ways and her daily routine, not forgetting to let them know that Mr. Octopus was her favourite toy.
Without Sawley, and unable to walk Patch, it was impossible to conceive of a future beyond the next second, minute or day. Paracentesis procedures were becoming the norm. Paul pushing me in my Mum’s wheelchair from the car park to the Day Case Unit was devastating. Followed by the dreaded hospital admissions.
The assessment day at Addenbrooke’s Hospital proved to be my last journey outside of my house. I was on the liver transplant waiting list for one day before I received the telephone call that was to change my life forever and within 72 hours, I had undergone two liver transplants having developed a hepatic artery thrombosis in the first transplanted liver.
Life on Ward G5 facilitated my healing process and enabled me to continue my journey to recovery. My fellow patients have since become very dear friends. Sharing our tears, fears, and laughter. With Patch’s framed photograph on my bedside table, I looked forward to the day when I could take her for a walk. My friend sent me daily reports and photos about Patch. A choir friend sent me weekly updates on songs that were being rehearsed.
After 17 days I was discharged home, and I could not wait to see Patch. And when I did, I got the biggest welcome home ever! Though unusually gentle, I felt that Patch sensed that I was different in some way.
Thus, began my journey to what I call ‘My Firsts’.
My ‘first’ experience of being able to walk Patch was amazing. To be able to walk in nature in our local Country Park was a phenomenal experience and will remain with me forever.
My ‘first’ experience of attending choir rehearsal was unbelievable! I was curious to hear how my soprano voice sounded, but I need not have worried; my voice was back!
Whilst convalescing, the choir had sent me their recording of ‘Stand by Me’ which they dedicated to me. After months of not being well enough to sing, cancelling choir rehearsals, I felt truly blessed singing ‘Stand by Me’ with the choir. A cathartic experience.
My ‘first’ experience in practicing Tai Chi was incredible and left me feeling so relaxed and energised. As my journey to recovery continued, we resumed taking Patch to weekly obedience dog training classes. I felt well enough to pick up my volunteering role with The Guide Dog Association. I involved myself with the Guide Dog Puppies training classes, and to my delight we were asked again to give temporary housing to Guide Dog puppies. Life and socialising were starting again! A simple request to provide refreshments for the Puppy Raiser’s after training classes, evolved into what is now known at ‘StarBarks Puppy Raiser’s Café’ and has given birth to a thriving social community, so much so I now write a quarterly ‘Starbarks Café’ Puppy Raiser Newsletter.
And from here my participation with The Guide Dog Association and Dog Trust Dog School has continued to grow. I am very proud to say my Guide Dog voluntary work culminated in being presented with a Guide Dog Association Local Volunteer Award in 2019. During Covid, volunteer work as we knew it temporarily ceased and online Guide Dog puppy training classes became the norm. But now with precautionary measures in place we are back into very full-on action (is there any other way with puppies!) and thriving from it.
I cannot believe looking back to the dark days of pre-transplant that I could ever be as active, or feel this healthy, and lying in critical care I would never have imagined this would have been possible. Waiting for a lifesaving liver transplant, our lives were temporarily on hold. However, now I just get excited by each day and what it has in store – and even better if it involves wagging tails!
More information on The Guide Dog Association and Dogs Trust Dog School, and the work they do is available at https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/ and https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/.