I woke up smiling on June 22nd. It was the day of admission to the hospital to prep for my cochlear implant surgery. After three months of deaf isolation, I would soon be able to join the world again. A routine lung function test showed a slip in health, though, and the serious look on my doctor’s normally cheerful face made my palms sweat. I tried to keep it together as she told me the surgery wouldn’t be possible at that time and that my family should begin to consider moving to the mainland for care at a hospital with more resources. I felt like I was vibrating as I read the words she wrote on a board for me to read, my ears useless in this situation. With each curve of a letter, I felt my muscles tense tighter and tighter, my pent-up emotion suffocating me.
I read sentences about not hearing for a few more months and of a possible lung transplant, but it all seemed blurry and unimportant at the time. I just kind of filed the information away to be processed at a later time. I wasn’t thinking of pain, death, or deafness, but of the idea that leaving Hawaii meant leaving Kristina — the ultimate hurt. Some days later, when things went south in the ICU, plans to leave the island were cut in stone. Discussing this with my doctor, I couldn’t keep my emotion from bursting the cork this time. Memories from that time are pretty shifty, but I do remember telling my doctor and mom that “love stinks” while wiping snot mixed with tears from my face.
The morning I saw her off at the TSA gate on her way home was as tense as that June 22nd day. I wanted to hug her tighter than I ever have before, while at the same time wanting to gaze at her face and memorize every millimeter — pictures just aren’t the same. My mind swirled with “what if’s” that I had long kept myself from thinking of. Letting her go and watching her walk away made me feel so helpless, so out of control of my own life. I was standing there letting a part of my soul drift away. It might seem dramatic. But put yourself in my shoes, in the life of a man who is reminded every few hours that death is on the doorstep if action (aka transplant) isn’t taken soon. Yeah, that “what if.”
I’d always believed in the general idea of soul mates but honestly had pretty thick doubts that there was someone for me. Growing up with cystic fibrosis, I thought of myself as an in-the-closet disgust fest. I dunno what else to call it. I always tried to hide the embarrassing details of my disease from friends (it was easier before things got real bad). I mean, my disease is literally defined by having thick mucus. You ever had a really bad cold and couldn’t stop coughing up snot-like slime from your lungs? That’s the life of a person with cystic fibrosis every day. Tack on myriad digestive issues courtesy of cystic fibrosis and you’ll know why I had low self-esteem growing up. Go ahead and google my disease. Now imagine being the girl that’s dating the guy with those problems.
And that’s why it’s no mystery that I’ve fallen so hard for Kristina.
She loves me through the 30-pound fluctuations, through the swollen faces from steroids, through the poop questions in doctor clinics, through me vomiting and hacking out mucus in public, through the weird body odors my infections cause, through me imploding in despair and exploding from anxiety, through long hospitalizations, through deafness and now through the biggest test of all: a lung transplant.
She deserves a medal. No, she deserves ten medals plus a couple trophies for each and every burden she selflessly shares with me. She is the epitome of sacrifice and caring, she is the motivation to keep fighting, she is the reason I am wiping tears from my keyboard right now as I am awestruck by how incredibly blessed I am by my Lord that my biggest role model is in love with me, and I with her.
So I take a step back and examine this imaginary timeline of our relationship, this testament to the power of love. And suddenly, the ocean separating us doesn’t seem so big. When the transplant social worker asked about my goals after the lung transplant, Kristina, I said it was to start a family with you. I meant it. In a few years, I will have new lungs and new ears. We will have the family I promised you so, so many times. I don’t really think love stinks. I think love is the most magnificent gift you could ever share with me.
Thank you for cleaning up after me when I’m a slob, for drawing me pictures in the ICU when I didn’t have the energy to hold a conversation, for giving me back massages even though I suck at giving them, for taking my phone calls and ordering my coffee even though you hate phone calls and ordering things, for laughing at maybe 5% of my jokes, for trying to watch Star Wars to make me happy, for letting me ramble about things you don’t give a hoot about, for being willing to move from Hawaii to be with me, for telling me I’m handsome even when I look like a sweaty pufferfish, for giving me car rides even when it’s just because I’m lazy, for going to so many of my appointments and keeping me company during hospitalizations, and most of all: for sticking by my side, even when thousands of miles away.