Steps to and from Transplant

One more step, one more step.

It is exhilarating to realize I’m walking without focusing on breathing. I get overconfident and add an extra inch to each step, pump my legs just a little faster, oxygen tank bumping along behind me. I feel like I don’t even need the extra oxygen, I feel like my lungs aren’t decayed. I’m gliding through the mall.

Then I cross this invisible ‘reality barrier’ and hunch over with lung-bruising coughs — the illusion of good health (fueled by caffeine and painkillers) is shattered. But the rush remains. While gasping for breath and trying to see through the stars dancing in my vision, I’m thinking about how just months ago I couldn’t get out of bed. Months later, standing in the front of the supermarket while my mom grocery shopped for 10 minutes was a tremendous accomplishment. Now I’m walking a couple miles at a time. Five steps, supported by my dad’s arm, from the ICU bed to the toilet has turned into 6,000 around the mall. How many steps next month?

My goal is to walk into the hospital for my transplant surgery, decked out in my boxing robe (provided by the lovely Tripler team). I don’t want to get wheeled in. I want to be the healthiest dying man ever. “Cystic fibrosis is a disease of deterioration.” Nah.

I told my social worker during the transplant interview that my new lungs would not be a continuation of my life, but a reset button. I told her my goal is to run again. I haven’t run more than a few steps since, man, I don’t know when. I jokingly tell people that I hit my physical prime in elementary school, when I was known for being one of the fastest runners in the games of tag my classmates would play at recess. I’m gonna retire that joke. With my new lungs, I want to be in my true prime.

A couple years from now, I want to be running and stop to catch my breath. I want to check my FitBit and see I’ve run 6,000 entire steps. I want to feel a rush as I think back to when I stopped to gasp for breath in the mall. I want to smile and run some more.

One more step, one more step.