June 2014, Ashland, KY
Behind the wheel, at a red light, I can see the intersections ahead and know I need to turn left at one of them. The names swirl in the fog inside my head. Which street, or is it an avenue? Who am I going to see today?
I turn and all I see are four lanes of cars headed toward me. They’re speeding up, I can tell. Horns blare and I yank the wheel left into a parking lot and I watch in the rearview as the cars rush by.
I do not remember how I got home. You would think me inebriated, but I wasn’t. I had quit drinking 14 months previously.
I’m in a small office with my husband and a doctor. Her mouth moves, but I can’t grasp what she’s explaining. The words flow around me, but they don’t stick.
If I smile and nod, she’ll think I’m okay. But I’m not okay. Is this what dementia is like? Do I have dementia? Her expression looks stern. I am afraid to look her in the eye. Anymore, when I look at someone’s face, I see what they see and it makes me queasy.
“I don’t understand,” I blurt as my eyes fill.
She’s so patient. I’m a child now and she’s the parent, drawing a picture on a napkin she pulls from a container on the wall. She clicks her pen and writes what I am experiencing in words I’ve never heard before.
“Hepatic encephalopathy” with a frowny face beside them and two underlines, so this must be important.
Confused —> lethargy —> coma —> death.
You know how a roulette wheel works? That first spin, the ball bouncing and careening—that’s how I felt sitting there, waiting for the ball of truth to land in a slot of understanding.
She drew a rough sketch of the abdomen and tried her best to show where I was on the confused/lethargy/coma/death scale.
The drawing helped. I *understood* it was serious, but all I knew was I wanted this to be over. I wanted to go home.
It was later that month I met the criteria to be placed on the transplant list for a new liver. I keep this napkin as a reminder I survived.
For more about organ donation, visit UNOS.