For the entire time that Patty has been sick -- from the time she had her heart attack to now -- we've tried very hard to understand as much as possible about her condition. We've read first-person accounts of transplants, interviewed doctors to the point of frustration (theirs and ours, I think), exchanged emails with other heart failure patients and transplant recipients and used the Internet extensively to learn about ICDs, drugs, antibodies and many other subjects. We've watched documentaries about transplant, including one with some of Patty's doctors. And, whenever we've found a movie about heart failure or transplant, we've watched it, in the hopes we might get a feel for the human aspects of transplantation. There aren't many such films out there. We don't consider ourselves experts on heart failure or transplantation -- far from it -- but we think we now have enough high-level knowledge to appreciate a thoughtful show and to shake our heads at an odd one.
Some of you may have seen Heartsounds, with James Garner and Mary Tyler Moore. Although the film is now a bit dated in its medicine and technology, we liked it because it was (a) based on a true story, and (b) it made sense to us. For the patient and for everyone who loves the patient, heart failure is a scary-as-hell rollercoaster, and this movie demonstrated that. There are other films dealing with other conditions -- AIDs and cancer, for example -- that seem to powerfully show how devastating these life-threatening illnesses can be. Some even serve a societal purpose, I think, because they help to educate people. For example, if one less person mistreats another because a film helps them better understand that person's condition, this is a happy bonus that goes along with the entertainment.
Over the weekend, Patty and I watched A Stranger's Heart, a TV movie that we had eagerly anticipated -- not because we often look forward to TV movies, but because we had heard that this film captured the experience of heart transplantation. To be fair, we thought that this film occasionally attempted to dispense some knowledge and perhaps even tried to make the case for organ donation (albeit in a way we found far from convincing.) Overall, though, we found ourselves shaking our heads through much of this movie. Patty hasn't even had her transplant yet, and we KNOW that this isn't how it's going to go down.
Here's a 60-second synopsis of the film, as we observed it:
A woman needs a heart transplant, so at an appointed time she goes to the hospital where she joins perhaps 10 or 12 other young, slim, healthy-looking people who are all waiting around for hearts. They don't need any medicines or telemetry, just a huge bag of saline that is never less than two-thirds full; this is a good thing, because it would interfere with their ability to all dance and frolic at the New Year's Eve Party for transplant candidates (a big event, at which everyone seems very healthy and energetic.) Day or night, a patient can anticipate a visit from the same doctor, who not only keeps them up-to-date on their medical condition, but also dispenses important life advice at every turn. Every person who is awaiting a transplant can count on other heart transplant candidates to wish them well, day or night, for any procedure they may be having; in fact, even if they've had the surgery, they come back on a regular basis to check in on those still waiting. Patient privacy laws be damned -- in this hospital, everyone hears from the doctor what is going on with everyone else and, if you need an answer, you just walk in on your doctor and ask. When your friend has his transplant, the doctor asks you: "Are you ready? You're next." When you come out of surgery, you need only three leads to measure your heartbeat, and a mask to give you oxygen. Nothing in your appearance or demeanor would suggest you've just undergone major surgery and, just before you leave the hospital, you're able to run on a treadmill. Fortunately, you don't have to worry about overexerting yourself, because your fellow transplantees/friends are always there exercising with you. When you leave the hospital days after your surgery, you're as good as new, and find yourself drawn to this man who was transplanted at the same time. To your surprise, you find out that you and this man received the hearts of a couple who had been killed in a car accident -- she received hers, and he received his. Inexplicably, both you and this man find yourselves drawn to a little girl who turns out to be the daughter of the couple who had been killed. Even when the family begs for you to let them grieve, you persist in showing up at the girl's school, sending her things in the mail and such, because she thinks you're angels. Ultimately, when you fall in love and get married, the grandfather of the girl comes around and lets her attend the wedding, and then lets you become a major part of her life. As they tell you at the end, people really can live happily ever after.