By Bernard Hargreaves
“Goal” screamed the announcer on the radio and I threw my fist in the air in delight. Burnley had scored again to put them 2 – 0 up in their match with Bradford City.
While I was always delighted when Burnley scored it was particularly good because Bradford had recently been a Premier League side.
They were cheering me up as I was having a bad day which was not unusual these days. I was in the later stages of liver disease and had been told the previous Christmas that without a transplant I would not see another one.
It was now September 2003 and I had recently decided that the chances of a suitable match becoming available in time were becoming remote. Indeed I had, only earlier today, decided that it was so unlikely that I needed to make arrangements for my family after my death.
I had been through most of the predictable stages such as “Why me” and “It’s so unfair” but I was now resigned to what I saw as the inevitable. If I had to leave my wife the least I could do was leave everything in the best shape I could.
“Just hope that they don’t let it slip now,” shouted my wife from the kitchen, where she was preparing the tea. She wasn’t a fan but she knew how much it meant to me and wanted me to be happy for once.
It had been about two years since I started feeling unwell with things going from bad to worse. Things had now reached the stage that I barely had enough energy to walk and was confined to a wheelchair, at least outside the house.
I had trouble staying awake and my body swelled up regularly so that I needed to go in hospital every month now to be drained of fluid. At that moment the phone rang and my wife crossed the kitchen to answer it. I heard her puzzlement at whom the caller was and then the sudden recognition. I returned to the match until she came into the room with a large smile of delight on her face.
“It’s the transplant coordinator from Leeds” she shrieked. “They have a suitable liver for you but we need to be there as soon as possible, the operation is booked for 7.30.”
It was then about 4.15 and I could not believe it.
I tried desperately to remain calm and after a brief hug my wife ran back to the phone to call the volunteer ambulance car to take me to Leeds. Having done that she rang everybody who needed to know, mostly family, and then ran upstairs to collect the suitcase which had been packed for months. Although my eldest son was at university my youngest was soon on his way home from his Saturday job and would go with us. As if to confirm the good news the commentator screamed that Burnley had scored again.
Time started to tick by as we waited impatiently for the ambulance car.
When Burnley scored yet another goal I barely acknowledged it as I had fallen into deep thought. I had found that I couldn’t ask God to send me a liver because I would be praying for somebody else’s death but I muttered a prayer of thanks anyway.
I also prayed for the soul of the person who had been thoughtful enough to donate their organs after their death. A feeling of guilt suddenly swept over me; guilt for feeling happy that someone had died and guilt that I had been chosen to live. Hastily I put those thoughts aside and lost myself in preparations to go.
Finally everything was ready and we just had to wait to be collected. The front door banged and my son appeared smiling and happy at the news. Nobody, including me, seemed to worry about what could go wrong during the operation.
The ambulance car finally arrived having come from Clitheroe but it seemed to me that he had taken a long time and it was now well after 5pm. We all piled in with everybody helping me into the car and then loaded the boot with my bag, coats etc. Finally we were off and although the earlier we arrived at Leeds the better there was still plenty of time.
The driver had told me that there had been an accident on the motorway so he would have to go to Leeds the “old way” via Skipton.
With nothing to do I again fell into deep thought about my life while I had been ill and all the things I would now be able to do that everybody else took for granted. To regain the ability to walk would be the best thing of all and while I had never enjoyed hiking not to be able to walk more than a few steps was horrendous.
I knew that the operation and its aftermath would not be easy but the rewards would be incalculable. Briefly the past two years flew through my brain: the holiday in Whitby, near enough to Leeds in case they had a liver, which I barely remembered because I slept through most of it; being totally dependant on my loved ones instead of them relying on me; my sons pushing me to the park in a wheelchair so that I could at least watch my former sport of crown green bowling.
I also remembered those fellow patients that I met on my frequent stays in hospital, including those who had died, waiting for an organ. They were all ages and the causes of their liver disease were many and varied.
These thoughts were interrupted by the car coming to a stop. There was a traffic jam in front of us. Obviously the combined effect of the motorway closing and the thousands of Bradford fans returning home had caused a much larger than usual degree of traffic on the road. There was no way we could get off the road to go another way now. We could still afford to wait but the queue showed little sign of moving.
It was unfortunate that volunteer ambulance cars were not issued with “blue lights” but there was no real problem yet. Nearly an hour later, however, panic began to set in as we had only travelled about a mile and were now well behind schedule. My wife and I looked at each other knowing there was little we could do but be patient.
Sometimes hospitals brought in a reserve patient when the intended recipient couldn’t get there on time but even if this was not the case they may not be able to perform the operation if we were too late. The thought of being so close to getting a transplant only for it to be snatched away at the last minute was horrendous.
Finally we moved forward with the traffic melting away as we passed the road to Bradford. The atmosphere in the car lightened and changed as we quickly reached the outskirts of Leeds. We would still be on time but with the hospital almost in sight the traffic slowed down and stopped.
“I was worried we might hit the traffic because the rugby supporters will be leaving the stadium” our driver commented.
There was a ringing from myphone, which was packed away in the boot, and I feared it would be the hospital saying we were too late. With no other choice we waited patiently again until the traffic finally subsided. Now I was convinced it was too late and had my son not been there I would have wept in frustration.
My wife took my hand and tried to impart some of her tremendous inner strength to me. Eventually after what seemed like an eternity we pulled into the hospital entrance and up to the transplant wing. We unloaded the car and thanking the driver I was pushed up to the ward convinced that the transplant was not now going to happen. A nurse we knew caught sight of us and said “Didn’t you get our message?”
We recounted our journey and explained why we did not have access to our phone. She smiled and said “Well you are here now. We were trying to tell you not to hurry as your operation has been delayed because the theatre is being used because of the road accident on the M62.”
“Does that mean I will not have the transplant” I stammered.
“Yes of course” she replied. “It’s just that I will be at 3am tomorrow morning instead. Come on up to the ward your bed is waiting.”
That was ten years ago and although there were many obstacles still to overcome it has indeed changed my life. It was indeed a ‘gift of life’.