I am grateful for the chance to tell you a little about my story here at Florida Hospital and the Bartch House
My adventure in getting a new heart started in October. I had left Panama, where I lived on my boat and had prepared to sail around the world. I flew to Tampa on business, and passed out while driving. I had surgery to replace a leaky heart valve, had an allergic reaction to a drug, which resulted in a massive heart attack and coma. I came to, weeks later in November. My son, Sam and my former wife, Barbara, who is now my good friend, had flown down from New Hampshire and were with me.
I had no idea where I was. Sam said I was in Orlando, which confused me. I thought I was in Tampa. I asked a few questions, such as how I got here (it was by helicopter) and the date. I had been unconscious for three weeks. My skin was hanging loosely from my body, my hands were gloved and tied to the bed, and I had tubes everywhere. I looked around, wondering what had happened and they told me how close I came to death; that the doctors at the Florida Hospital had saved my life.
Sam asked if I wanted to know who won the presidential election and the World Series. I kept looking around, still confused, and said, “Just tell me who won the World Series.”
I have to tell how much I came to actually liking being in the hospital and the Bartch House. I can’t think of another way to put it. Yes, I want to get out and to get on with life, but I like it here. Florida Hospital and the Bartch House are not just about my physical health. I know the importance of a spiritual center, and I work on it. As a transplant patient, I know I am responsible for my own recovery, and spirituality is key. Florida Hospital and the folks at the Bartch House make it easy. I like being treated as a spiritual being here, not just a patient. In the initial stages of recovery, there was a woman who came to my room every day to clean, and she held my hand and prayed with me. That is as important as meeting with the best doctors and nurses. The woman who drives the shuttle bus, a Haitian refugee, said she will pray for me.
When I made my first outpatient visit to the Transplant Institute, one of the nurses looked at me and said, “Mr. Allen, look at you! You look wonderful! And to think how sick you were just a few weeks ago!” I stood at the desk talking with her and a few other people. One said, “Mr. Allen, you are part of our family now and you will be for the rest of your life.”
Do you have any idea what that means to me? Do you have any idea what it meant to my son, who sat with me day after day, not knowing if I would live? The Bartch House family is part of that. I am grateful, and so is every other person who stays there.
The Bartch House is becoming a spiritual center for transplant patients and just as important, their families.
I am now waiting for “The Call” for a heart. I got the first one a few weeks ago. I hung up the phone, and was ecstatic. I would live! Then, I was annoyed with myself. Someone had died that day, someone much younger. His family, in the toughest day of their life, had seen their way to provide a stranger with the gift of life. I prayed for him, then as calmly as I could, made my way to the hospital. I must say, I was not in the least bit afraid, but I did pray until I was sedated.
I came to a few hours later, and thought, “Wow, there is nothing to this heart transplant stuff. I feel great.”
Then I was told that the donor heart was 31 years old with advanced heart disease, and rejected. The person who told me seemed more disappointed than I was. “Well,” I said, “They don’t make them in a factory.”
So, now, I wait for “The Call” once more. I always have my phone with me and if it rings now, I will have a look to see who it is.
This is the message I want to convey. The Bartch house kitchen, dining area, living area and the beautiful porch have become important places for people to meet. This is where people help me wait. This is where I have made friends with whom I will share a bond…for life.
There are women and men with loved ones with whom they spent a tiring day in the hospital. They come to the Bartch House tired, and possibly sad and frightened, and might be offered some tuna casserole made by another guest. All of them, to a person, talk about the care they receive.
More than once, I have heard a person say, “Where does this hospital find such good people?”
Some guests are frightened, but they find someone to talk to and share their story. A woman waiting for a lung transplant met another woman who had one a few months prior, and is doing well. By the way, she has become famous for her jigsaw puzzles and is now known as the puzzle queen. There are 11 completed puzzles now on the tables you have provided. Whenever someone checks in, we ask them if the front desk told them that they have to put in two hours a night on the puzzles. It isn’t the puzzles that matter. It is the talking and sharing that happens when we do the puzzles.
I also met a woman with six kidneys…a man who got a heart and kidney, another man whose wife has waited for years for an organ, and and how kind they are to one another. It’s there for all the people at the Bartch House to see. I met two men who had bone marrow transplants and I now communicate with one by email. I have made a few friends for life.
Soon, I will share the important gift, the treasure of a new organ that keeps so many of us alive.
Gratitude is what the Bartch House is all about. It is a place to share stories, and a place of comfort. It is a place where the staff is generous with their time, and as kind as the amazing people who work at Florida hospital.