In the fog of first awakening from surgery, I recall seeing a masked ICU attendant hovering above me. “When does the operation start?” I croaked.
“The surgery already finished.” Said the attendant, writing down something on a metal clipboard. “It’s 5pm, everything goes smoothly.” I smiled big, both for Nat and at having no recallection of how the last 8 hours passed. I remember telling him my shoulders hurt when he asked me how I felt. “I will give you something for that,” he assured.
The transplant had gone perfectly and my liver was already working in Nat with no sign of rejection. My wife later told me the baby’s skin had begun to return to pink for the first time since she was born, her eyes white again. She was stable and I drifted off peacefully as the drugs began to course through me.
The next time I awoke, I was in a hospital room with the surgeon who told me that everything looked good for both of us, though Nat’s frailty meant she was not out of danger. When he asked, I told him I felt fine, though I could feel something stuck in my throat that made me hoarse. I slept as attendants came in and out to monitor me.
The next afternoon ICU doctors noticed Natalie had some cranial swelling and ordered a CT scan which revealed a small burst blood vessel in her brain, so a neurosurgeon came in to stem the bleed and relieve pressure. Despite maximum dosages of coagulation drugs, her brain continued to swell to the point where her skull needed to be opened to allow it to expand. But as it did, pressure on her brain stem caused a seizure, and within hours she fell into coma. By late the next morning her doctors declared her brain dead.
With no humane options at this point, Nam and I decided to disconnect her from life support and to prepare her organs for donation.
There’s no way to sound the depth of our grief from losing Natalie, who despite her illness, was the most joyful little person. I know now that she was just visiting, teaching me how to be a selfless father and nothing we did could get her to stay longer.
For those of you who cared for her, we are grateful and hopeful that Nat’s passing will bring new blessings to our family.
Oh Compassionate Ones, you who possess the wisdom of understanding
The love of compassion, the power of doing divine deeds
And of protecting in incomprehensible measure, Natalie is passing from this world to the next.
She is taking a great leap
The light of this world has faded for her
She has entered solitude with their karmic forces
She has gone into a vast silence
She is borne away by the great ocean of birth and death.
Oh Compassionate Ones, protect Natalie who is defenseless
Be to her like a mother and father
— a Buddhist prayer for the dead