'How My Transplant Changed Me – In Ways I Didn't Expect'



Born with cystic fibrosis, Carly-Jay Metcalfe received a double lung transplant aged 21. Here, she shares what happened next...

I am dying. I know that I am dying, despite not having been told by my doctors that I am. I know I am dying because I’m in the dying room. It’s quiet and people slip in and out as if they were never here. For what seems like the longest time, I’ve been a body in a hospital bed – a bundle of atrophied muscle and chalky bones, the timbre of my breath thick and craggy. I feel the yawn marching in my winter lungs and hear the final infection coming, slow at first then roaring like a diesel engine into my living corpse, filling it with blood and pus and mucus. I can taste my death in the internal suppurations I cough up, the smell like rotting oysters.

It’s an odd thing, being able to taste your own death. For years, X-rays have shown the infection blooming across my chest like a stain, but I’ve never tasted it, or felt the pain so acutely. If you’ve ever had a baby elephant trample your ribcage as you struggled to breathe underwater through an occluded straw – this is what it feels like to die. There’s no talk of palliative care because people like me aren’t palliated: we don’t have time – death comes across upon us suddenly.

I decide it’s easier to die, simply because it’s impossible to go on. It will be painful, yes, but easy. But there’s one thing I want to do before I slip into the inevitable coma, and that’s to see my friends one last time. To say goodbye, but mostly to say: I love you; thank you for loving me. I’m ready to die, but the world wants me to stay. So, I do. Like an unarticulated vow, I stay.

It’s just before midnight, and I’m sleeping upright in my hospital bed. The shrillness of the phone slices through the smell of decay that’s been hanging like an invisible curtain in my room for weeks. It’s my cystic fibrosis (CF) doctor, Simon, and because I’m levitating on a billowing plume of morphine, I think how lovely it is that despite the hour, he’s calling for a leisurely chat.

‘Hey, Simon, how are you?’ I can sense him smiling through the phone.  ‘I’ve got great news, mate. We’ve got a set of lungs for you.’ ‘Oh my god. Really?’ ‘Really.’ ‘Holy fuck.’ ‘Ha! That’s exactly what your sister said.’ My thoughts move to my sister, Nikki, as I imagine her at home, tripping over in the darkness as she reaches for the phone.

My mind whirrs as Simon explains that I’m going to be transferred by ambulance from the Mater Hospital to the Prince Charles. When I hang up, a couple of the nurses gather in my doorway, tears spilling down their cheeks. My night nurse, Daisy, who has seen me fade from a firecracker of a girl, helps me pour my child-sized body into a pair of jeans and wrangle on my blue Chuck Taylors.

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Read the rest of the extract from Carly-Jay Metcalfe's exquisite new memoir Breath at PRIMER.


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