Hagman, Larry – The Liver transplant
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Hello Darlin': Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life – Larry Hagman
On June 3, shortly before Maj and I sat down for dinner, Dr. Rudnick called. He said results from my blood workup were back and they showed a life-threatening situation. I had no idea what he was talking about. I'd worked out early that day. I felt great. But here he was, telling me I was sick. The test results indicated I had cirrhosis of the liver. He said, "If you keep drinking, I don’t think you'll be around in six months. If you quit, you have a chance of living a normal life. "
At the time of the call, I was holding a glass filled with vodka and orange juice. I usually had a few before dinner, then switched to wine. I immediately put the drink down the drain and checked my watch. It was 6:1.5 P.M., June 3, 1992. That was when I quit drinking……………………..
A second, more thorough exam by Dr. John Vierling, medical director of the Liver Transplant program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, confirmed my liver's tissue was scarred and deteriorating, He described it as a textbook case of advanced cirrhosis, the eighth-leading cause of death from disease in the United States. According to Dr. Vierling, I fortunately wasn't in need of a transplant, not yet anyway but my blood required testing every three months to check for tumours, which commonly grew in diseased livers. Otherwise, I could do as I pleased………….
Over the next two years, I didn't have any major complications or complaints. I kept up my workouts with Taylor and stayed in pretty good condition, except I noticed a steady loss of energy. I also had persistent nosebleeds, which I ignored, even though later on I'd learn they were signs of liver malfunction………………
Then I joined the list. In early spring 1995, shortly after I finished playing a Texas millionaire in Oliver Stone's movie Nixon, one of my blood tests came back irregular. I had an awful, sinking feeling as I received the news, but Dr. Vierling wasn't alarmed. He ordered additional tests, including a CAT scan and MRI, and they indicated a slight growth. "It could be the liver rejuvenating itself," he said.
"That's good news?"
"Maybe. Sometimes the nodules revivify."
"What do we do about this?" I asked.
"We watch it for now."
On June 22, I went back for another checkup. The growth had gotten a little bit larger. It wasn't good news. Dr. Rudnick called in Dr. Leonard Makowka, Cedar-Sinai's director of transplantation services. We already knew each other from when he'd operated on my mother five years earlier. He ordered his own battery of tests. I had CAT scans, PET scans, MRIs, ready-to -eat meals-everything the hospital could throw at me. I marveled at the machinery the high-tech equipment that dissected my body without leaving so much as a scratch, and thanked my lucky stars I had the insurance to pay for it. Thank God for strong unions like the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild.
The tests revealed a small tumour, measuring 2.7 by 2.8 centimeters, about the size of a marble. Dr. Makowka couldn't tell me whether or not it was malignant without a biopsy but he said it was situated next to a major vein in the liver, which wasn't good.
"This isn't uncommon with a cirrhotic liver," Makowka said. "They're hotbeds for tumors. Like pearls in an oyster. They love to grow in there." I entered Cedars on a Thursday afternoon through a back entrance and checked in under an assumed name while wearing a fake moustache, as my publicist was paranoid the tabloids would find out……………………..
We didn't have to wait long. The telephone rang on Monday morning, and it was Dr. Makowka. He told us the tumour was malignant. I put the phone down and looked at Maj, who up till this point had managed to keep her emotions in check. But this caused her to lose it. Not completely. But she cried and felt scared. Rightfully so. Hearing a doctor who specializes in treating terrible diseases say the words "malignant tumor" is terrifying. You're allowed to lose it. We'd been married 40 years. We were still having the time of our lives together. Maj suddenly realized that that time might be running out. We hugged for a long time.
I reacted differently. I kind of stepped out of myself. Instead of panicking or worrying, I got very calm and asked, "'What do we do about the situation?" 'We flew back to L.A. and discussed the options with Makowka, who explained the tumour was positioned against a vein. If the cancer got into the vein, it could get into my bloodstream and travel throughout my body, none of which was good. He recommended a liver transplant…………………..
On July 19, my name went on a nationwide list along with five thousand other people awaiting a new, healthy liver. The news got out and spread quickly. I got calls from friends. Baseball great Mickey Mantle had just undergone a liver transplant amid criticism that his notoriety had helped him, a lifelong alcoholic, receive a liver quicker than others. I looked up the statistics. The average wait was between 30 days and a year. Decisions on who got a liver were based on medical condition, blood type, size, and proximity to the donor organ. I had no idea why Mantle got his. Nor did I know when or if I'd get mine.
Richard sent out a press release. "In spite of this latest development, Mr. Hagman remains in excellent health and spirits and his prognosis for a full recovery and long life is excellent, according to his medical team " I believed that was true. I had no reason not to.
Michel Machuzsek coordinated everything that had to go on between the patient and all the doctors. She called to ask how I was feeling, scheduled appointments, blood tests, MRIs, and all the other stuff that goes into preparing for a liver transplant. If Makowka, who performed the surgery, was God, she was the angel Gabriel tending the gates. One day she asked me if I still drank. I said no. She asked if I was in any support program. Again I said no, explaining that I didn't feel I needed one. I'd been able to give up alcohol for the last two years and didn't miss it at all. And if it wasn't for the goddamn encephalopathy I'd be thinking straighter than I had in 40 years.
"……. the good news. We have a perfect liver for you. It's on its way. We're sending a helicopter for you. Can you be ready in half an hour?” I'd been on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) list thirty-three days. Now I had less than 33 minutes to get to the hospital. Right then I paused, the first of countless such pauses I've made since, to think about the person whose liver would soon be mine. You aren't permitted to know anything about that person. Nothing. Not whether they’re male or female, black or white, rich or poor, happy or unhappy and I think that's good. It's proof that we’re all the same, all here to help one another if we can. I thanked that person profusely for signing their donor card.
The helicopter touched down on the landing pad beyond the driveway. The pilot smiled and helped stow our small bags. Within two minutes, we were airborne, heading south. I'll always remember my little sister, looking so worried, standing on the driveway and waving to me as we flew toward L.A. Maj and I held hands the whole way and looked at the scenery below. It was so pretty. I turned to Maj at one point and said, "'What a nice day.” Then we landed at the hospital. The entire flight had taken 26 minutes.
At that point, it was kind of like being in the theatre and hearing the stage manager say, "Show time." Michel met me at the helicopter pad and took me on a round- about way into the hospital to avoid any paparazzi who might've been tipped off that I was on my way. Then began the long process of being prepped for major surgery. Between 7:30 and 8 P.M., the helicopter landed with the harvester and his precious cargo. Mai was chatting with Michel while I talked with Richard on my cell phone when a young man came in and told me he was there to take me down to the operating room. "I've got to go," I said. "My driver's here." My attitude couldn't have been better. I was in a great mood, joking with Maj, not troubled by an ounce of fear. On the way to the OR, I pulled the sheet over my head so nobody could snap a picture of me. I kept wiggling my feet so they wouldn't think I was a corpse. In the OR, I was given an enema. I've heard of high colonics, but this was ridiculous. Neither Dallas nor David had mentioned it. I hoped that enema wasn't going to be my last thought. Because then I got a shot, the first round of anesthesia, and before anyone could tell me to count backward, I was out of there.
It was about 11 P.M when Makowka actually began the operation. During the 16-hour surgery, much longer than originally planned, he played music to keep everyone's attention sharp .Later, he told me the first song he'd played, as he made the incision, had been the theme from Dallas. Periodically Leonard or one of the other doctors left the room and gave Maj an update. It's impossible to predict what's going to happen in the operating room, but with each report he assured Maj everything was going well. The cancer hadn't spread and the new liver appeared to be a perfect match. There were a few minor complications. Leonard had to rebuild the bile duct connection to my liver, and he needed three hours to clean out gallstones. Earlier, I'd asked him to save the stones so my artist friend Barton Benes could turn them into a ring, and he happily told Maj that I'd be able to wear my ring. Finally late in the afternoon on August 23, Makowka came out and told Maj the operation was over. The surgery had been successful and I had been taken to recovery. But he added the cautionary words she already knew from previous discussions: I wasn't out of the woods yet. The first 48 hours after an operation like this were crucial and would indicate my chances for making it out of the hospital.
I drifted through the heavily-medicated first couple of days in ICU, spending most of that hazy time focused on my celestial song. Everyone has their own unique song, an inner melody that fuses each of us to the deep, modulating, harmonious hum of the celestial orchestra that's the collective energy of everything that's ever lived and ever going to live. It's our life force. The power of the universe.
Think of the aurora borealis. When I see those lights, I can't help but say "My God, I'm part of that."
Later, when I told Dallas about that song, he said, "Oh yeah, that's your muse." 'When I asked if he had experienced anything like that, he said, "sooner or later, everybody does."
The days I spent in ICU meditating on my song gave me a feeling that was ecstatically happy and familiar-and it confirmed what I'd always suspected, that every one of us living creatures is part of a collective energy that is also ecstatically happy and familiar. The culmination of that energy is love. It's with us now, it always has been, and it always will be. Every one of us has this familiarity. We know it. The problem is, we bury it under so much apprehension and worry. But on medication I was able to blend into the bigger picture, the way I had done on my first acid trip.
I also glimpsed over the edge of this level of existence into the next, and there was that person again, welcoming me but indicating it was not yet the time to cross over.
Yet I was allowed to understand there was more to life. This was not the end.
There were more levels, an infinite number of levels, of existence, each one adding to the hum of the cosmic orchestra, as if we're always spiraling upward until we reach a state of atomic bliss, like the pleasant chime of a triangle being played.
Every religion that I know of tries to figure out the same question-what's the meaning of life?-and each one offers a different path to the same answer, which is love.
The meaning of life is love.