On a beautiful Thursday afternoon late last May, my partner and I took the dogs swimming at our secret spot at a nearby reservoir.

A sailboat gliding across the water made me reminisce about sailing in the San Francisco Bay while growing up. The first time I sailed a 13-foot Laser by myself underneath the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge at age 14, it felt like crossing into another dimension.

I wasn’t thinking about the last time my parents went sailing together, which was right before my mom’s tumor and lung disease were discovered.

I was thinking about the osprey overhead with a catch in her talons, fighting off a bald eagle before landing back at her nest. I was thinking about how secluded we must be to have found a cove under an active osprey nest, and how I loved that warm blanket of detachment from society with the sun shining on my eyelids.

I leaned over to check the time on my phone and saw a voicemail from my mom. She never leaves a voicemail, and rarely ever calls without texting first. (Hello, millennial here.) I saw the transcript of a one-second message before hearing her say, “I got the call.” My body stiffened, then I felt a cold shower of relief.

We had been waiting for “the call” for seven months that would bring news of healthy new lungs for my mom, who had been diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis a year earlier. Before this moment, I hadn’t allowed myself to imagine the future. My brain did me a favor by not allowing me to get my hopes up.

I was elated, but the logistics overwhelmed me. The pandemic had shut down California two months earlier. Elective surgeries, including my mom’s lifesaving one, had been postponed until recently, when there was a lull in hospital activity and her condition became more urgent.

Due to the novel coronavirus, there had been fewer opportunities for organ transplants. Maybe this was because most potential donors were testing positive for the virus, or because traffic accidents were low because people weren’t commuting to work.

But now, the hospitals were quiet, and there was one lung ready for my mom. So, my dad dropped her off at the University of California, San Francisco hospital, per COVID-19 protocols.

I dutifully packed my things and drove from my home in Truckee, California, to San Rafael the next day, Friday, to be with my dad.

Finally able to imagine my mom getting better, thoughts of the future flew around like confetti. I pictured my future wedding dress, the color of a California poppy, and my mom in the first row in elegant indigo. I imagined us hiking up a rolling green hill and eating cheese at the top. I imagined us clinking our glasses together on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. 

Because of COVID-19, I didn’t hug my dad when I arrived at their house. We didn’t really know what to do at that point. We were still waiting to hear from someone at the hospital. Was my mom in surgery?

We finally managed to talk to her. She most likely would go under sometime after midnight. They wouldn’t know for sure if this whole thing would work until she was on the operating table and they could match the lung up against her like a puzzle piece. My mom was dying, and this lung had to work.

Only one person was allowed to visit her, so my dad went to keep her company. I said I would hold down the fort, but I could barely get a hold on myself. I felt like I was on a precipice, in an airplane with the door open, and someone was telling me to jump, as worry rushed at me like the wind. I broke down.

It was one of those times when you need your mother, but she was the reason why I needed her. I felt helpless, waiting in her kitchen by myself. I imagined my mother unconscious, on a breathing machine, my dad holding her hand. I was spiraling.

And then, one after the other, two of my mom’s best friends called me. How could they have known that I needed them right then? I let myself cry on the phone to them, and it must have been the first time they’d heard me cry since I was a child.

I woke up Saturday morning to an incoherent group text from my mom to our family. I was the first to text back, and she immediately FaceTimed me. She had a breathing tube in. She just stared at me as I strung together words of gratitude.

I had expected to see a ghost, but she looked more alive than she had in the last year, breathing tube and all. For a moment, I felt what it might be like to believe in miracles.


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.

Emma lives in Truckee, California and earned a degree in Literature: Creative Writing from UC Santa Cruz in 2013. Her mother, Diana, was officially diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2019 and had a single-lung transplant in May 2020. Emma was one of her caregivers during recovery and continues to support her mother from 185 miles away every day. Her column, “The Emotional Support Daughter,” sums up their relationship in a cheeky but loving way, and Emma hopes to depict her mother’s journey through her own lens with equal doses of realism, humor, and compassion.

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