“I wanted to give a gift, but didn’t know what to buy:” Paul Cox’s documentary on liver transplant recipients

I ran across this amazing, intimate documentary recently, a 50-minute production by Paul Cox that gives us a glimpse into the thoughts of liver transplant recipients. I’ve never seen so many transplant recipients (eight of them) gathered in one spot before, and in such a lovely home, and not on the medicine floors or the intensive care unit.

The most humbling feeling of the whole documentary was one of gratitude. They discussed writing letters to their donors’ families, and how it was a very emotional experience for them to write it. One woman, Nicole, talked about how she had struggled to write the letter because she was so overwhelmed by what her donor’s gift had meant to her.

For all the recipients, the little things in life took on new, intense significance. One of them started motorcycle riding as a way to live more intensely (I can’t say I condone that, but to each his own).

It was interesting to me that these eight patients were, probably because of the very strict transplant guidelines, all relatively young, having autoimmune disease, shock liver, cancer, or HCV, and not the alcoholics and IV drug abusers we often imagine those with chronic liver disease to be. One of the guests, Jonathan, recounted a very powerful experience about living next to an IV drug abuser dying in the bed next to him, belly full of ascites, his wife refusing to even come see him in the hospital, knowing he was going to die, while Jonathan himself had just received a liver transplant.

All of them talked about the radical change that their transplant had wrought upon them. I think it’s important for me, as a young and relatively naive physician, to remember that life goes on for patients outside the hospital. They have to return to making a livelihood, supporting their families, and making meaning out of their lives. We as physicians are there to facilitate the process–but the patients are the ones who make the biggest changes for themselves.

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