Fixing My Heart
By Colleen Oakley
MC: How else has your body changed because of the transplant?
Silverstein: I was only 25, and it took away my looks. I look at my wedding pictures, and I have a big, fat moon face and hair on my back from the steroids and things that any normal woman especially at that age would recoil from. Having a transplant isn't pretty. I have warts from the medicines. My husband, Scott, tells me I'm beautiful, but I look at my friends, and I know I have real abnormalities. You'd think that the normal-woman thing that says, "She's skinnier than I am," would dissipate after all I've been through and that I'd have bigger things to worry about. But that natural-woman part of me is still there.
MC: How's your health now?
Silverstein: It's still a daily struggle of feeling quite ill from my medicine and my more-than-periodic infections. I take a whole lot of antibiotics, but I just had my annual exam in June and everything was fine with my heart. At this point, when I ask how I'm doing, my doctor tells me, "Well, we're in uncharted waters, but I'm happy to navigate them with you."
MC: What's it like to face your mortality every day?
Silverstein: It's not like I pour my orange juice and say, "I could die tomorrow." But if I'm in the middle of a jog and my heart does something weird or I get a fever, it is in the back of my mind that this could be it. I did have a near-death experience before my heart transplant, where I flatlined and just entered blackness. There was no "white light." So I am convinced that death is nothingness. When it ends, it is just blackness, like going to sleep. It's not like it's going to be a lonely, terrible place; it's just that your consciousness is gone. Everyone wants a glimmer of hope that, well, maybe I become a flower or maybe I can float around and watch life below me. But I know that's not there. It makes the thought of death very sad to me, but I also understand that there's not going to be a me after this, so you've got to kind of enjoy it now. Still, I try not to dwell on it.
MC: What do you hope women learn from your experience?
Silverstein: First, people should realize that doctors are just people who went to a specific trade school. You have to remember that they're human beings and not hold them up as these deities who have all the answers or are always right. You also need to trust your intuition. I knew something was wrong. I didn't want to focus on it, but I knew. If you feel that and a doctor is telling you otherwise, you need to have the wherewithal to say, "Thank you very much," and go elsewhere.