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The Greatest Gift

For the Misplaced Challenge

By Reija SillanpaaPublished 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 5 min read
The Greatest Gift
Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Something isn’t right. This place is all wrong.

I know it as soon as I come to. How long I have been out cold, I cannot tell. I try to focus. To remember, but the effort sends me spinning. I struggle for air. I need a hit of oxygenated blood to stop the descent, but I can’t get it.

I shrivel. My beats, vanishing.

Until blood trickles through me again. It brings me the sweetest oxygen. Slowly, labouriously, it comes to me. Not flowing freely like it used to. But enough to give me life. To keep me in the present.

A present I don't understand. What is this place? Why am I here?

Panic rushes through my arteries. It threatens to cut off my circulation again. I cannot go back to the sinking spin again. It terrified me. Like the end. I don’t want that. Regardless of my current situation, I want to live.

But I must work this out. I must figure out where I am. Maybe this is a mistake and I’m not supposed to be here at all.

What is it that feels so wrong about this place?

It’s not the darkness. I’ve always lived in the dark. It’s everything else. It's knowing that this is not my home. Somehow, for reasons I cannot even begin to imagine, I have been torn apart from everything familiar and put in this place.

Using every ounce of self-discipline I can muster, I force myself to assess the situation with logic. I have never been fond of logic. I have always been more feelings-focused. But if there ever was a time to change the habit of a lifetime, it was now.

First, how do I know this is not my home? It’s the smells, the cavernous space around me, the gurgling and whirring. It all screams different.

Sandalwood and citrus, freshly baked bread, and lilies. That’s what I’m used to. This place, there is nothing fresh or sweet about it. This place is sterile. Each inhale carries with it the smell of harsh cleaning products. I must be somewhere that is scrubbed from top to bottom. Somewhere like a hospital.

A hospital. That’s it.

I remember walking down a long white corridor. No, not walking. I’m lying down. Wheeled along the corridor. Rushed along. Urgent whispers and footsteps.

And then nothing.

Until I woke up in here. Wherever here is.

What do I know so far? I know now I’m in a hospital, that's a start. But where in a hospital and why? How the hell did I end up in a hospital when I was... Blank.

I draw a blank. When I try to remember where I was before, nothing comes. Just blank where there should be memories.

It makes no difference how hard I try to remember the events that led me here. I remember nothing more than the race along the hospital corridor.

Maybe why is too much for now. Maybe if I learn more about this place, it can help me figure out why. So, what is this huge space? It amplifies my every move. Each beat echoes, bouncing back from the walls I cannot see nor feel.

At home, I was hugged. Held close by those around me. Never alone. Here, I feel no one around me. Only space. I miss my home. I miss those I have known for years. I don’t want to be here. I want out. I want to go home.

A machine peeps. People are running. I cannot think anymore.

It’s a shock to wake up again in the same unfamiliar place. It’s a shock to wake up at all. This time, I thought I was gone.


She is gone. There was nothing we could do. She is gone.

I remember. The last words I heard before I woke up here.

Somewhere, just outside this space, a door opens. Footsteps. They are calm this time.

“Oh good, you are awake. There is someone here to see you.” One pair of feet out, two pairs of feet in.

“Mum, Dad.” It’s a whisper.

“Shh, don’t try to speak.” A female voice. It’s a warm voice, comforting, full of hope.

“Yes, your mum, is right. No speaking, just rest. Sleep if you need to. We’ll be here.” A deep, strained voice. A man, holding back tears.

Who are these people? Where is everyone I know? I demand answers.

For the next few weeks, I drift in and out. The whispering voice tries to ask questions, but he’s told later. When you are stronger. I resign to waiting, too.

What else is there to do?

I lose track of time. At first, I try to count the hours and days by counting the meals brought into the room. But it’s made very difficult by some sweet substance that flows in three, sometimes four times a day. It numbs everything. It sends me into sweet oblivion.

But as time passes, I get less of the sweet substance. The less I get, the clearer my thoughts become. But it’s no good. I still cannot remember how, and why, I left my home. I wonder if I will ever go home again. Will I ever be united with my friends and loved ones?

The more the memories and answers evade me, the more I withdraw. I no longer pay attention to what is going on around me. I lose interest in the conversations conducted whenever people enter the sterile room.

Yet, ironically, I grow stronger each day. Stronger and stronger until I find that I’m on the move. I am leaving the sterile room. Excitement sends the blood rushing through. I feel dizzy. I cannot separate the oxygen from the blood.

No, no, no. I need to stop. Something different is finally happening and I cannot ruin it.

“Dizziness is normal after such a long time being vertical. Just take it real slow and you'll be fine.”

The words work like a balm. They are not spoken to me, but I accept them as if they were. The dizziness passes and we move again. Along an echoing corridor, into a lift, and then another corridor. Through some squeaking doors.

Outside. I am outside. There are birds, lots of them, and flowers. Freshly cut grass. I feel alive. Despite everything the freshness surrounding me reminds me I am still here. I live.

“We thought you could do with some fresh air having been cooped up in that room for so long. The doctor said your new heart is now strong enough”. That is the warm voice I remember from the room. The one the whispering voice called mum.

“He’s satisfied that the meds worked and your immune system is no longer attacking the transplant.”

A transplant. I'm the transplant. The realisation frees the memories.

It was late. She was coming back from a weekend away celebrating her friend’s birthday. It was an elk. It ran right in front of her. She slammed the brakes, but there was not enough time.

She was gone.

But I wasn’t. I was a match for a young man whose heart was failing. The greatest gift only made possible by the greatest tragedy.

  • Over 5,000 cardiac transplants are carried out each year around the world. However, it is estimated that up to 50,000 people could be candidates for a heart transplant.
  • Rejections are common and expected. They happen when the immune system sees the transplanted heart as a threat and tries to attack it.

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Short Story

About the Creator

Reija Sillanpaa

A wise person said, "Be your own audience". Therefore, I write fiction, poetry and about matters important and interesting to me. That said, I warmly welcome you into my audience.

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Comments (3)

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  • Hannah Moore4 months ago

    I thought it was a heart! Great story, well written.

  • Oh wow, a heart transplant! I would have never guessed that! Loved your story!

  • Rachel Robbins4 months ago

    Well done on writing such a compassionate piece of fiction.

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