‘Your eyes are windows to the soul,’ I was thinking as I shone a light into your green eyes. They looked wide & innocent. The bruising around them, almost blasphemous.
I looked at you – 7 years old, coming back with mum after visiting grandparents. There was a car crash. Mum was fine but you – normally cheerful & bubbly – were crying, and then had a seizure, followed by a respiratory arrest.
Your eyes did not react to light, or to touching with a piece of gauze. No response to cold water in the ears, or to disconnecting from a ventilator.
‘The first set of tests show Joshua is brain stem dead. We will do a confirmatory second set shortly,’ I told your mum. She cried.
We contacted the organ donation team, and spoke to your mum who said she would like to think someone’s life had been saved using your organs.
I took you to theatre – your mum walked to the door with me. I promised her I’d look after you and stay with you all the time – I lied.
I connected you to the anaesthetic machine & theatre monitoring. Your skin was still pink and warm. But the operating theatre was a hub of activity. There were 3 surgical teams, organ donation coordinators, big bags of equipment, transfer bags, phones, paperwork. I felt lonely in the middle for you. The most important person in the room – you – were almost being ignored.
The surgery started. We alternated between the thoracic and the liver teams to dissect around your organs (your little body wasn’t big enough for both teams to fit around you.) The kidney team would work on you after the heart, lungs and liver had been taken.
I lied to your mum. Just before the surgeon cut into your skin – and warm blood flowed – I had blurred vision and had to step out of theatre for a second. I couldn’t talk, and I’d obviously got some grit in my eyes.
But I knew I needed to return and look after you – I’d promised.
Each step felt like a desecration of the human body – cutting through skin, bone, clamping blood vessels, and finally stopping ventilation… suddenly, everyone was gone and in theatre, there was the anaesthetic assistant, me and the scrub nurse. We talked about you for a minute and then started cleaning you up.
I went to talk to your mum… she was very strong.
We found later that you’d helped many children – the heart and lungs went to someone with CF, the liver was shared between two children, and the kidneys helped two come off dialysis.
Your eyes gave the gift of sight to someone… and (even though I know the cornea is colourless) anytime I see someone with green eyes, I think ‘I know those eyes- I shone a light in them’