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The Heart/Lung Drive

I have a confession to make. The concept of organ donation makes me squirm.

I know, I know. This is not a terrific attitude for someone who will probably need a heart and lung transplant in the near future.

But for some reason, the idea of it really irks me. I can’t help it. It’s not only the thought that someone has to die, it’s the pictures that form in my mind at the very phrase – thin-bladed scalpels and open-beaked artery forceps, metal bowls splattered with rust-like oxidised blood. I inwardly cringe when Facebook friends post status updates and links urging others to donate their organs. Isn’t it kind of like saying you want them to die?

Well alright, I know it’s not like that. I know that it’s important to raise awareness of the need for organ donation; that the number of people who choose to donate is critically low compared to the number of people in need. Nonetheless, I wince at the idea, and find myself reluctant to click ‘share’ on any of the links. Even though as someone who may die for lack of viable organs, I really, really, should.

Perhaps it’s also the confronting idea of death itself, the fact that after we die there is simply nothing left except a body; skin, tissues, bones, organs, and glands. We invest so much of our identity in our bodies, yet at our deaths, whatever it is that makes them ‘us’ is no longer present. Organ donation seems to re-enforce this concept; what was once human is now an object to be dissected, analysed and divided up into useable or non-useable parts.

And the language around organ donation is, well, rather yuck, for want of a better word. The word ‘harvest’ makes me think either of creepy Sci-fi laboratories lined with pods of cloned humans, or of giant fields of hearts beating away under a hot Australian sun while some farmer comes along with a scythe and a bucket. And ‘organ’  is a soft, squishy, dark-red kind of word. It’s a goopy, slimy, word. It’s a concept I don’t want in my head.

Oh, and then there’s this (admittedly hilarious) Monty Python skit which happened to be a family favourite when I was growing up. Er, a warning on this one, it’s slightly gory…

Um, yeah. I think that skit might have had something of an impact during my formative years. Oops.

However, a few days ago, a good friend pointed me in the direction of  a short film called ‘The Last Race’ that changed everything.

As the movie was part of last week’s Donate Life campaign, and funded by the Australian Government, I was a bit sceptical at first. I half-expected the usual oozingly sentimental docu-drama – you know, ‘True Medical Miracles’ narrated by a deep-voiced and therefore supposedly credulous host with an odd penchant for repeating perfectly obvious facts ad-nauseum. With heart-juddering dramatic music offset by inspirational pop-tunes when things go well. And they do, of-course, always go well. Because God, as Mr Deep-voiced will tell you, works in mighty mysterious ways.

Luckily, ‘The Last Race’ is entirely different. It’s well written, researched and directed, and features some top Australian acting talent. And rather than being overly sentimental, it’s unflinchingly realistic.

In fact, it was so close to my life it was kind of hard to watch. It was even set in St Vincent’s which is the same hospital that I attend. The main character was a young girl hooked up to oxygen, awaiting a lung transplant. She gets worse one day and winds up in Vinnies gasping and choking through what seem to be her final moments. Watching this was extremely confronting, and it was even more difficult to watch her Dad go through the ordeal as well. A bit too close to the bone for me.

The other patient is a slightly older woman similarly awaiting a lung transplant. She has no family at all and is getting sicker and sicker.

Then there is the young man who is killed in a cycling accident at the beginning of the film. His family are dealing with enormous shock and grief and the very mention of organ donation freaks them out. Will they come around to the idea in time to save a life? And how will the doctors choose which life to save?

The message of the film is the now-familiar concept of the Donate Life campaign – make sure your loved ones know your wishes about organ donation. Of course it also highlights how electing to be a donor can make something good come out of the tragedy of an early death  – but not in a cheesy ‘special gift of life’ kind of way. The viewer is allowed to experience any fears and concerns about organ donation through the families portrayed in the film. Watching this film was gruelling, but it definitely made me think about the process in a different way. Basically, I stopped being such an idiot about it.

I won’t give anything else away, because it’s better if you check this film out yourself. It’s called ‘The Last Race’ and is on the ABC Iview website. Have a look soon because it might not stay up for very long.

Oh, and if brutal realism aint your thing, you might prefer this oh so hip and groovy music video made by some hip and groovy young people for Donate Life in Louisianna, US of A. It reminds me of ‘Glee’, okay? You have been warned.