Once a pig had mixed feelings about the heart valve it was about to donate to an ailing human. The pig knew very well that without the transplant, the days of the recipient were numbered. Barely into what many would consider the fullness of their middle years, this patient had begun to decline rapidly. Now “middle years” suddenly had a new meaning, one pushed back to the last enthusiasms of youth, when no thought is given to how little time might be left. The mellowing of experience into old age and serenity that all living things trust lies ahead of them was no longer in the cards here, only a premature weakening followed by a wheezing end. The pig thought back to the enthusiasms of its own youth. The rich coursing of blood through its veins, the pounding force of its intent to push every thought and sensation as far as possible, these second-to-second rites of survival were to be celebrated as if they were an unexpected gift, weren’t they? Now this gift was the pig’s to pass on. As it lay strapped to the surgical gurney and listened to the sounds around it that would likely be the last it heard, the pig tried to imagine the emotions of the patient on the final morning before going under the anesthetic, uncertain of the outcome. What dreams, seemingly blighted by a heart that was killing you, might soon be given new life? The genetic closeness of pigs to people had made the risk for rejection of transplants low. Extended prognoses were still uncertain, of course, and the popular press was fond of running lurid photographs of the occasional hitch in postsurgical adjustment under headlines like “Pigmen Gone Wild!!!” Still, the pig remained optimistic about the outcome. It didn’t look forward to a joining of two separate lives so much as an endorsement of life itself. Granted, the pig might be seen as making the greater sacrifice, but the recipient of its largesse must be altered as well, certainly, or that sacrifice would be meaningless. You couldn’t come back from the brink as if nothing had changed, could you? Go on as if you owed nothing to life in return? What, then, would be the patient’s view of existence after the operation? For a moment, there on the gurney, the pig felt a lump in its throat at how solemn and yet elating a prospect lay ahead. To wake up with your life handed back to you when you’d neared the very end of hope! What must it be like to hear that organ of infinite generosity and infinite passion, insight, reverence, and marvel beating with a strength you’d never dared think it would have again? To glory in the rhythms of its deep rejoicing! There was only one uncertainty the pig couldn’t quite clear from its mind in the last moments before it went under the knife itself. How would the person saved by its death now feel about eating roast pork?
Copyright © 2005 by Geoffrey Grosshans