wasn’t likely until fall, I decided to go on a short vacation, a long weekend, to Seattle to see one of my oldest and best friends [science fiction author Greg Bear], and they said, that’s fine. Then one night, right about midnight, [while I was] getting ready to fall asleep, my friend’s daughter was saying something about a phone call and something about a liver. I was instantly in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe it. Sure enough, it was UCSD clinic and a Dr. Barry, my surgeon, calling me to ask — could I be in San Diego in the morning? Six in the morning.
“They had a liver that was a perfect tissue match! But there were other factors as well, and he had to examine me. I had never met Dr. Barry before in my life. So, taking the word of someone I had never met, I had to attempt to get from Seattle to San Diego to get this transplant. It was a lot to have dropped in my lap in the middle of the night, and we had to make snap decisions.
“They had a couple of commuter flights leaving early in the morning, so I said, yeah, I’ll be there. We had to shower, repack our bags, and my friend’s daughter drove us to the airport. We caught a little tailwind, and so we were all right. I had told them that I probably could not be there exactly at 6:00 or 6:30 and then asked what time they really, absolutely had to have me there. They said, if we can have you on the operating table by 9:30, then we’re good to go.
“Arriving just a little before 9:00 in San Diego, I rushed out in front and grabbed the first cab in line and said, ‘Take me to UCSD hospital in Hillcrest.’
“The strange thing about this cab, though, was that when I got in I saw that the driver was maybe an east African or Middle Eastern guy, and on top of the fare box was this beautiful museum-quality statue of the Egyptian god Anubis. Black-lacquered and gold-painted trim atop of the meter box, and I was nonplussed because Anubis is the carrier of the soul on its journey through the underworld after death. And by the way, this was happening on Friday, June 13. It took me aback, and I asked the guy what the deal was, and he just shrugged. It was probably another guy’s cab he was driving, but anyway, there was Anubis. An omen, if you will.
“So I got to UCSD, reported to the prep area, then I was taken to a large room with a number of beds and given a hospital gown to change into. Diane was still making arrangements for the car. After this costume change, I was just sitting there on the bed and I reached this very calm space, said a brief prayer, and just put myself in the hands of God. I had to surrender all and any control. Diane showed up shortly thereafter. They wheeled me out on the bed and prepared me for surgery. The chief anesthesiologist wanted to be involved in this, and he was on another operation so there was a bit of delay. About that time, I could no longer recall anything because of the medication they give you which knocks you out. It induces amnesia as well, so it gets kind of hazy.
“I was unconscious for the better part of two days. The next thing I remembered was somebody asking me to blink my eye twice, so it wouldn’t be accidental. I was asked to move my toes, and I remember being very pleased that I could do so. I was in the intensive care facility. They had me in restraints, with an oxygen tube down my throat so I couldn’t talk. I remember one nurse there, a woman, short, Hispanic, and her name was Elena, I think. She had incredible patience. I also remember a tallish Vietnamese woman, and several others, like a circle of angels around me.
“Diane had a pad of paper for me to communicate with, and I remember my handwriting was…it looked like those scripts they find from an Arctic explorer with the handwriting going off the edge of the page, you know, ‘Arrgghh…’ But someone asked me how I was doing, and I remember answering, ‘With all these lovely women around, how could anything go wrong?’
“During all of this, breathing became the central focus of activity. Somehow I had lost the connection with breathing. All I could think about was
drawing air in and out. I
couldn’t do it without thinking about it. I wrote down, ‘Fifty-six years of age and I still haven’t mastered the art of breathing.’ It was much labored.
“At some point there was a crisis with another patient nearby, and so they were distracted away from me. At that time, I became aware that though the nurses would have been standing on the right side of my bed, there was a presence to my left. I could never see a face, but there was a vivid impression of another person, another presence coaxing me to breathe the entire time I was awake. I was awake for two days after I came out of the anesthetic. That presence never left my side.”
At this point I asked Clark if any problems had presented themselves for the surgeon, Dr. Barry.
“Yeah, after my transplant had been done — which took about five hours, and that’s normal — they discovered I had a blood clot in my liver, so they had to go back in. This was very late at night, and Diane was down in the cafeteria. The [nurse] went running down there, found her, and said, ‘Come with me right now!’ She went with them back up to the ICU and had to sign papers for the second operation. That went on well into the morning, so I was actually operated on twice.”