Once a pig had mixed feelings about the donation of a heart valve it was about to make to save an ailing human. The pig knew full well that without the valve transplant, the days of the recipient were numbered. Barely into what many would consider the fullness of middle age, this patient had begun to decline rapidly. Now “middle age” 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 humans assume lies ahead of them was no longer in the cards here, only a premature weakening followed by what would likely be 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 moment as far as possible, these had been the very proof it was alive. And being alive meant gratefully celebrating each moment of survival as if it was an unexpected gift, didn’t it? 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 valve recipient before being anesthetized on the operating table, 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 implants 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 insensitive headlines like “Pigmen Gone Wild!!!” Still, the pig was optimistic about the outcome. It didn’t look forward to a joining of two separate lives so much as an endorsement of the value 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, surely, or that sacrifice would be meaningless. You couldn’t come back from the brink of death as if nothing had changed, could you? Go on as if you owed nothing to life in return? What would be the patient’s view of life 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? There was only one other question 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 pork roast?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans