On the very last day as a civilian before my first hospitalization in July 2015, I remember getting a banana from a fruit stand on the corner of East 15th Street and Park Avenue South and smoking half a cigarette. I was with my mother. We hailed a cab. We called my dad to tell him where we were going. We got to the ER on the Upper East Side. That would be my last cigarette ever. I spent the majority of my misspent youth in London, where cigarettes were widely available, and during my adolescence and early 20s we all smoked. We smoked at break time, at lunch, next to school, after school, on the way home, waiting for the bus, in cafes, at restaurants, in clubs. You could smoke everywhere, and we did. It was a different world (a smellier world). Cigarettes were cheap as chips. I loved smoking. I had a deep love affair with it. I am really much happier now that I no longer smoke. Things are much less complicated when you don't have to constantly interrupt your day to have a cigarette. But it doesn't change anything about how I remember it. I love how it made me feel, I loved the act of having a coffee and a cigarette or a glass of wine and a cigarette, I loved having a chat with a friend over a cigarette, I loved having that oral fixation, I loved having a secret. I can't believe I thought I was tricking anyone into thinking I didn't smoke when I was a teenager. A friendly word of warning to anyone who thinks they don't smell like smoke YOU FUCKING DO AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT AND YOU'RE NOT AS CLEVER AS YOU THINK, 15 YEAR OLD NORA. We all know all the many reasons why one shouldn't smoke, and in a twisted way, I'm grateful for having an emergency liver transplant because it was a great and ultimately very effective way to get me to finally quit. For anyone out there looking to quit, may I politely suggest not using my tried and true technique and just buying patches or that Allen Carr book everyone loves so much. I can tell you now that it's a lot easier, less fraught and decidedly less time consuming than a liver transplant. I like that I know exactly where and when I smoked my very last one, it was a nice little bookend to a years long torrid affair.

I think when I first started writing this blog I downplayed this aspect of myself -- I felt the need to be infallible and perfect once I was given the gift of a new liver. Somewhere in the deep dark depths of my own mind, I'm sure I thought they'd take it away if I was too honest (despite always striving to be as honest as I'd let myself be, in the moment). I'm not sure who they are or how they would go about extracting a liver from me, but I was indebted to 'them' and so it felt important to be the ever obedient patient. As if I'd get a medal at the end of it, or something. Newsflash: there are no commendations in hospital, there are no awards for 'most obedient patient'. The award for 'perfect patient' does not go to anyone, ever. You don't even get an award for 'did her best not to fuck up'. The main objective for doctors, your family, the hospital, society at large (if you're lucky)--is getting you to a point where you're basically alive and they can politely kick you out is best case. 

I've made a bunch of mistakes pre-LT and post-LT and future-LT-me will make some, too. We all make so many mistakes that sometimes it feels like the only thing you're doing is messing shit up. I smoked for basically 15 years straight, and I never once tried to quit. I can't even be one of those people who say 'I mean, I smoked on and off for 15 years' or 'You know, I quit for about 8 months' or 'I tried this really great hypnotist--she's amazing--you really must go to her, she cured everything I've ever done and now when I have a pee it is flaked with actual gold.'  I'm really not ashamed of having smoked for so long. I mean, of course, I sometimes regret all that money that went down the drain or the time-wasting or the standing in the freezing cold getting frost-bite. But I don’t feel the need to qualify saying that I smoked with anything like 'Oh, how I wish I hadn’t.' or 'God, how could I be so stupid.' I loved smoking. I loved that part of me. I didn't think it was gross at the time (which I have come to realize it is); I thought it was sexy (only if Kate Moss is doing it); I thought it was fun (it’s really, really fun). 

I don't admonish anyone else for smoking, because that would be beyond hypocritical. My friends can tell you how much. I can't really be around smoke anymore because it makes me feel sick and gives me a headache (although if I am conveniently placed in a wind tunnel which does happen more often than one would think I've been known to ask friends of mine to smoke near me -- cheap thrills where you can get them). Also, if I’m around smoke, I’ve been told, it can increase the chances of me getting a cold because of my suppressed immune system. So I'm really 'supposed' to ask people to slowly step away from me if they're smoking. 

The point is that we are only human, and whatever blows your skirt up blows your skirt up: everyone has their vices. To ask that I suddenly shut off that part of me because I've been told I can never smoke again would be dishonest. It's the same as expecting that sick people never have sex, or that they don't have a desire to have sex, purely because they are sick. A calamity happened to show up in my life and turn it all upside down and gave it a nice little shake. That doesn't mean I didn't engage in a bunch of crazy adolescent proclivities before the calamity appeared. Just because we are patients or we have a medical condition of some sort does not make us inhuman or devoid of basic human impulse. It does not mean I do not long for the sweet smell of tobacco on a summer night. It does not mean we do not remember when life was just a languid afternoon down the pub, with not a teenage care in the world. There would be nothing more joyful than throwing caution to the wind and doing something entirely spontaneous. It’s so beyond boring to build your life around when you have to take your medication, or when your next doctor’s appointment is. And even if you are not a patient, the same things might ring true: building your life around your kid's schedule, or your job's schedule, or your bills' schedule -- or whatever boring schedule life demands of you. The way I get my kicks now is meditation. I actually can't even believe that that's what I think is the most fun thing to do. But all those selves that came before me, I see them. I am so different now. I see the other selves of mine. I still like those previous incarnations of myself. I won't apologize for them, ever. 

Sometimes, I have been very reactionary and defensive when the doctors ask me leading questions about whether I have smoked. As if they are waiting for me to trip up, to make a wrong move or do something irresponsible. Which, by the way I might, at some point. I'm only human. At the beginning of all this, I would get defensive when they asked me if I had smoked. They'd say: 'Any smoking?' And I'd look at them, speechless. Then irritated. I'd curtly reply: 'Nope.' How could they possibly think that I would do that when I was so ill? How could they possibly think I'd be that disrespectful? But 'they' are not waiting for me to make a wrong move, what could possibly be the upside of that? I suppose they have to ask, in order to help. I’m not sure why they ask. I would love nothing more than to do something completely irresponsible. But illness and aging, they teach you it’s not worth it. And by the way, life is long, and people change. I cannot say that I won't feel differently in 10 years time. That I won't do something like smoke a cigarette. I don't want to, I don't have any desire to and I have committed to strive to never smoke again. But again, I use this as an example to remind ourselves that we are only human and as people and patients we are asked to do a hell of lot to just get through the day. Which is tiring and very dull, let's be real. The blame game is one we'll never win and the enormous pressure of being responsible for oneself in life can sometimes be overwhelming. It helps to tell the truth and try not to smoke. 


SO I WENT to Bali last summer. My best friend Claire lives there part-time with her husband and two kids, Atlas and Sochi. Sochi is my godson and I had never met him before, and he was already 18 months. The last time I had seen them was when Claire peed on a stick in Bali and found out she was pregnant again and I watched her experience the gamut of emotions one can experience when finding out such joyous (and terrifying) news. I was determined to meet him when he was still baby-ish and so I booked a slightly irresponsible flight to Bali in January 2015. I have a long story with Bali, that could fill a blog or 3, I lived there for 2 years and I started a business there and I learned a LOT from living on an Island in the middle of the Indian ocean. It's the sort of place that affronts you with its lessons, and comes at you head on. It's a second home of sorts: I learned the language, I set up an office, I planned Claire's wedding with my business partner at the time, I rode everywhere on a motorbike, I lived by myself in a really creepy old house where it rained into my bed and bearded dragons lived in my shower and I never once got ill. I never even had 'Bali-belly' or Dengue fever which are both real things that people get all the time in Bali. Claire has a well-known instagram account and when things got really hairy and I went on to the transplant list she posted this, and I was floored by all the love that came flooding in from friends and strangers alike: 

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In fact, I was never really ill with anything serious a day in my life. I was a colicky baby but I don't remember that! Babies don't remember that shit! I did have jaundice as a baby too-- was that foreshadowing in the story of my life? I don't know. Who knows these things? Only god above us and the universe and the planets and Mother Nature and Pacha Mama and the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc and Ghandi and all the dead people who have come before us. The most extreme thing I ever experienced was exactly one year PRIOR to my liver failure, which was a shoulder surgery in August 2014. I was a big baby about that. But it really hurt. This is me in a sling laughing at my friend standing in a bathtub at a hotel. 

Dear August 2014 version of myself: just you wait and see what happens, mothafucka.

So I go back to Bali to meet my godson and see my adopted little family. We have a pleasant couple of weeks together, a beautiful reunion and a few weird experiences go down (stories which I'll save for another time), I get stuck in Bali because of a volcanic eruption and I go home. Three days before my departure, Claire and I have dinner with some friends who are also visiting Bali from London and who, it just so happens, are also doctors (and who would help me immensely as I got deeper into liver failure and the need for a transplant was so obvious to everyone but me). We sit down to our delicious meal, I have had one cocktail andone glass of wine with the food (not enough for the exorcist situation that's about to go down). In the middle of our dinner I book it to the upstairs bathroom to spew my guts out, involuntarily. I'm such a weirdo that I go back to the dinner table, and not wanting to ruin dinner for everyone, keep schtum about the Apocolypse Now situation going on in my stomach, unable to eat another bite. That's right, I didn't tell my friends WHO ARE REAL LIVE DOCTORS. I never claimed to be clever. I fess up at the end to Claire and say 'I feel so bizarre, I had to go be sick in the middle of dinner.' 

Me and my little nuggets. I think I was already on my way to liver failure at this point.

In the days that follow I'm trying to get on every and any flight out of Bali to get back to New York for work Monday. Unfortunately there is a backlog of people who have been trying to leave for days and a LOT of angry, hot tourists and a LOT of extremely inefficient Balinese airport officials without any information whatsoever. It's chaos. All the while, I am vomiting pretty consistently and I'm so confused because I've never felt this sort of sensation before. It wasn't your typical vomiting situation. It's hard to describe but it was pretty much like nothing I had ever experienced. And listen, I have done a fair amount of vomiting in my time. Another BFF, Barrie, who features heavily in this story, always says 'You've always been a puker', when I have complained about the never-ending nausea that accompanied my transplant. But that was my only symptom at first. Besides feeling a pretty irrational and extreme anger at all times for about 3 weeks--I'll get to that later.

My layover in Hong Kong, where I met some illustrious local men.

So I finally get on a flight that gets me in early Tuesday morning. I'm a day late for work and freaking out about it by the time I get back to NYC. I'm also in liver failure, which I did not know nor have the slightest inkling about. Looking back, there were signs, and I really should have. Bizarrely, I made it through the 35 hour flight and transit time without any incident and without being sick. My body was kind to me for that time and I'll always be grateful that my old liver held the sickness at bay so I wasn't spewing all over a 747 from Bali to Hong Kong to Vancouver to JFK. 

The erupting volcano on my way out. I hated it so much at the time.

A lot happened in between the 14th and the 28th, when I finally went to hospital, dragged by my extremely intelligent, astute and charming mother. I'll get to that later, too. 

Cut to 2 weeks later, and I'm in hospital and being asked anywhere between 20 to 40 to 60 questions over and over and over and over and over by different groups of doctors. They. Just. Could. Not. Get. Over. The. Bali. Thing. It was a Thing and everyone seemed sure that I went to Indonesia and got some scary illness that they just had to get to the bottom of and that was decided and that was that. Doctors would begin every conversation (more of an inquisition if you ask me) with 'So I hear you went to Indonesia, start from the beginning...' And I'd have to tell the story of how I went and what I did and what I ate and what I drank and where I slept at least 20 times a day. I'm not exaggerating. They were very concerned with whether I ate mushrooms. The meant magic, I thought they meant cooked. I'd reply 'Well, I think I had a curry, there may have been mushrooms in there, I can't really remember.' No one ever corrected me until much later on, which I found rather strange once I finally did find out they meant the mushrooms that get you high. Well doctor, I have done mushrooms--in fact they featured rather heavily in my adolescence (shout out to growing up in London when fresh ones were legal at Portobello and Camden Market and going to Amsterdam when I was 16, 17, 18 and probably 20 and discovering myself through the medium of hallucinogens), but this holiday with my two toddler nephews? No, no, they did not come into play this time.

They never found out what was wrong with me, and I'm still not wholly convinced my liver failure, which decimated my old liver in under 3 weeks, was caused by something I picked up in Indonesia. Third world countries already get a bad rap for being unsanitary but I know how to operate in them correctly. Needless to say, I was exasperated with their obsession with my trip and I was also dying, so with each day my patience (and stamina) waned for hearing the same questions hour upon painful hour. 

Now whenever I tell people I got sick in Bali, many of them say 'Right, well, there go my Bali plans. Never going there now.' And I have to say, no, no, no. Bali didn't commit this crime, man! This was some next level, who knows, mysterious, unknown parasite, toxin fueled, spiritual attack type of shit. Bali is a part of this story but it shouldn't scare anyone from travelling or being adventurous. If anything, the fact that I went to Indonesia and came back so sick should spur you to do more, explore more, travel more, live life now and stay in the present. Because you never EVER know what could hit you, and you never know when your time is up. We have no control. The control is just a myth we tell ourselves to try to stay sane. I understand the need for the myth, but it's not real. 

Bali was just the beginning of the most radical journey I have ever been on in my life. And listen, I have a lot of airmiles.