The 3-minute interview with Bill Berkson

The San Francisco poet, diagnosed with end-stage emphysema in 2003, will be a guest at UCSF Medical Center’s “Celebration of Life” event for heart- and lung-transplant survivors on Saturday. In 2004, Berkson received a new set of lungs at age 65. Doctors typically do not advise transplants in patients over the age of 55. His newest book, “Our Friends Will Pass Among You Silently,” was released in March.

How has your writing changed since your transplant surgery? It’s almost like asking, “How has your personality changed?” A few days after surgery, my wife, Connie, said, “I love your new laugh.” There’s the question of whether a personality comes with your new organs. I can’t tell.

How did having a writer’s mind help — or hinder — your ability to cope? I had language. I mean, a writer’s very close to words. I knew how to listen to the doctors and the nurses and translate what they said into my own language to a certain extent.

What things have you done since the surgery that you never did before, just because you could? I’ve played basketball with my wife — she beats me most of the time — and otherwise I do a lot of extensive traveling.

What was your very first thought when the doctor diagnosed you with end-stage emphysema? My first thought was probably unprintable. I thought, “I’m not ready — I haven’t gotten on intimate terms with Mr. Death. My work isn’t done.” I was shattered, totally.

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Check out more 3-minute interviews from our San Francisco newsroom.

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