“You had better take care of it or I’m taking it back!” She was kidding of course. But it comforted me to know that part of me wouldn’t put it past her. “She” is my donor. I call her my angel. Not for any good reason, you know except for the whole saving my life thing. We were in the kitchen at work about a month after our surgery and I had thanked her for the millionth (or what seemed like) time.
I had discussed in a recent post about a double organ transplant patient that I had the good fortune to hear speak. He told an amazing story and the most moving part was his relationship with his donor’s family. My situation is so different from his because my donor is still alive.
My kidney transplant of 2011 was by far one of the most important experiences in my life. The whole process, from the moment that it was determined that I needed a transplant, was amazing. While I will explore this incredible experience more in future posts I want to talk about Deb’s role.
Deb is the daughter of my then assistant at work. Deb and I were not close. She had a reputation of being short-tempered, fairly humorless and unfriendly. But we worked together well. I saw through her tough exterior.
I had worked for this company for only 1 year when my medical team came to the inescapable conclusion that I needed a transplant. While I was concerned that the company would accuse me of holding back my history, the fact is that it wasn’t decided until then. Instead of blowback I instead received amazing support and my General Manager proved to be one of the most supportive, dare I say a friend. The company allowed me all the time that I needed for doctor appointments and the myriad of hospital visits that were required to coordinate a transplant. I managed to accomplish it all, make up my time and maintain my value to the company. The only thing I didn’t have was a donor. As it stood I was looking at dialysis. Wait time up to 6 years for a cadaver match.
One day, while hospitalized for a kidney-related infection, Greg came to see me.
“I have news” he said. “Deb wants to donate to you.” I was dumbfounded. Thankful, amazed, excited yes. But also dumbfounded. Deb is just a girl I work with, well…not anymore! Her stock just went way up. But why?
When I was released from the hospital my first stop at work was Deb’s cubicle. I needed to hear it from her. I asked her if it was true. It was. I asked her why. She said why not? She told me she can help so she’s going to try, not to make a big deal out of it until we know she’s a match. Ok then.
She was a match. A perfect one. She began the process. She did all the testing. She made quick work of it. And as I got sicker she called our doctors office and asked what the hell is taking so long!? Somehow I made it to the big day without going on dialysis. I really believe that her telling the doctors to hurry it up was a big part of it.
We were on the news. A vendor of ours had a connection at a local news station and one day they showed up at our door cameras and mikes in hand. They sat us down and asked us to tell the metro Boston area our story. I was camera shy and didn’t say much. They turned to Deb and asked her why she is doing this for me. Her answer: “I have 2 kidneys, Bill needs one. Let’s not make a big deal out of it.” That’s pretty much it. That’s Deb.
The day of the surgery our families met for the first time in the surgical waiting room. We met at 5 AM on a Tuesday morning. Awkward conversation and nervous body language ruled the room. Then we were called. Our families hugged us and Deb and I walked into the hallway. “See you on the other side” I said.
She just laughed and said “just remember you’re going to be part girl in a few hours.”
When friends and family came to visit they found Deb hanging in my room. While the donor technically has a more painful recovery the recipient has a more complex recovery as the body acclimates to the organ and the medications are adjusted, she didn’t show the pain except when she coughed. She needed a cigarette but hadn’t had one in weeks in order to prepare for the surgery. She would become the hospital legend as she was caught three times sneaking out of the hospital to smoke. She laughed it off. I on the other hand was in a lot of pain. She joked that it was her bitchiness invading my body. Typical, never taking herself too seriously and deflecting praise.
So there we were in the office again, trying to treat her as just a co-worker and not put her on a (visible) pedestal. It’s nearly impossible to do so knowing that I cannot measure the enormity of her gift. Even if I was able to build her a throne, drape her in velvet and put her on it she wouldn’t want me to. I’m the one who continues to be emotional. It must be the female kidney. It may also explain why I pee sitting down and get bitchy once a month.