Monday, May 19, 2008

Fifth Anniversary


May 19, 2008. 11:55 a.m.

Five years ago today, at this moment, I was under. Deep.

A team of surgeons and operating room staff surrounded me as I was cut open, all to get at my left kidney.

My mother, its recipient, surely she was scared. I mean, by now she might have been under, too. All I know is that I was rolled away at around 8 or 9 a.m., a steady steam of some wonderful tranquilizing drug cursing through my veins. I almost didn't need it, though. The anxiety I kept expecting never came.

One last look: At my mother, who had trouble forming a smile even if it would make me feel more relaxed; and my father and husband, who were facing hours — hours — of waiting while two of their family members underwent major surgery. Simultaneously.

My only thoughts before I was completely out were that they put my kidney into the right person. I didn’t want to be a sad story on “60 Minutes.” And, of course, I didn’t want any “complications” from the surgery.

Beyond that, the hope we all have when we donate a piece of ourselves to save another: Let the kidney take. Let it work. Let it fix this situation we’ve lived with — my mother surviving only through dialysis — for more than two years.

I woke up in my hospital room around 4 p.m.

I lived. Thank god. I took nothing for granted in all this. I mean, people die in surgery for strange reasons. Unexpected reason. So for this I was thankful.

My mother? How was she? I was almost scared to ask: Is the kidney working?

My mother was a few hours behind me so was still in post-op. We’d have to wait and see. But she’d survived. A very good thing.

What about me, then? Is my other kidney working? I’d heard the remaining kidney in the donor can be a little shocked when its partner is so abruptly removed. It could go dormant. Hours of chewing ice and staying hydrated via an IV drip later, I appeared to be fine. I was making urine. That’s all we needed.

I was also doped up on enough Morphine that I was in no pain. I couldn’t understand why my mother used to complain about how uncomfortable hospital beds were. Why this was practically like sleeping on a cloud.

I had thick tape wrapped around compresses on my abdomen where I’d discover four incisions, one through my belly button.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. It should have been a bikini cut.

Apparently the surgeons had trouble accessing my kidney through my small rib cage so they decided they needed a closer cut.

“I had my hand in there,” said my surgeon, a handsome Argentinian, with a smile, when the surgical team checked in on me later.

“I did too,” piped up another.

It’s an odd and indescribable feeling to imagine someone sticking their hand up into your viscera from a slit in your belly. I didn’t want to think about it.

As surgeries go, mine was more trying than my mother’s. Nevertheless, I was worried about her. I’d be just fine.

I gave thanks that the surgery went well, that my mother was awake. As for the kidney, they would be watching that for hours.

It needed to make urine. Something my mother was barely able to produce for two years.

Everything was about the bag at the end of the catheter.

And there it was. It flowed. It worked.

We stayed in the hospital for four days each. It was not a miraculous turnaround. My mother did not jump out of bed and start singing. Her face did not immediately flush with color.

In fact, she was strangely down. A little depressed. I think she hoped for that grand turnaround. We’d been told so often that that was how it went.

Reality sunk in. Thank god for reality and not just the happy stories. We were told it takes time to feel better. For many people this was true. This was going to be true for us.

It also took my mom some time to get over the guilt of taking my kidney. She never quite felt good about that. And here she was, making urine, yet stressed out with a rigorous and strong initial drug therapy that left her with new side effects.

She was a little overwhelmed. Maybe this was a mistake, she surely wondered.

But things did get better. They took time, but they got so much better.

Now, five years later, it’s a gift. She has my kidney in the front of her lower right abdomen. I tease her that she needs to take care of it.

And always we celebrate with dinner out.

“Who’s anniversary is it?” asks the waitress when I tell them we are celebrating.

“Ours,” I say, putting my arm around my mother’s shoulder watching as they always look, a little quizzical.

“I gave my mom a kidney.”

I say it proudly. I say it happily. I say it knowing I would do it again in a heartbeat.

She gave me life. I just gave it back.

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