My kidney-versary is today! It’s been 10 years since my cousin Diane gave me a gift I can hardly fathom, much less repay.
December 21, 2004
I woke up in post-op in Methodist Hospital in Houston, TX, fuzzy from anesthesia. I asked how long until the surgery would start, and was informed that it was finished. In a groggy state, they moved me to Intensive Care as machines beeped around me and my eyes tried to focus on the room around me. During the previous six hours, while unconscious, my life had been changed forever. Two teams of skilled surgeons had removed a kidney from my cousin Diane and transplanted it into me.
Laying there, I had no idea what was in store for me. The transplant was done to give me a second chance at life. That second chance turned out to be even better than the first.
The year that was 2004
About a year before, on New Year’s Eve, I was in another hospital bed, having just been told that I had lost 2/3rds of my kidney function to a rare auto-immune disease called MPGN-1. I was pumped full of a full gram of steroids chased by my one and only dose of intravenous chemotherapy. It was the start of four months of treatment that would eventually fail to save what was left of my kidneys. Just a week before, I had written the following line:
I’m getting a little nervous about the biopsy on Wednesday, but mostly just nervous that I won’t be discharged in time for my haircut.
Five months later, still in a state of denial, I started peritoneal dialysis, while traveling across the country every other week for work. I could hardly say the word transplant and pretended like none of this was happening. As usual, I over-compensated, unwilling to admit I was sick. I stayed out late, pushing my social life to the edge. I dated several women simultaneously in cities I didn’t live in. Glenn, my boss at the time said, “We either thought you were trying to avoid reality or kill yourself.” Probably a bit of both. Eventually, I hit bottom, admitted to myself and others that there was only one path forward. My family and friends began to get blood tests to see who might be a compatible match.
When the results came back, there was one name at the top of the list, as the closest match: my cousin Diane. Our families had always been close, even though we had grown up 3,000 km away from each other. During summers visiting Northern California, I loved being at Uncle Cy’s house, playing kick-the-can with my cousins, swimming in the freezing cold river, climbing into the darkness of old abandoned mines, and feeling free.
No matter how close you are to someone, seeing them when you know they have flown across the country for the cross-match, the final test to determine if they will be a compatible donor, is a situation where there is no “playbook”. You want to envelop them in a never-ending hug and try to express a feeling you cannot describe. At the same time you want to beg them not to do this: you are not worthy of this gift, it is wasted on you, and you don’t know how you will live with the burden of being so indebted.
Diane had to travel from California to Texas two more times, thanks to the medical team botching my pre-op once and then topping that with an improperly administered blood test. She was always strong, smiling, stable. I was a wreck.
Each year, as December 21st approaches, I re-call the week of the surgery, and read what I wrote during the week before and after the surgery. Both before and after the surgery were rocky to say the least, but within four months I was hiking in Big Bend with my three closest friends in Austin. My new life had started.
Count It All Joy
My friend Donna, who I have never met in person, has a blog with this title. Both the title and her blog help me on the hard days remember that every day for me is “extra innings” – I’m getting to play and live longer than I should have. There are still times when I struggle with what life throws at me. Sometimes it feels like the darkness around us can overwhelm us. I lost a friend and former roommate this year. This week in Sydney, two innocent people lost their lives from a senseless act of violence and ignorance.
In the past ten years, I have seen so much. I see friends and family struggle with physical and mental health every day. I have seen the people I care about weep. I have seen the pain that friends hold inside. I have watched my nephews grow from boys into young men. I have going swimming and running with my niece Bekah in the same week. I have experienced loss and the end of a marriage. I have forgotten and then remembered the things that matter in life. I have suffered injury and experienced healing. I have made new friends and have separated from others. I have swum in three oceans, I have spent hours and hours cycling in 6 different countries. I have made new friends around the world. I have watched the sun rise and set.
The last month has been overwhelming with light: Crossing the finish line of my second Ironman, followed two days later with the birth of my best friend’s first child, named after me. Returning to work to see friends and colleagues who have been there for me over the past four years. Yesterday, the sunshine and the ocean welcomed me. Last night, I could not have been happier.
Every day there is a new chapter of life.
Diane, you gave me a decade of life. A decade of millions of moments, that have made me who I am today. Thank you so, so, so much. I think about you every day – as I take my medication, as I feel the transplant scar, as I breathe in everything around me. I love you. I can’t wait to see you in January. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen you. Even after a decade, I still can’t quite believe what you did for me. I hope I am living a life that makes you proud.
(Okay, taking a photo of this printed photo didn’t turn out so well – but it’s still a favorite of mine. Our first time together after the surgery)