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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stories

This blog will be posted some time after it was written due to an outside directive to not talk about my living donor experience until after I have donated.  If you are reading this, it is because I have completed the donation process. 

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February 17, 2011
As I may have already mentioned, one of the most interesting parts of this journey thus far have been the number of stories people have shared with me about their own challenges with kidney disease. This so far has usually happened once I mention what I am planning to do to someone in person, or if someone else brings it up in conversation. People are eager to talk about their friends and family who have battled or are still battling kidney failure.  I should note that none of these people ever implied in the slightest that they were telling me their tales so that maybe I might divert my unassigned kidney their way. It seems they just want to help me understand as though without their stories, I might not go through with this.What was really surprising however, was how driven one family  I've never even met was to connect with me and share.

My grandma is a talker and especially likes to talk about her family. She's enormously proud of her 3 kids, her 8 grandchildren and her 2 great grandchildren and if given any window of opportunity, she's more than happy to tell you whats going on in their lives, good and bad. My very adoption into this family is a result of this quality in my grandma-she happened to mention to her family doctor back in 1975 that her daughter was still challenged in the child conception department. By fluke within days of that conversation, he learned a fellow colleague had a patient who was considering giving her soon-to-be-born baby up for adoption. He immediately thought of my grandma's story of her daughter, desperate to have a baby.  Less than 3 week later, I was home with them.

Thirty-something years later, after learning her eldest granddaughter was planning to donate a kidney to a stranger, my Granny started talking about it with an enthusiasm only a grandmother could have.  From the residents at her seniors complex, to people at church to her financial advisor, she let them know. She even told them about the "kidney website on the computer" (this blog).

I was sitting at my desk at work the other day when my phone range with a 416 area code and a name I recognized vaguely but couldn't place in the three rings I had to figure it out before it went to voice mail.  When I checked the message left by the caller later, I discovered that it was my grandma's financial planner. He wanted a call back so he, and his wife, could share their story. There was an urgency to the tone of his message and because of that and the fact that I knew my Grandma would expect me to call him back, I contacted him.

As it turns out, his wife had battled kidney problems for years and had spent time on dialysis before receiving a kidney transplant last October. His urgency in the message was nothing more than wanting me to understand how life changing this was for her, and the rest of her family. He also seemed to really need to understand why I would do something like this, which is understandable.  Being a financial planner, he also wanted me to make sure I had enough insurance-both life insurance and short term disability, ahead of the operation to be safe (note: he is not licensed in Alberta so he wasn't trying to make a sale!). He then asked if I could speak to his wife. Actually it was more like "I'm getting my wife so you can speak with her". My hatred of the phone was making this whole call feel very awkward but at the same time I felt compelled to listen to the story being presented.

His wife came on the phone with a very warm voice which made me feel at ease. She told me brief details about her kidney disease and her time on (home) dialysis. I found it interesting that she considered herself to be "lucky" that she hadn't been on dialysis that long (I think under 2 years) and was able to do it at home. This was yet another example of how positive I've found kidney patients to be-how they try to see the good in a not-so-great situation. She went on to tell me about her transplant and more importantly how different she felt from the moment she woke up.  It was amazing-like a weight had lifted.  Sure she was sore but she felt like a new person. She said the days, weeks even months after were filled with delighted moment where she would realize how she couldn't do certain things before but now they were easy.  She lamented how certain tasks were overwhelming before and now she could do them without a thought.  Her energy level different was night and day. She said she felt odd at bedtime just doing a "normal" bedtime routine of teeth brushing etc instead of being hooked up to dialysis. She said it was unreal how much of her life had revolved around her illness and treatment, how habitual and routine things were with dialysis and how wonderful it was to not have to live that way anymore. When I spoke to her, months after her transplant, she said she still gets the feeling sometimes she is forgetting to do something or should be doing things differently. It's as though she is still learning what it's like to be normal.

While I'm still sure about what I am doing, the reminder of how this donation could impact someone's day to day life in so many simple ways was humbling. Just like a good story, in our lives it's the little details that make the biggest impact on the experience.

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things
~Robert Brault

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