Friday, July 29, 2011

Fixing the Pain in Ma Belly

After I had been given the once over by the intake nurses at Foothills Hospital ER, I returned to my seat in the hallway with Charlie. I really wasn't feeling well and all the moving around was making me cough more and feel worse. I had been asked already several times on a scale of 1-10 wait my pain rate was. It was at least an 8. To put that in perspective, not once in the hospital post kidney donation had I ever registered my pain at more than a 7 or 7.5. Here I was, two weeks later, supposedly on the mend and hurting more.

Either the ER was really quiet or being a kidney donor makes you more worthy of attention-either way I wasn't waiting long in the hallway. A young doctor who (geez I must be getting old to say that) showed up within 5 minutes and brought me back into the intake room. She wanted me to call her by some kind of abbreviated first name like Meg or Trish or something. "Meg" went over my concerns again-thankfully she knew I was a kidney donor at least. I waited for the "who got your kidney" question. 5,4,3,2,1...and there is was. I shrugged and said "I don't know". This one at least didn't just blink at me. She leaned back and asked me with great interest why I would do such a thing. I gave her the short and sweet speech which she seemed satisfied with. She examined my stomach and told me with some confidence the cough wasn't caused by the surgery. Um okay I knew that. But had the cough hurt my incision? That she wasn't sure of. She felt around and frowned. After some reflection, she said she wanted her attending to take a look because she didn't want to take any chances (five points for that-thank you doctor). She said in the meantime she'd get me something for the pain but she wanted to look up what would be the most effective with the least amount of impact on Righty also factoring in the Tylenol I had taken earlier in the morning. More points from me for that too. I appreciated her thoroughness.

I went back to sit with Charlie in the hallway again. About ten minutes later I saw one of the original intake nurses headed in my direction with a pill cup and cup of water. She asked me again how the pain was (still an 8) and said "take both then". I took them and asked what they were. Percocet. Oh my. Within about 20 minutes I didn't feel much pain and the little pain I still felt I didn't care about. It was a very strange feeling. Charlie also noted I started talking a lot. Too much. But I couldn't help it. I was flying high.

A few moments after I started to really feel the Percocet, "Meg" showed up with another doctor in tow. Back into the intake room I went. "Meg" gave him the run down of my symptoms and concerns (yes he did ask who got my kidney). He then asked me to lay down on the examination table so he could feel my stomach. And by feel I mean push down on it with the force of an elephant stomping on me. Push, push, push. He kept pushing hard all around the incisions. "Meg" had done the same thing but much more gently. Just as I was about to scream and/or punch him, he stopped. "I don't think anything is wrong aside from pain when you cough" he determined. He told me he would like me to come back the next day for an ultrasound and that he'd give me some Tylenol 3s to help with pain in the coming days. He said it would also act as a cough surpessant. He asked me who my surgeon was and of course I couldn't remember Dr. Y's name so I offered up Dr. S instead. I had to spell his name a few times-I don't think they had a directory or had heard of him because they kept asking where he was a doctor. Sigh.

I got my loot bag of T3's and ultrasound paperwork and off we went. The whole thing hadn't taken more than about an hour from start to finish-not bad Foothills, not bad.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

There's a Pain in Ma Belly

Almost two weeks after my kidney donation surgery the cold I caught at the hospital morphed from a head cold to a chest cold.  Awesome. I was just starting to feel really strong, my stomach hardly hurt at all and my energy levels were good. The cold thus far had just been a case of the sniffles with the occasional little cough or sneeze.  Sneezing wasn't fun but at least I could prepare and brace myself to a degree before letting it go.

But then I started to cough.  At first it was a scratchy throat based tickle and a little dry  "kaaaa" noise I would make every 10 minutes.  Charlie often mocked the little half hack that I'd make, holding my belly, as I went about whatever it was I was doing.. The "kaa"s became more frequent and I formed a tight chest.  If I was lying down at all it got worse. Over the next 24 hours as my coughing increased, so did the pain in my upper abdomen, between the upper port incision and the larger one around the navel. At first it just hurt a lot to cough. Then it would hurt when I coughed and linger for about 5-10 minutes. Then the area became very tender to the touch. On about the third day I woke up and honestly felt worse than I did the night of the surgery.  My range of motion was next to nothing.  I had a hard time sitting up unassisted.  I couldn't turn while seated at all. Walking hurt.  Lying down hurt.  Sitting upright hurt. Forget about bending-period.

After I was up for a bit that morning and realized I wasn't feeling any better being more awake, I knew I should go to the Emergency room.  I didn't want to (I think this was the third time in my life that I've done such a thing) but I wanted to make sure I hadn't hurt anything inside via the coughing. It seemed to only be getting worse and the Tylenol arthritis was no longer even touching the pain. To top it off, even my Buckley's cough syrup (which I swear by) wasn't slowing the cough down anymore. I was starting to get a bit worried.  I went upstairs, opened the bedroom door and tried to squeak out to Charlie that I needed to go to the hospital.  My voice wasn't working and the attempt launched me into another fit of excruciating coughs.  "What??" he asked confused and groggy. I managed to make a mouse like "help" sound and he asked if I had to go to the hospital.  I nodded, catching my breath.  Off we went, at around 7AM.  Happy Sunday sleep in day!

We went to Foothills although Rockyview is closer to us. I figured if something was really wrong I'd be sent to Foothills anyway so that one of Doctorpalooza could deal with me. We arrived and I went to the Triage area. No line-woo hoo! I told the nurse I had abdominal pain and she ushered me into a chair in her pod to do my blood pressure and ask the routine questions. Right away she noted my blood pressure seemed high and asked if that was normal for me. I said "No...well yes...well I don't know. I donated a kidney last week so that might be why". She just blinked at me. "You donated a kidney? Where? Here?". I explained that it had been there and that I had developed a cold which lead to the cough she was hearing which had lead to abdominal pain. I told her I was concerned I had done something to my internal stitching. She took all the information down and asked "who got your kidney?". Here we go-I thought to myself. "I don't know-I gave it to a stranger". More blinking at me. "Oh" was all she could muster.  She redid my blood pressure manually (low normal which is my normal-yay) She told me to go wait in the chair area where the admitting desk (for the ER not the hospital) would call me.

No sooner did I sit but my name was called again. I went to the admitting desk, handed in my health card and was told to go wait around the corner in the intake area. That was fast! Around the corner we went and we were instantly greeted by a nurse. She brought me in and asked a lot of the same questions. She seemed to think I thought abdominal pain was causing my cough. I re-explained (all the while coughing and holding my belly) I had just had surgery and that I was worried about the stitches inside BECAUSE of the cough. "And you donated a kidney". "Yes".  "Here?" OMG really?  "Yes". "Who got your kidney?" "A stranger".

Blink Blink Blink Blink. Blink

The nurse mumbled something like "Interesting" and asked if I had been splinting my abdomen when coughing like I was supposed to I said yes (and looked it up later-its the whole holding a pillow on your stomach when you cough, sit up etc. so it hadn't been a lie). She then told me to go sit in the hall and wait for the doctor. So I did.

To be continued in Part II

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Week After

The first week after getting home from kidney donation surgery was surprisingly easy and mostly uneventful.
It was during that week where I really became amazed at how well the body adapts and repairs itself (so long as you are giving it what it needs to get the job done). We are resilient creature, we humans.

Everyday I seemed to feel a bit better and although tired, I didn't feel the need to take naps. I was feeling well enough to work part time (from home obviously). While my employer was totally supportive of me taking the time I needed to recover, I found I did better if I had something to do at least part of the day. It took my mind off any discomfort I had (it was moderate) and staved off cabin fever to an extent. I found I was fine to work in the morning sand the afternoons were for lounging. I think what is important for anyone considering kidney donation is that we are all different. I know people who were physically back at work sooner than me and others who took a few months off because of the type of work they did and the benefits they had. I think having the flexibility with work to decide as you go (or week by week) is wonderful rather than trying to guess prior to surgery how you are going to feel. I was lucky that I had that arrangement with my employer and the technology to do my job at home (yay AMA and Bridgewater Bank!)

Incision wise things appear to heal quickly although I needed to be mindful that just because things were looking better on the surface, there was still a lot of healing going on on the inside. Although not necessary, I did remove some of the steri-strips from the incisions, mostly so I could look at them better (nothing too gross) but also because a few were starting to peel off on their own. I was kind of afraid they'd be "stuck" to the incisions (gross I know) because I had a bad experience with that post knee surgery but they were fine. I still had a bloated belly but it was slowly going down (much like a balloon with a leak!)

Pain wise I was on Tylenol Arthritis. I was taking it pretty much as per the directions although towards the end of the week I'd forget and realize a few hours later that was likely why I was uncomfortable. I was surprised I wasn't more desperate for them but I'm glad I wasn't. Mentally I was feeling pretty positive too. I know its normal for some people to get the post surgery blues but I was doing alright. I had a lot of calls and emails from family and friends as well as the call with Canadian Blood Services about their social media guidelines so I was feeling pretty positive.

Just like the doctor ordered I walked and walked and walked. And walked. It was the only exercise you are allowed to do and frankly the only exercise I was capable of doing. I paced the bike path on a ridge over the Bow river, pushing myself slightly each day to go to the next park bench or sign to build up my strength. I had to giggle because everyday, despite my 2000 song playlist on my iPhone, "Walk this Way" by Run DMC  and Aerosmith came on every time. I did a lot of thinking while I was walking about my choice, how I felt about it and wondered how Leftie's new owner was doing. A few times I did get teary about the whole journey but they were happy tears. I also wondered if the recipient was walking and walking and walking like I was. When I'd come home I'd be stiff and tired but refreshed. Sometimes I didn't want to go but I always felt better once I did. It seemed like the more I walked, the next day the better I felt overall.

I think the best walk by far though was around 4PM one day later in the week. You know how in Calgary we tend to have sunny skies then suddenly a late afternoon storm rolls  for 30 minutes? Well I was about 10 minutes from home (3 minutes if you aren't a post surgery gimp) and the skies opened up. And I had one and one speed only. Your mind is screaming "run" but there is no way your body can do more than a shuffle. I am sure I looked ridiculous-like an 90 year old speedwalker, clutching her left side like Napoleon. All and all, not a terrible price to pay though :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This one is for Doctorpalooza

The cover of the issue in question-
you can buy this as a print too!
This is a side post for Doctorpalooza-just for them. I feel like I owe it to them. It however has nothing to do with kidney donation, awareness or healthcare.

A little background: the day after surgery I had a copy of  the June 2011 'The Walrus' magazine on my tray table and the cover story was "Why More Immigration Means Less Crime". Dr Y pointed to it and asked me about it but I hadn't read it yet. One doctor thought that more immigration might mean greater crime rates or the same but certainly not less. There were nods of agreement. They continued to ponder this thought and as they looked around at each other and the range of their ethnicities, they started to laugh. "You are in a room full of immigrants!" one chuckled at me. He was correct-I'm not sure that any of them were from the same country either.

Every time I saw any combination of them in the coming days, at least one would ask if I had read the article yet and what it said-it was right up there with the peeing and passing gas questions. So, better late than never, here is a summary:

The statistics & facts (references to sources can be found in the article)

  • 46% of Canadians believe immigration has a negative effect on the country yet 20% of Canadians themselves are foreign born.
  • Canada is one of the best nations in the world when it comes to integrating new residents with excellent educational and job opportunities as well as equality policies.
  • 50% of Canadians believe that immigrants drive up crime but:
  • In the last 30 years crime has dropped in parallel with the upsurge of non-European immigrants.
  • Half of Toronto's population were born outside of Canada-and crime has dropped 50%in the city since 1991
  • The higher a neighbourhood's proportion of recent immigrants is, the lower the violent crime rates (this has been looked at in both Montreal and Toronto but StatsCan)
  • Second generation immigrants are as likely to commit crimes as Canadians who are third generation (hey that's me!) and beyond.

Why immigrants are less likely to get involved in crime

  • Newcomers are more cautious.
  • They spend a lot of time focusing on starting a new life and keeping their faith, language and culture
  • Immigrant children are often kept very busy in off hours doing community and religious activities. Adult immigrants often are working long hours.
  • Strong family bonds
  • Commitment to education
  • More risk adverse than non-immigrants
  • The traits required to leave behind the "known" to start a new life-ambition, resilience, perseverance, imagination and optimism are conducive to rearing successful children who then in turn feel an obligation to their parents. I would also think those traits are not always the frontrunners in a criminals personality
So there you go. It was a decent article although nothing too shocking other than perhaps how negative the average Canadian is about immigration considering we see ourselves as being so diverse. It kind of reminded me of a paper I did for an economics class about the positive influence of immigration on the economy-very similar reasoning, attitudes and realities.

Planting the seed

I wish more people understood and embraced how easy it is to donate a kidney and save someone's life. Just saying. Yes it can be risky, but the screening eliminates most of that. There are still surgical risks but they are minimal-I think a lot of people take greater risks in their weekend activities to be honest.

Still I understand this isn't something everyone is going to run out and do. We are busy, we have families, jobs, responsibilities that we think may not allow time for this kind of thing. We don't like being sick, we don't like hospitals and we certainly don't like pain. I am not delusional (about this anyway)- I don't think that just by writing this blog and tweeting a few tweets I'm going to convince anyone to pick up the phone and be a donor. But I would like to plant the seed and make people for aware of kidney donation, blood donation-heck-even just being nicer to other people when its easier to be grumpy. It all adds up-you never know when something you've done, combined with other influences on a person, can lead to something extraordinary. We all have that in us I think.

I think back to that article I read in the newspaper when I was a kid about the family of the little boy who died in an accident and how they opted to donate his organs to save other kids and adults. Their choice to donate and their decision to share their story had an impact, years later on my choice to donate Leftie. They weren't the only reason but they were a catalyst. I would be humbled if I could have the same impact on someone out there.

About a week after surgery I was approached by my cousin who asked if I would be willing to write a guest blog or contribution on my experience to the MindYourMind website. The organization is committed to providing mental health resources to help teens and emerging adults in times of crisis. They also provide a platform for their audience to share ideas, inspire and lend support to one another. Mindyourmind encourages community participation.They believe that interaction leads to involvement. Involvement leads to learning. Learning effects change. I think they might be on to something. I was honoured to asked to participate in their site and I contributed the following post about kidney donation, framed from a volunteer perspective

Who knows  if anything will ever come of it but at the very least I'd like to hope I planted some kind of idea that someday might grow into something special. You never know when you might be a catalyst for someone else to make a difference.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Righty's First Solo Weekend

Nurse Ike and Nurse Cricket
I was released from Foothills hospital the Friday afternoon after my kidney donation surgery. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I couldn't be happier to be heading home.

Getting into the car was trickier than I expected. Our "around town" car is a Honda Civic so it's lower to the ground than some other sedans. Apparently it takes ab muscles to both get in the car and also to shimmy your butt over so you don't close the door on yourself. Pay attention next time you get into a car and you'll see.  I also didn't realize how bumpy some of our road are until my trip home-it almost felt like things were rattling around inside because of the space created when Leftie left.

I think the best part of the first weekend aside from just being at home in my own space, were the dogs. They both seemed to know something was wrong and were very careful with me (vs. being the gone-zanies they usually are). Our older dog Ike even would go as far to to gently rest his head on my belly if he was lucky enough to sit beside me on the couch. They both just seemed very concerned and attentive. Yay puppies!

For the first weekend I felt like I was really, really slooooow at everything. Moving between a standing to seated to lying down position took a lot of work and planning. I always felt like I needed to have an extra pillow around to support my back and another to use as a shield for my belly. There were a lot of times where I felt like I couldn't get comfortable although I'm pleased to say I had no trouble sleeping through the night I hobbled around our house like an 80 year old woman. I was remarkably good at bending to pick things up off the floor if needed (thank you yoga) but I had to take it slow.

I wasn't hungry at all. If I did get a little bit hungry it was for weird (and not overly nutritious but highly salty) things like popcorn and cheese (not together). I tried my best not to give into temptation. When I did eat (you really should if you are taking any kind of pain killer) I found I couldn't eat much and I almost always felt sick in some way after. I eventually settled on yogurt and oranges being foods I wanted that also had the added benefit of not making me sick. I think they became my primary diet for at least 3 weeks after coming home. I also learned that walking anywhere (even laps in the kitchen) was a good idea after any kind of food to help with digestion.

I am fairly certain Righty took another span of time off sometime on the Friday night/Saturday morning. My output was a lot less despite the copious amounts of water and tea I was consuming. I seemed to be retaining water a little bit too (puffy ankles). However she was back running at full force by the Saturday night. I'm not sure I have peed as much in a 12 hour period since attempting to use all ten of my Frosh Week draft beer tickets back in university. Note to self: do not attempt to watch a movie with the family when you are experiencing that level of output unless you have a TV in the washroom-you'll miss most of it.

Pain was very manageable-just sore muscles and that was easily controlled with Tylenol. The incisions were looking a little less gruesome although they were still all covered with steristrips. My stomach still looked pregnant-although it was slightly less so and was kind of lumpy. Or lopsided. I also noticed my belly button was stretched in a new way. You don't realize how used to your navel you are until it suddenly morphs. Very weird. Gas was still an issue (and was not nearly as fun or liberating as in the hospital) but it was manageable. I was tired but didn't feel the need to nap at all which was surprising. There was a lot of resting though. Lounging.

My attention span was still short so TV as well as short bursts on the computer were my favourite pastimes. Movies and books and even most magazines were not. They were too tricky to care about at that point. I think I should have purchased more gossip magazines instead of the Economist, New Yorker and Walrus type ones. I probably would have had better luck reading.

Just as I was starting to think that this recovery was going to be a piece of cake and I would be back to normal in record time, I got hit with a cold. No doubt picked up in the hospital, it started out as a scratchy throat and quickly made my head feel like it weighed 100lbs. Sneezing was awesome (if your definition of awesome means horrifically awkward and painful) but I did my best to brace my stomach to prevent any damage to the incision/stitching. I hoped it stayed in my "head" because despite how awful sneezing was, I had a feeling coughing would be way worse.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


My grandpa was very active in his community.
 He did a lot to shape his kids (and grandkids)
leaving a huge legacy as a result
Waayyy way back when I started thinking about donating my kidney and told a few people, one of my close friends either asked or suggested (I can't recall which) that perhaps my desire to do this stemmed from the fact I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have kids. This was perhaps my way of subconsciously leaving a piece of me behind or creating some kind of legacy. Another friend thought this was just another thing sidetracking me when I ought to be having kids-basically I needed to focus and just have kids like everyone else. It's what I am supposed to be doing right? Even my mother assumed I was calling to tell her I was pregnant when I was really calling to tell her about what I was considering re the "kidney thing".

Yesterday we went to the Southland Leisure Centre with Charlie and Charlie Jr. We had him for a day before he was jetting off to be with Grandma in BC so I wanted to do something fun with him. That and I am feeling much more bathing suit ready having lost about 2 sizes since the surgery (/cheer). There is nothing like a community pool facility to remind you that you don't have kids. There are children of all ages everywhere and parents keeping a watchful eye. Dad's are teaching daughters to swim as mom looks on, toddler in arms. AT one point I found myself in the middle of close to a hundred people and it felt like I was the only adult there without an offspring.

Sure, I have a role in Charlie Jr.'s life which is important. But he isn't mine. I'm almost like a close Aunt to him but I know he doesn't see me as a parental figure. I may influence him but I don't think I will ever be a hugely shaping force in his life. AS I looked around the pool I thought of a group Facebook posting I had read earlier in the day where a kidney recipient had just had his third child and they had partially named the child after his donor, Alison. There is some legacy there for sure. And it made me wonder-was there a small part of me that did this to create legacy?

I'm 35 years old. I've always been on the fence about wanting kids. Part of me has in the past but its never been a burning desire-and I kind of think it should be if you are going to do it. Charlie has Charlie Jr and doesn't want anymore offspring so there has never been pressure from him for me to get off the fence. There is something about deciding not to have kids that makes you realize how short and final our lives can be. As a mid thirties woman you are also reminded at every turn that your time is running out-act now or you'll be sorry. Whenever I've asked friends why they wanted kids, aside for the "joy of raising them", this whole notion of legacy is more often than not offered up. Sitting in the wave pool, surrounded by kids clinging to their fathers, swimming through the wave pool, I wondered-was the chance at some kind of legacy part of why I did this?

Maybe it was? Maybe this kidney donation was a shot at a small piece of me going on to create or enrich a life-make an impact on a small part of the world that I wouldn't have otherwise. Maybe it wouldn't be the recipient but he or she would create a chain reaction of paying it forward that would amount to something that in return could be traced back to the initial donation. I am not really sure. In a way I hoped it wasn't part of my subconscious decision making because it makes it seem like I was being selfish and egotistical.

With some reflection I decided that it likely wasn't part of why I did this-after all, many people with kids (and therefore legacy) donate kidneys all the time. No one ever asks them if this is a well intentioned diversion from having children. It is an interesting way of rationalizing what must seem like a very strange decision for me to make though and certainly did provide some food for thought as to what legacy really means. I still haven't quite figured it out yet.