Sunday, September 11, 2016

Strange miracles (or that time I tried to donate a kidney)

In the summer of 2011 Katie found out that she could, after all, have a kidney transplant.  This was a huge exciting deal for their family and I was happy for them.  I'd always said that I wanted to give her one of my kidneys, so I talked to the transplant coordinator in Iowa City to find out what blood tests I'd need to have done.  This was tricky because typically patients interact with a lab *through* their doctor's office.  The doctors office handles the ordering and the billing and the lab just draws the blood.  Since this doctor's office was halfway across the United States it wouldn't have a relationship with any of my local labs.  The coordinator gave me a list of questions that I'd need to ask a lab, and I started my search in the fall.

I first called a lab near my home.  I explained to the person on the phone that I was trying to get some blood work done to see if I could donate a kidney.  She was not happy about answering my questions, and was less happy as the conversation progressed.  Finally, her voice raised and irritated, she asked me WHY WAS I ASKING THESE QUESTIONS???  I was practically in tears and reiterated that I was just trying to find out if I could donate my kidney to a friend, and then the conversation ended.  Strike 1.

I called the coordinator and told her about my experience.  She sighed and said that she would try to find a lab near me that would be able to work with me.  She also said that they would send me the right kit to have the blood work done.  Within a day or two they got me the address of another lab, this one about an hour away in RTP.  The next week I planned a day where I would have enough time available and I drove an hour to the lab.  I sat in line for a while and then it was my turn.  I took myself and my lab kit up to the window, explained the situation and that someone there had spoken with the transplant coordinator, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Their system had changed, they couldn't find the information on different blood test kits.  No one remembered who had spoken with the coordinator.  They just weren't sure.  I stood and waited some more.  And was thankful that at least they were pleasant to me!  In the end after 45 minutes someone came out and said that she was sorry, they weren't able to draw blood using that particular kit.  (The one needed by the transplant center.)  Strike 2.

On the way home I spoke with the coordinator again.  She was incredulous and promised that she'd find me a place that really would take my blood.  A couple of days later she called back and said that she'd found a place, and asked if I had ever heard of a "Dur-HAM" Regional Hospital.  [Of course I had, that's where Josh was born!]  I told her I'd get it done there, but when I looked at my calendar I could see that it would be at least a week before I had time to go.

That next Thursday morning Russ called me from work, told me I needed to sit down, and then said that he had been laid off.  In that moment our world was turned sideways and blood tests were the last thing on my mind.

As the dust settled from the layoff and I started thinking again that it was time to go and finally get this blood work, I had a conversation with Katie.  All along I had assumed that the timeline on the kidney transplant was the next spring or summer.  But she said no, they were trying to do it in early December.  This really shook me up.  I'd been thinking that if I was a match as a donor the (major) surgery would be 6 months away, but it was really 5 or 6 weeks away.  We had moved immediately from the news of the layoff into major "get the house ready to sell" mode, which was physically taxing.  (In fact the week Russ was laid off I had just started painting the kitchen cabinets, and that enormous job wasn't done until after the Christmas holidays.)  We were also facing the loss of our insurance in January, and Russ was deeply depressed after being laid off.  It was all very overwhelming to me anyway, and adding the possibility of almost immediate major surgery into that mix didn't seem feasible.  

While I was in the middle of that muddle, Katie got the news that her friend/neighbor Trisha's husband was a donor match and they made plans to go forward with the transplant in early December.  I was relieved that she was still going to be able to get a transplant even without me and my kidney.


As time passed, however, I started to see things a little differently.  When it had happened I was really traumatized by that first conversation with the lab, the one where I had been yelled at.  I was less traumatized but definitely inconvenienced by having driven an hour each way to stand for almost an hour waiting to find out that another lab couldn't draw my blood.


But, my mind started to ask, what if this was all part of the plan?  What if these experiences kept me from being identified at the beginning of the fall as a potential donor, kept plans from being made for early December that involved my kidney?  What if all along the Lord knew that I actually couldn't donate a kidney that December because I wasn't going to be in any kind of place (physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, insurance-lly) to do it?  What if I was protected from a situation that wouldn't have ended up being ok?  What if Sean & Katie were protected from a situation that would have been enormously frustrating and disappointing?

I came to believe that these experiences that had been so frustrating were really important, delaying my efforts until I could see that no, I actually wasn't supposed to donate a kidney.  I had my own difficult thing to go through and experience, but it wasn't going to be learning to live with only one kidney.  

I also felt strongly in the next couple of years as my friendship with Sean & Katie changed in sad and painful ways, that it was a good thing she was walking around with someone else's kidney in her body.  I had enough grief about the friendship and I can't imagine how much worse it would have been if she had ended up with my kidney.  


As I thought about this experience from time to time over the next year or two I had another odd realization.  Katie's friendship with her friend Trisha had always been strange to me.  Katie talked a lot about how Trisha was dependent on her, how she didn't have any other friends in the neighborhood or the ward.  Trisha's husband had lost his job in Logan a few years before and had gotten a job at the University of Utah, which was a HUGE commute so Trisha was depressed because her husband was never home.  They had talked about moving but just loved living in Logan and so didn't move to be closer to his job.  I thought that was crazy--it was bad enough for me when we lived 45 minutes from Russ's job, I couldn't imagine a commute that was twice as bad and in snow for several months every year.  And then it was Trisha's husband who donated a kidney.  Oddly enough, within a year or two of the kidney surgery they moved down to Salt Lake somewhere to be closer to his job.  Now if that isn't a little miraculous, I don't know what is...

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