At around this time last year, we were getting ready for my husband to be wheeled back to the OR to receive a kidney transplant. It had already been a long day; I hadn’t eaten anything, I had a migraine, and I was stressed as hell about the fact that my husband was going to undergo such an important procedure.
I was also so incredibly full of hope.
I remember when they came into pre-op and gave him his first dose of anti-rejection meds prior to the operation. I teared up and said, “Shit just got real.”
I remember how my husband gave me a neck massage because I was so tense (which was contributing to the migraine), even though HE was the one who was about to be operated on.
I remember all of the overwhelming emotions of that day. The nervousness. The hope. The absolute gratitude towards Alicia for donating a kidney. The burst of emotion when I walked out of pre-op and into the waiting room and bawled on his mom’s shoulder because holy crap, I’d been holding so much in and it needed to be let out. The relief when both Alicia and Phillip were done with their respective procedures and all had gone well. The overwhelming feeling of…it goes beyond relief, really…when his transplant surgeon came out and told us the surgery had gone perfectly. I remember asking Dr. Kim, “Is the kidney working?” I’d been so worried about the kidney not working. I remember the look he gave me–kind of perplexed–but he said yes, it looked to be. I remember the relief and love I felt when I saw Phillip in ICU, how I somehow managed to hold back my tears. Holy crap I was so emotional that day.
He was so funny in the ICU after he woke up, still feeling the effects of the happy juice they’d given him. He told EVERYONE he loved them, and told his sister she was the best sister in the world. And he would randomly fall asleep and start snoring almost immediately. Loudly. We were all so relieved that all we could do was laugh while crying, until he would suddenly jolt awake and ask, “Is the kidney working?” and then say, “I love you.”
And then there was concern. I remember the nurses and doctors in the ICU being worried because the kidney wasn’t really producing any urine at that point, and it should have been. It seemed to take forever for the ultrasound tech to get there, and the ultrasound took even longer. At the time, I still wasn’t entirely sure what they were looking at or looking for–he’d only had a couple of renal ultra sounds at that point, and one of them I hadn’t been able to see–but I could tell from the looks on everyone’s faces that there was some concern, but not at a panic level.
They decided to take a “wait and see” approach, and told his parents and me to go ahead and go home, that everything was fine but if anything happened they would be sure to call me since I couldn’t stay with him overnight in the ICU.
So I went back to his parents’ house, and we went next door to their neighbors’ house, who had been nice enough to cook us all supper, knowing that it had been a long day. I remember feeling tired. Exhausted, really. And like I was barely holding my shit together. But I was hungry and I wasn’t sure I wanted or needed to be alone just yet, so I ate supper and tried to make myself relax. I’d just finished eating when my phone rang. It was a 214 area code, and I just knew it was the hospital calling me.
I felt like the earth dropped out from under my feet when the ICU nurse told me they’d decided to open Phillip back up because the kidney still wasn’t producing urine, and that I should have time to get up there before they took him back to the OR.
Phillip’s mom looked at his dad and said, “You’re driving her.”
So off my father-in-law went. He’s a retired firefighter, and I remember saying, “I bet you really wish you had flashing lights on the top of this car right now.” He kind of chuckled and said, “Yeah, I do.”
Dr. Kim called me as we were pulling up to the hospital, telling me what was going on. I got up to 4W ICU as quickly as I could, and walked in as they were wheeling Phillip out. As I walked through the doors I heard him say, “Where’s my wife? I want my wife.”
I just about lost my shit again.
But they stopped wheeling him and lowered the rail on one side of his bed so I could lean over and kiss him and very tearily say, “You’re gonna be okay, cowboy. Dr. Kim’s gonna save this kidney and it’s going to work great and everything’s going to be fine. I love you.” And I kissed him. He kissed me back and told me he loved me, said he was scared. “They said it’s not working. Why isn’t it working?” “I don’t know, honey, but they’re gonna save it. They’re gonna fix it.”
The nurses and anesthesia techs and everyone–even the other patients and their families–were all looking at us with these looks on their faces that ranged from trying to hold back their own tears to reassurance to worry to a couple of people who were obviously wondering what the fuck was going on.
They wheeled Phillip away and someone led me back to the OR waiting room. My father-in-law joined me shortly thereafter (he’d dropped me off and had parked the car) and we sat and waited. Burt (my FIL) had brought some magazines in with him, and asked me if I wanted one. I tried to read. I really did. But even pretty guns couldn’t take my mind off of what was going on with my husband.
A short while later that seemed like an eternity, Dr. Kim came out to the waiting room and told us Phillip was doing fine. There’d been some swelling and a little bit of fluid collecting around the kidney, compressing the veins and artery so that it wasn’t producing urine, but as soon as they’d opened him up and relieved the pressure it had started working like a champ.
Again, there was that sense of relief, along with this feeling of…I don’t know…worry, probably. I’d been so worried all along that something bad would happen. Even before that day, I’d worried that it wouldn’t work, or that his body would reject it because he’d always had a really strong immune system, or that something bad would happen.
I don’t know if I just *knew*, if it was some weird sort of premonition, or if it was just my anxiety brain thinking of all the worst case scenarios like it tends to do. So while I was relieved, there was a part of me that was worried that this wasn’t the end of the complications, but rather the beginning.
After a few minutes we went back up to ICU to see him. He was so in and out of it, but he woke up a few times to ask if it was working and to tell me they had to open him back up. I told him I loved him over and over, and reassured him the kidney was working now, and that yes, I knew they’d had to open him back up.
I don’t know how I was holding it together at that point, but I was. By a very frayed thread.
Since he was so out of it and because ICU’s visiting hours were over, Burt and I went back to his parents’ house. I left a little while later and drove over to Granddaddy’s, which was where we stayed the entire time we were in Dallas post-transplant (Granddaddy is Burt’s dad, and I absolutely adore and love that man to pieces). I crawled into bed without my husband beside me–which was weird in and of itself because we’ve literally spent less than two weeks’ worth of nights away from each other since we moved in together six and a half years ago–and bawled my eyes out, wishing he was there or that I could at least hug my puppy dogs and get Kimber and Tiny kisses to make it all better (let’s face it, they may not be licensed therapy dogs, but they are most definitely MY therapy dogs).
I eventually passed out, and when I woke up the next morning I took a shower and then headed up to the hospital where my husband was wide awake and joking with the nurses. When I walked in he said, “Look at the catheter bag. It’s peeing!”
It’s amazing how delighted you are to see urine after someone goes through dialysis and then a kidney transplant. 😛
Not long after that they moved him up to 14Roberts, which is the liver and kidney transplant floor at Baylor (the entire staff on that floor is amazing, btw, and we got to know them far too well last year), and so began our life post-transplant.
It’s amazing to me how a year later everything from that day is still so clear in my mind. I still feel all of those emotions I felt that day. Hope. Relief. Anxiety. Fear.
A year ago today I’d finally let go of my anger.
Because yes, I had been so, so angry that this wonderful man who is my best friend and soul mate and partner in life was going through this. I was angry that he was so sick. Angry that a man who’d always been so healthy and active, who’d once rode bulls with fearless abandon, had been reduced to a man who almost every morning puked in our driveway because his kidneys were no longer working and cleaning the toxins out of his body. Angry that someone so young would have to go through something like a transplant, that someone so young would have had such a close brush with death. Angry that this was happening to us, so soon into our marriage. Angry that I felt like there was nothing I could do to help because we’re not the same blood type and I weigh too much to be a living donor.
But on January 20, 2015, I let that anger go and allowed happiness to take its place.
Unfortunately, the anger didn’t stay away and the happiness didn’t take up permanent residence. But today I don’t want to focus on all the shit that went wrong afterwards. It’s easy to look at today as a day of mourning, and let’s face it, there was mourning involved when he lost the transplant (and still is, if I’m being honest, it’s just not as frequent). Alicia gave Phillip the gift of LIFE.
And it’s that gift that I want to focus on today. The joy and the happiness and absolute gratitude towards Alicia, and the fact that through this process I’ve gotten to know her so incredibly well and absolutely love and adore her–and not just because she gave my husband a kidney. I know that as time goes on, January 20th will be easier. I think I’m sadder today than I’d thought I would be (or, rather, than I’d hoped I would be). I feel angry today (but honestly that could just be PMS).
But I also feel incredibly grateful.
Living organ donors like Alicia are the most amazing people in the world, and take selflessness to a whole new level. I am in awe of people like Alicia, who so willingly give a part of their bodies so that someone else can live. It’s one thing to be a registered organ donor and wish to have your organs donated once your spirit leaves this world, but it’s another entirely to be willing to give an organ while you’re still alive. It’s amazing and beautiful and the best gift ever.
I am so grateful Phillip had six really good months post-transplant. Six months where he felt amazing, where his color was fantastic and his appetite was better than I’d ever seen it. He gained weight (and he’d needed to). He had more energy than he knew what to do with. He wasn’t puking in the driveway every morning. It was wonderful and amazing and it was honestly a side of my husband I’d never seen; looking back, we realized he’d been sick for years, since before he and I ever even met seven years ago, so I’d never seen a truly healthy Phillip.
So tonight we’re going to celebrate. After he finished dialysis we’re going to eat some steak (because, steak) and spend time together and then give Kimber her antibiotics because she’s picked up Giardia and I’ll probably get to check Tiny’s poop again to make sure it’s still okay and that HE doesn’t have Giardia, too.
In other words, life goes on.
It sucks sometimes. It’s a rollercoaster. Sometimes you lose your shit and bawl all over your mother in law’s shoulder, and sometimes you kiss you husband and reassure him everything’s going to be okay. Sometimes you feel incredibly happy, and sometimes you feel in total awe of the truly amazing people there are in this world.
Lucky for us, Alicia’s not the only amazing person out there. Lucky for others, she’s not the only person willing to give the gift of life. We’ve already had four people that we know of fill out the application to be a living donor within the past week, with two others that we think might have but haven’t told us if they have or not. Last time, there had been quite a few people who applied, too.
There are amazing people out there. Amazing people who give of themselves selflessly, who give a part of themselves so that others can live long, healthy, happy lives.
Thank you each and every one of you.